It is simply adorable when you see a puppy try to stand and walk and run and play for the first time. Your puppy is still unsure of where their limbs are supposed to go so you may think it’s cute if they try to walk on the top part of their paw.
This isn’t normal behavior, and it is called knuckling. But what exactly is puppy knuckling?
A puppy that knuckles rolls one, two, three, or all four paws under them so they walk or stand on the top part of their paw or paws. This is an abnormal body movement that can be caused by something such as a sore paw, nutrient deficiency, or neurological issues like a spinal stroke, degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disc disease, Wobbler syndrome, or a carpal flexural deformity.
What Is Puppy Knuckling?
When your puppy knuckles (though it may also happen in older dogs), they have an abnormal body movement. A puppy that knuckles has a paw that rolls under them as they walk or stand still. It looks like your puppy is dragging their paw or putting weight on the top of the paw instead of on the bottom of the paw.
How to Check If Your Puppy Is Knuckling
If you aren’t sure your puppy is knuckling:
- Get your puppy to stand up.
- Once in a standing position, turn your puppy’s paw so the bottom side of their paw is on top (so in the knuckle position).
If your puppy turns their paw around with the bottom paw on the floor (which is normal), they aren’t knuckling.
However, if your puppy doesn’t correct the position of their paw and keeps their foot in place, they are knuckling.
What Causes Puppy Knuckling
There are various possible causes of knuckling, and most of these are neurological.
There might be an issue with your dog’s nervous system. In a healthy dog, there are receptors in their muscles, tendons, and leg joints that send signals to their spinal cord and brain.
The input helps your dog to be aware of the position and movement of their body. This is called proprioception.
If your dog has a proprioception deficit (also called a CP deficit), there is something that disrupts the signaling pathway. As a result, your puppy experiences abnormal body movements or body positions.
Your puppy may knuckle, place a foot in an abnormal position when they stand, drag their paw, or be wobbly and off-balance.
So here are the most common reasons your puppy may knuckle:
1. Nutrient Deficit
One of the non-neurological causes of knuckling is when your puppy has nutritional issues because of an imbalanced diet. Your puppy has a normal neurological system, so everything there works correctly and sends the right proprioception signals.
But your puppy knuckles because their muscles, ligaments, and tendons are weak. This weakness results in your pup not being able to support their weight, so their paw rolls under them.
2. Fibrocartilaginous Embolism
A fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) is also known as a spinal stroke. An FCE is more common in large and giant dog breeds, but Shelties and Schnauzers are also at high risk.
Cartilaginous discs are located between the vertebrae of the spinal cord. These discs are like shock absorbers, enabling your pup to flex and move side to side.
A disc may rupture and a small piece can break off, entering the puppy’s bloodstream. The disc can obstruct a small blood vessel that provides blood to the spinal cord. When this happens, your puppy has a spinal stroke.
It can happen suddenly while your puppy plays, runs, or jumps. They may cry out in pain and will be weak or paralyzed after the stroke. Your puppy may knuckle one or more paws, wobble and fall over, or be unable to walk.
3. Degenerative Myelopathy
A chronic disease, degenerative myelopathy causes progressive paralysis. In the initial stages, your puppy may seem to be suffering from hip dysplasia or arthritis. Limping is one of the symptoms.
As degenerative myelopathy progresses, your puppy may begin knuckling on one or both hind legs, wobble, and be weak.
Eventually, your dog will be completely paralyzed. This disease generally affects dogs that are middle-aged and older and is most common in huskies, corgis, retrievers, and German shepherds.
4. Intervertebral Disc Disease
There are 2 types of intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). Type 1 occurs when a cartilaginous disc ruptures into the spinal canal, while in type 2, the disc bulges over time because it degenerates.
Both type 1 and type 2 IVDD places pressure on the puppy’s spinal cord. Your puppy will become weak or paralyzed. They may drag all four of their paws if IVDD occurred in the cervical area (their neck) or their hind limbs may be paralyzed if the IVDD affected the thoracolumbar area.
5. Wobbler Syndrome
Wobbler syndrome goes by a few names: cervical vertebral instability (CVI), cervical spondylomyelopathy, cervical vertebral malformation (CVM), cervical vertebral malformation-malarticulation, and cervical spondylopathy.
Wobbler syndrome affects the neck region of your puppy’s spine and is most common in large dog breeds. If your puppy has CVI, they will have a wobbly gait that is most visible on slippery floors and when your puppy walks slowly. Your puppy may also be in pain, and as a result, will walk with their head down.
Your pup can also knuckle their paws, especially their hind legs, be weak, and struggle to get up.
6. Carpal Flexural Deformity
The exact cause of the carpal flexural deformity is unknown, but researchers think it may be a result of nutritional and genetic factors. Too much protein and carbs may cause painful growth spurts that cause this disease.
Carpal flexural deformity is commonly found in large and giant breed puppies that are younger than 4 months old. The disease affects the puppy’s “wrist” joint or carpus on their front foot. As a result, your puppy can knuckle their front paw because of looseness, hyperextension, or hyperflexion of the carpus.
7. Sore Paw
If your puppy has a sore paw because of an injury, burns because of walking on hot asphalt, or some other kind of irritation, they can curl their paw underneath them.
How To Stop Knuckling in Puppies – Treatment When Your Puppy Knuckles
The first step to treating your puppy that knuckles is to see if they have a sore paw. This can be easily treated, and once the injury heals, your puppy won’t knuckle anymore.
If your pup doesn’t have a sore paw, then visit your vet so a proper diagnosis can be made and treatment recommended.
- FCE: Your vet may need to take x-rays or an MRI for diagnosis; treatment includes medication and supportive care.
- Degenerative myelopathy: There is no cure, but vitamin supplements and therapy with prednisone, n-acetylcysteine, and aminocaproic acid may slow the progression of this disease.
- IVDD: Treatment may include surgery and/or medications and supportive care.
- Wobbler syndrome: Your vet may take x-rays and look for other symptoms. You may need to take your puppy to see a veterinary neurologist for an MRI or CT. Treatment may include supportive care, medications, lifestyle changes, and/or surgery.
- Carpal flexural deformity: Your puppy may improve in a few weeks with a diet change and/or soft splints to support their legs while they recover.
Puppy Knuckling FAQs
Why does my dog curl their toes?
If your dog is curling their toes, they are walking on the top of their paws instead of on the bottom paw as normal. This condition is called knuckling, and your pooch can sustain severe damage by walking abnormally.
Can knuckling in puppies be cured?
If knuckling is caught early on, it is usually treatable, but it depends on what caused it. After speaking with your vet, they may recommend surgery, supportive care, medications, exercising your puppy to help develop their muscles, especially in the “ankle” region, ensuring your pup has enough surfaces to walk on that provides traction, adjusting their diet, supplementing their diet with nutrients that aid joint health, and wrapping the affected legs.
The Last Knuckle
It is heartbreaking to see your puppy start to knuckle, and you’ll hope it is merely a sore paw so you can treat the injury and your puppy will walk normally again. Unfortunately, most puppy’s knuckle because of a neurological problem.
While some of these are treatable, others aren’t. Make sure you take your puppy that knuckles to your vet so they can make a definitive diagnosis, prescribe treatment, and guide you in the best way forward.