Why Has My Diabetic Dog Got Wobbly Legs?

Has your dog got wobbly legs? ¹

If you are anything like me, the sign of one of your dogs being in some kind of pain or of carrying an injury will send your head into a spin..

Are they in pain? Can I do anything? How much will it cost?

All of these thoughts whirring around and bouncing off the inside of my head. 

And today I want to look at the issue of wobbly back legs.

Now, I have recently “lost” a 15 year old Golden Retriever who for the last few years of her life had weak and wobbly back legs.

But she never lost her zest for life. 

And today, I want to examine whether for some dogs, wobbly back legs are a sign of diabetes. 

What is diabetes?

To start with, it would be helpful to describe diabetes in a bit more detail. 

Diabetes is a disease which is when a substance called insulin which is made naturally in the body just doesn’t work as it should. 

There are  two types of diabetes and each one is caused by a different insulin error. 

The first type is when the body just doesn’t produce enough insulin. 

And the second type is when the body makes  enough insulin but there is an error in how the insulin is absorbed. 

The role of glucose

Unfortunately, in order for all of this to make sense, I need to explain a bit about glucose. 

When a dog eats food, it is broken down into various things, one of which is glucose. 

And glucose is fundamental because it is what provides a dog’s body with the energy to survive. 

In order to do this, glucose is absorbed into the billions of tiny cells within a dog’s body. 

But it can only do this with the help of insulin. 

And if the body isn’t producing enough insulin or the body can’t absorb insulin then the glucose won’t be absorbed and your dog won’t have enough energy. 

Glucose is a sugar which will overload your dog’s body potentially damaging major organs. 

Are wobbly legs a symptom of diabetes in dogs? 

If you were to search for “symptoms diabetes in dogs”, in all likelihood shaking legs wouldn’t appear anywhere. 

The classic symptoms which would be listed time and time again would include things like increased urination, excessive thirst and weight loss. 

Which would just leave you at a loss wouldn’t it? 

Don’t give up yet. 

Because wobbly legs can be a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes. 

Unfortunately, it seems that this is a result of higher than normal sugar levels damaging nerve endings over the long term. 

And one of the outcomes of this is that it affects how your dog stands, walks or moves. 

This is called diabetic neuropathy

What causes a diabetic dog’s legs to wobble?

The main cause of a diabetic dog having weak back legs is because they have had diabetes for some time and no one has realised it. 

It is the long term effect of the excess of glucose that has damaged the nerves. 

And no one knows how this excess of glucose is poisoning these nerves. 

To add to the pile of things that we don’t know about diabetes in dogs… 

No one knows how many dogs there are “out there” with diabetes that hasn’t been diagnosed. 

It is thought that 1 in 500 dogs are diabetic.

To make a quick (and scary) comparison with diabetes in people, it is thought that just over one in ten of us has diabetes. 

A staggering 46% is undiagnosed though. 

Are the wobbly legs a permanent or temporary feature?

In truth weak legs can be a temporary or a permanent disability for your dog- depending on how long it has gone untreated for. 

If a dog is treated for diabetes soon after they appear to be having problems with their back legs, then the nerve endings might recover and their legs will be absolutely fine.

However, if diabetes has been undiagnosed for a longer period of time, the chances of the damage being permanent increase significantly. 

What dogs are more at risk of diabetic wobbly legs?

There are four main groups of dogs that have a higher risk of becoming diabetic than the general dog population.

And they are:

  • Older dogs
  • Unspayed females
  • Obese dogs
  • Certain breeds (such mini Poodles, Dobermans and Golden Retrievers.)

And so you would have to say that those are the same four groups that are most at risk of developing diabetic related wobbly legs.

But there is another group of dogs to add to this list. 

And those would be dogs who already have an existing condition that results in them having weaker legs.

If this group of dogs was to go on and develop diabetes, the chances of their legs becoming more wobbly would increase dramatically. 

Are there any leg strengthening exercises that can be done? 

Undoubtedly there are some exercises that can be done to help maintain the strength and movement that your dog has in their legs.

There is no silver bullet unfortunately or medication that will reverse the damage and the decline. 

One type of exercise is swimming.

Now in all likelihood you will know if your dog is a water lover or not.

And this exercise is one of the best leg exercises that your dog can do.

Simply because it is non weight bearing. 

If you live near a river, lake or sea then this exercise is free.

And if your dog is a swimming nut then they won’t even realise that they are doing some physio to boot!

Another simple form of exercise is walking.

But just be careful that you don’t overdo this.

Only you will know how much walking your dog is capable of- and don’t be tempted to over do it. 

How will I know if it is diabetes?

There is only one way of being absolutely certain that your dog has diabetes and that this is the cause of their leg problems.

And that is by visiting the vets and subjecting your dog to quite a few tests. 

Although you might think that a simple blood test could identify diabetes, a more thorough set will allow your vet to identify how severe the condition is and whether there are any other diseases which are contributing. 

And talking of other conditions, in the final section of this article I want to look at other illnesses which can cause your dog to have weak back legs.

Four (other) main causes of wobbly legs in dogs? 

Diabetes isn’t the only disease that can lead to them having legs that are weak, wobbly or shaky. 

As you can imagine, a comprehensive list would be as long as my arm and so here I will just provide you with the main ones. 

Degenerative Myelopathy

The classic example of this are those German Shepherds that you see with the backs that slope down.

However, it most often occurs in older dogs.

Basically, it is when the nerves at the end of the spinal column just start dying off.

The back legs start to get weaker and then the dog then starts to drag and scuff their feet as they walk. 

It is a painless condition. 

IVDD (Invertebral Disc Disease.)

It happens when there is a hernia of a disc in the spine. It frequently happens during or after a period of exercise. 

It is incredibly painful and will probably require surgery.

Dogs with long backs, such as Dachshunds, are much more susceptible.  

Canine Arthritis 

The dog version of what many humans experience. 

Arthritis is when the joints between the bones become inflamed and any movement can be very painful. 

Patellar Luxation

This condition involves one or more of a dog’s knee slipping in and out of place. 

If you are like me you are wincing at the thought.

Small or Toy breeds of dogs are most at risk of this condition and they include Bichon Friches, Chihuahua and French Poodles. 

Photo credits

¹ Photo by Miwok on Flickr