Does Your Dog Stagger or Appear "Drunk"? It Could Have An Abnormality In Gait
Sat, April 10, 2021

Does Your Dog Stagger or Appear "Drunk"? It Could Have An Abnormality In Gait


Diagnosing numerous musculoskeletal and neurologic conditions requires a masterful grasp of canine locomotion and gait, said Brittany Jean Carr, DVM, CCRT, ACVSMR Resident, and David L. Dycus, DVM, MS, CCRP, Diplomate ACVS, of Today’s Veterinary Practice, a peer-reviewed clinical information in veterinary medicine.

Your veterinarian will perform a gait evaluation before conducting an orthopedic or neurologic examination. Gait evaluation normally involves a visual and/or subjective observation of the dog from different angles while it walks or trots on a flat surface. For example, lameness can be detected through gait evaluation — only if it is done by a trained veterinarian. On the other hand, a more subtle case of lameness may not be evident when clinicians perform a subjective gait evaluation, making it more difficult to detect.

Report Shows A High Prevalence of Gait Abnormalities Among Pugs

Cecilia Rohdin and colleagues of leading veterinary journal Veterinary Record BMJ noted that only 550 of the invitations and questionnaires sent to selected pug owners were returned. Only 79.6% of pugs were reported to have “a normal gait” while “an abnormal gait for less than a month” was observed in 4.4% of pugs. 16% of pugs had “a chronic gait abnormality (>1month duration).

57 pugs showed indirect signs of unsound gait such as wearing their nails and/ or the skin on the dorsum of the paws from scuffing. With the inclusion of these pugs, the prevalence of abnormalities was 30.7%.  The first signs of gait abnormality were insidious in nature among 68.5% of pugs while owners described the progression of clinical signs in 36.4% of dogs. Among pugs with a thoracic limb involvement (65.6%) and those with pelvic limb involvement (82.6%), showed an insidious onset of the signs of gait abnormality. The clinical signs were observed as progressing in 18.8% of pugs with affected thoracic and 52% of dogs with affected pelvic limbs.

Wearing of the nails was more common in the thoracic limbs, with thoracic limb involvement observed in 95.8% of pugs wearing nails. 46.7% of pugs had been wearing their nails since they were puppies while 81.7% had been wearing their nails since they were one-year-old.  Abnormal wearing of the skin on the dorsum of the paws was most commonly observed in the thoracic limbs. 64.7% of pugs who wore down the skin on the dorsum of their paws showed thoracic limb involvement.  68.4% of pugs were wearing the skin on the dorsum of their paws since turning one-year-old.

The most common sign of pain was reluctance to go for walks (56.7%) while the least common signs were irritability (3.3%) and unwillingness to be petted (6.7%). 13 pugs had fecal incontinence, with 23.1% having a normal gait and 61.5% having a chronic gait abnormality. 39.1% of pugs with urinary incontinence were reported having a normal gait while 60.9% had a chronic gait abnormality. 47 owners reported one or several causes for their dog’s death/euthanasia, with abnormal gait being recognized as the “single, listed, most frequent cause of death/ euthanasia of pugs” (28.8%).  



What Are the Symptoms of Gait Abnormalities?

If your dog frequently stops or experiences decreased tempo or speed while walking, it can be a sign of a gait abnormality, explained Bow Wow Meow, a pet insurance provider in Australia. Stumbling, loss of balance and movement control, staggering walk, carrying a limb also show an abnormality in gait. There are a number of medical complications that result in gait abnormality. Some examples include pain, an orthopedic condition, musculoskeletal condition, a neurological condition, arthritis, and hip dysplasia. Parasitic, viral, bacterial, or protozoan infection that harms the central nervous system can lead to gait abnormalities. Additionally, cancers and growths and trauma can cause this condition.



How Is Gait Abnormality Detected?

Your veterinarian will utilize a systematic and disciplined approach to clinically assess your pet’s gait. They will document the evaluation in the medical record and the results are semi-quantified using a numerical rating scale or a visual analog scale. Force plate analysis is also helpful and has been shown to be superior to visual observation. The latter is still practiced in veterinary clinics and we should not discredit its significance in assessing gait abnormalities.

Kinematic gait analysis is used to quantify the positions, acceleration/deceleration, velocities, and angles of different body parts in space. Majority of kinematic gait analysis makes use of colored, retroreflective, or light-emitting diode (LED) markers to help your veterinarian determine “specific anatomic landmarks.” The markers are attached on the skin. The skin needs to be shaved and cleaned first with alcohol. Then, the markers are pressed directly to the skin. Tape can be added for added security, if needed. The markers’ movements are monitored by a series of cameras when your dog is in gait. Over time, the markers’ locations are used to create a 2D or 3D of your pet’s gate. This will include calculations of bone and joint excursions.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has An Abnormal Gait?

Observe your dog’s gait patterns. In fact, it is recommended to know about your dog’s breed-specific gait patterns. Moreover, dogs can “conceal” their pain and injuries. If the symptoms become more noticeable, it means that the condition has escalated. Still, it is better to be prepared than to wait it out.

When walking, does your dog show an exaggerated head bobbing motion? This can be a sign of front leg lameness. Watch which front leg your dog put its weight on as its head bobs. Taking a video of your dog aids in discerning a gait abnormality. Your dog may have a cervical issue if your pet keeps its head low when walking and does not raise its head to look at you, preferring to look at you with its eyes instead. Rear end weakness can be identified if your dog drags its nails on the ground.  

How Is Gait Abnormality Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the abnormality. For example, if the abnormality is caused by muscular injuries, make sure that your pet rests for 48 hours. Place ice in a towel to cool the injured area for 20 minutes. Keep walks short and on leash the following week. Don’t engage in high intensity and high impact exercises and movements. Gently stretch and massage the injured leg.

Successfully diagnosing an abnormal knowledge requires extensive knowledge of canine locomotion and gait. Owners should be familiar with their breed’s specific gait patterns and observe any changes in how their dogs walk or trot.