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Puppy Knuckling: Causes & Ways to Help Your Dog

Has your puppy been walking or standing on the tops of its feet instead of on its paws? This condition is called knuckling and may indicate a variety of health issues. In this post, our Benton vets discuss knuckling in puppies and describe how it can be stopped. 

What Does it Mean When a Puppy is Knuckling?

If a puppy is knuckling, this means it's walking on the tops of its feet instead of on its paws. Dogs may knuckle on one leg or all four, and they may not do this with each step they take. Your puppy's front legs may be knuckling over, or the same may be occurring on a back paw. 

Many different causes, ranging from minor to severe, can contribute to the condition. These include everything from sore paws to nerve damage or neurological disorders. If you see your puppy knuckling, schedule an appointment with your vet, as the underlying health condition may be fatal. 

Does your puppy tuck their feet under and drag them on the ground? This can lead to physical injury to any part of the foot, making it essential to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible. 

Is Knuckling in Puppies Painful?

Though knuckling itself is not painful, it sometimes occurs as a result of severe pain. Additionally, injuries associated with dragging the feet and scraping against the floor are painful, or at least uncomfortable. 

How Can I Tell if My Puppy is Knuckling?

If knuckling is a problem for your puppy, they will walk unsteadily and may have an uneven gait when they are walking toward you or away from you. Have your pooch stand up and lift one paw at a time and put it down with the knuckle under. If your puppy leaves their knuckle tucked under and does not move their paw to the correct position, they are probably knuckling. 

Call your vet right away to book an appointment with your exam if your puppy is knuckling. Our veterinarians at Saline County Animal Clinic diagnose various health conditions in puppies and can refer you to a veterinary internal medicine specialist near Benton if required.  

Causes of Knuckling in Puppies

While the precise cause of knuckling in puppies and dogs is unknown, it may be associated with: 

  • Weakness between the flexor and extensor muscle groups
  • Improper exercise 
  • Sore or injured paws 
  • Intervertebral disc disease 
  • Inappropriate nutrition 
  • Poor footing (slippery surfaces)
  • Poor muscle tone 
  • Genetics 
  • Unbalanced growth 
  • Tendons, muscles, or ligaments that can't support the puppy's weight 
  • Carpal flexural deformity 

Some breeds, including Dobermans and Shar Peis, appear to be predisposed to this condition. Male puppies may be impacted more due to their rapid growth. The condition typically presents itself between the ages of 6 to 16 weeks. While all breeds can be affected, large breeds tend to be more susceptible than small breeds. If you are caring for a puppy suffering from malnutrition, this condition and its treatment may be a contributing factor, since receiving quality nutrition can lead to rapid growth, which can trigger knuckling. 

Therefore, it's recommended not to overfeed rescue pups so they do not become overfed and put on too much weight. Knuckling is sometimes unavoidable in malnourished puppies as the processes have already started when they come into care.  

Can Knuckling in Puppies and Dogs Be Cured?

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
  • Physical therapy
  • Avoiding putting your puppy on slippery surfaces such as floorboards (stay on surfaces such as grass, rubber mats and carpet)
  • A foot brace (designed for knuckling dogs)
  • Keeping 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 when your pup struggles to walk, it's generally recommended that puppies still move about on the surfaces recommended above. Follow your vet's advice. 

Treating symptoms as they progress can help your dog maintain a good quality of life. While recovering, puppies should rest on a soft bed and be rotated every few hours. In some cases, a puppy that's recovered from knuckling will be able to walk in two to six weeks. 

Will Knuckling Over Correct Itself?

Some puppies' knuckling may correct itself without treatment, while others require treatment or continue to knuckle throughout their lives. It's impossible to know which cases will self-correct and which will require treatment or management without assessment by an experienced vet. 

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.

Do you suspect your puppy or dog is knuckling? Contact our Benton vets to book an examination for your puppy.

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Saline County Animal Clinic welcomes cats, dogs, and their people to our clinic! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Benton dogs and cats. Get in touch to book your pet's appointment.

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