Understanding Muscle Atrophy in Dogs: - Salt Lake Animal Physical Therapy
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Understanding Muscle Atrophy in Dogs:

Causes, Treatment, and Signs to Look Out For

Wondering why your dog is suddenly losing muscle mass? There can be quite a few reasons why, but among the top culprits, muscle atrophy in dogs is the one you need to be very careful about. Also known as muscle wastage or muscle loss, muscle atrophy can affect our beloved canine companions.

Like humans, dogs can experience muscle atrophy, leading to a decline in their overall physical strength and mobility. In this blog, we will explore the causes of muscle atrophy in dogs, the primary treatment option, discuss how to recognize the signs of muscle atrophy, examine the possibilities of a cure, and address whether muscle atrophy is painful for dogs; in short, everything that can help you get around this condition. So buckle up!

What causes muscle atrophy in dogs?

The condition can be due to various factors, including:

a) Lack of physical activity: Dogs that lead a sedentary lifestyle or are confined to small spaces without regular exercise may experience muscle loss.

b) Aging: As dogs grow older, their muscles naturally lose mass and strength.

c) Injury or trauma: Dogs who have suffered an injury, such as a fracture or sprain, may experience muscle atrophy due to reduced use of the affected limb during recovery.

d) Neurological conditions: Certain neurological disorders, such as degenerative myelopathy or spinal cord injuries, can lead to muscle atrophy in dogs.

e) Underlying medical conditions: Chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, certain types of cancer, hormonal imbalances, or metabolic disorders, can contribute to muscle atrophy in dogs.

How do you treat muscle atrophy in a dog’s?

Physical therapy plays a vital role in the treatment of muscle atrophy in a dog. It focuses on strengthening the muscles, improving flexibility so they can better function or use the muscles, and enhancing overall mobility. Here are some critical elements of physical therapy for dogs with muscle atrophy:

a) Exercise regimen: A professional certified canine rehab therapist may design a tailored exercise program to target the affected muscles. It may include activities, such as controlled walking, swimming, balance exercises, obstacle courses and much more.

b) Massage and stretching: Therapeutic massage techniques and stretching exercises can help alleviate muscle stiffness and improve blood circulation to the affected area.

c) Hydrotherapy: Water-based exercises in a controlled environment can reduce the impact on joints while providing resistance for muscle strengthening.

d) Assistive devices: Depending on the severity of muscle atrophy, your veterinarian may recommend assistive devices such as braces, splints, or carts to support and aid your dog’s mobility.

How do I know if my dog has muscle atrophy?

Recognizing the signs of muscle atrophy in dogs is essential for early detection and prompt treatment. Look out for the following indicators:

a) Decreased muscle mass: Observe if your dog’s muscles appear smaller or less toned than before, particularly in the hind legs.

b) Reduced mobility: If your dog has difficulty climbing stairs, jumping onto furniture, or shows reluctance to engage in physical activities they once enjoyed, it could be a sign of muscle atrophy.

c) Limping or favoring one leg: Dogs with muscle atrophy may shift weight to unaffected legs, resulting in an uneven gait or limping.

d) Loss of muscle definition: The loss of muscle tone may lead to a less defined appearance, particularly noticeable around the hips, thighs, or hind legs.

Can you cure muscle atrophy in dogs?

While a complete reversal of muscle atrophy may not always be possible, timely intervention and treatment can significantly improve a dog’s muscle mass and overall strength. The success of treatment largely depends on the underlying cause of muscle atrophy and the dog’s response to therapy. Working closely with a veterinarian and following a comprehensive treatment plan can help maximize the chances of improvement.

Is muscle atrophy in dogs painful?

Muscle atrophy itself is not typically painful, as it is a gradual loss of muscle mass. However, the underlying conditions or injuries that lead to muscle atrophy may cause discomfort or pain for dogs. It is important to address any potential pain sources, such as arthritis or nerve damage, in conjunction with the treatment of muscle atrophy to ensure your dog’s overall well-being.

Dog Breeds Susceptible to Muscle Atrophy

While muscle atrophy can affect dogs of any breed, some breeds may be more prone to certain underlying conditions or genetic predispositions that contribute to muscle loss. It’s important to note that susceptibility can vary among individuals within a breed, and not all dogs of these breeds will experience muscle atrophy. Here are a few examples of dog breeds that may be more susceptible to muscle atrophy:

a) Large and Giant Breeds:

  • Great Danes: Great Danes are known to be susceptible to certain musculoskeletal conditions, such as hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis, which can contribute to muscle atrophy.
  • German Shepherds: This breed may be prone to degenerative myelopathy, a progressive neurological disorder that can lead to muscle wasting.

b) Working and Sporting Breeds:

  • Labrador Retrievers: Labs are prone to hip dysplasia, which can cause pain and restricted movement, potentially leading to muscle atrophy.
  • Border Collies: Border Collies may develop spinal issues, including intervertebral disc disease, which can result in muscle atrophy if nerve impingement occurs.

c) Toy and Small Breeds:

  • Chihuahuas: These small dogs can be susceptible to patellar luxation, a condition where the kneecap dislocates, causing pain and hindering proper movement.
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels: This breed may experience muscle atrophy as a result of syringomyelia, a condition characterized by the formation of fluid-filled cavities within the spinal cord.

d) Brachycephalic Breeds:

  • Bulldogs and Pugs: Brachycephalic breeds often have a higher incidence of hip dysplasia and patellar luxation, which can contribute to muscle atrophy.

It’s important to remember that while certain breeds may have a higher predisposition to specific conditions associated with muscle atrophy, individual lifestyle, exercise, and overall health management play significant roles in preventing or managing the condition.


Muscle atrophy in dogs can significantly impact their quality of life, hindering their mobility and overall physical abilities. So, understanding the causes, recognizing the signs, and seeking appropriate treatment, can help manage and potentially improve muscle atrophy in dogs.

By working closely with an experienced dog’s physical therapist and dedicating time and effort to rehabilitation, you can gift your furry friend the best chance for a comfortable and active life.