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Puppy Knuckling: Causes, Treatment, & How to Help

Have you noticed your puppy is walking or standing on the tops of its feet instead of its paws? This is knuckling, and it can point to various health issues. Today, our vets in Springfield explain what knuckling is in puppies and how it can be stopped. 

What Does it Mean When a Puppy is Knuckling?

When a puppy is knuckling, it's walking on the top of its feet instead of its paws. Pooches can knuckle on a singular leg or all of them, and they may not do this with every step they take. Your puppy's front legs could be knuckling over. The same could also be happening on a back paw. The condition can have many different causes that may be minor or severe, from sore paws to nerve damage or neurological disorders. If you notice your puppy knuckling, you should contact your vet because the underlying condition may be fatal. 

If your puppy tucks their feet under and drags them on the ground, this can cause physical injury to any part of the foot, making it important to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible. 

How Can I Tell if My Puppy is Knuckling?

You can tell if knuckling is an issue for your puppy if you notice an unsteadiness or uneven gait when they are walking toward you or away from you. Have your dog stand. Lift one paw up at a time and put it down with the knuckle under. If your puppy doesn't correct their paw's position and leaves their knuckle tucked under, they are likely knuckling. 

If your puppy is knuckling, call your vet immediately to book an appointment for an exam. Our veterinarians in Springfield treat and diagnose internal medical conditions in pets. 

What Causes Knuckling in Puppies?

While the cause of knuckling is not known, it may be related to:

  • Sore or Injured Paws
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease
  • Weakness between the flexor and extensor muscle groups
  • Improper exercise 
  • Poor footing (slippery surfaces)
  • Inappropriate nutrition 
  • Genetics
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Carpal Flexural Deformity
  • Unbalanced growth
  • Muscles, tendons, or ligaments can't support the puppy's weight

Some breeds, including Dobermans and Shar Peis, appear to be predisposed to this condition. Due to their rapid growth, male puppies may be affected more. The condition usually presents itself between the ages of 6 to 16 weeks. While all breeds can be impacted, large breeds tend to be more susceptible to knuckling than small breeds. If a puppy has come into care suffering from malnutrition, this condition may be an issue, since receiving quality nutrition can lead to rapid growth, which can trigger knuckling.

As a result, it is advised not to overfeed rescue puppies in order to prevent them from becoming overfed and gaining too much weight. Knuckling is sometimes unavoidable in malnourished puppies because the processes have already begun when they arrive at the shelter.

Can Knuckling in dogs be cured or stopped?

The cause of your dog's knuckling can affect the way this condition is treated, some may be treated with supportive care, other causes may require surgery, and some can't be treated at all and can only be managed.

If your puppy is knuckling as a result of an injury or sore paw they can be helped by cleaning, bandaging, and treating the wound. However, if your dog has an injured paw you should call your vet so they can treat the wound or tell you the steps you should take.

Other causes of knuckling may require one or more of the following management or treatment methods:

  • Cage Rest
  • Anti-inflammatory Medications
  • Laser Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
  • Toe Grips
  • Mobility Aids
  • Avoid putting your puppy on slick surfaces like floorboards (stay on surfaces such as grass, rubber mats, and carpet)
  • A Foot Brace (designed for knuckling dogs)
  • Physical Therapy
  • Keep your puppy in a warm environment (cold weather can worsen the condition)
  • Avoiding walks or physical play
  • Surgery

While crating or penning a puppy may seem like a good idea if your puppy is having difficulty walking, it is generally recommended that puppies continue to move around on the surfaces mentioned above. Take your veterinarian's advice.

Degenerative myleopathy in dogs has no cure. However, treating symptoms as they arise can assist your dog in maintaining a high quality of life. Puppies should rest on a soft bed and be rotated every few hours while recovering. In some cases, a puppy who has recovered from knuckling can walk in 2 to 6 weeks.

If your puppy is knuckling, the best thing you can do is to contact your vet to have them diagnose the underlying cause and provide your pooch with the best possible treatment plan.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Contact our Springfield vets today to schedule an appointment if you believe your dog is knuckling.

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Greenbrier-Springfield Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Springfield companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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