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Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs / Dancing Doberman Disease

What Is Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs?

Spasm of the rear legs in dogs, also known as dancing Doberman syndrome due to its prevalence among Doberman Pinschers, is a neurological condition characterized by involuntary contractions of the hip and stifle joints (similar to a human’s knee) while the dog is standing. Although the exact cause of the disease is not fully understood, it exhibits the following features:

  • Initially, dogs can walk and run normally but experience spasms when standing, often preferring sitting or lying down.
  • Affected dogs display a dancing-like motion, where their rear legs alternate between flexing and extending.
  • While the spasms may begin in one leg, they typically progress to involve both rear legs within a few months. The front legs remain unaffected.
  • Over time, the condition leads to muscle weakness, knuckling of the back paws (walking on the knuckles or top of the foot), and muscle wasting in the hind legs.
  • Dancing Doberman disease primarily affects dogs of both genders aged between 6 months and 7 years.

This condition can mimic various other medical issues, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, and Wobbler syndrome, as well as other nerve-related conditions. However, a key distinction is that dogs with dancing Doberman disease do not appear to experience pain.

Symptoms

Symptoms commonly observed in dogs with dancing Doberman disease may include:

  • Muscle spasms in the rear legs
  • Flexing and extending of one or both rear legs
  • Holding up a rear leg
  • Shifting back and forth on the rear legs
  • Knuckling over of rear paws
  • Muscle wasting (atrophy) of the affected leg or legs
  • Weakness in the back legs
  • Preference for sitting or lying down instead of standing
  • Collapse of the rear end with advanced weakness

Causes

The specific causes of the disease remain largely unknown at this juncture. While there may be a genetic link, conclusive evidence to support this theory is currently lacking.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing dancing Doberman disease presents challenges as most diagnostic tests yield normal results. Veterinarians typically rely on the following factors to make a diagnosis:

  • Patient history
  • Clinical observations
  • Physical examination findings
  • Exclusion of other diseases with similar presentations
  • Blood tests, which may sometimes indicate elevated levels of muscle enzymes such as aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), and creatinine kinase (CK)
  • Imaging techniques like X-rays, MRI, and/or myelogram to eliminate neurologic and orthopedic conditions resembling the symptoms
  • Electromyography (EMG) and muscle and nerve biopsy for histopathological analysis. EMG involves the application of electrical currents to the muscles, recording returning nerve signals.

Treatment

Regrettably, there exists no definitive treatment or cure for dancing Doberman disease. However, veterinarians may explore physical therapy options aimed at preserving muscle mass, enhancing flexibility, and maintaining range of motion. Such therapies may involve:

  • Massage
  • Swimming
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Passive range of motion (PROM) exercises
  • Laser therapy (both cold and hot)
  • Acupuncture

The efficacy of the last two treatment methods is presently under investigation for managing this condition, and conclusive results are pending.

Recovery and Management

The disease advances gradually, yet it typically does not compromise the quality of life or life expectancy of the affected dog. It is advisable to incorporate ongoing physical therapy and administer joint supplements throughout the dog’s lifetime to mitigate potential bone and joint-related complications.

Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs / Dancing Doberman Disease FAQs

Why is my dog experiencing leg spasms?

Leg spasms in dogs can stem from various causes including electrolyte imbalances, toxin ingestion, neurologic issues such as dancing Doberman disease, orthopedic concerns, and neuromuscular issues. Your veterinarian will need to conduct tests to eliminate potential medical conditions before confirming dancing Doberman disease.

Are back leg spasms in dogs painful?

Dogs afflicted with dancing Doberman disease typically do not exhibit signs of pain. While some experts speculate that these dogs may experience sensations akin to “pins and needles” or a burning sensation down their legs, similar to restless leg syndrome in humans, scientific confirmation for this theory is lacking.

Can back leg spasms in dogs be cured?

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for dancing Doberman disease, and effective treatment options are limited. However, the absence of evident pain associated with this condition suggests little to no impact on the affected dog’s quality of life.

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