Why Do German Shepherds Have Bad Back Legs?

The German Shepherd is the most common dog used in military and police services. The reason, his athleticism. But there is another side to the German Shepherd.

Due to factors like injury, breeding techniques, lack of exercise, or poor development, a German Shepherd can have bad back legs.

Let’s discuss back leg diseases a German Shepherd may develop in life and if their legs really are bent! 

Are German Shepherds Back Legs Bent?

Ever gone to a dog show and something about all the German Shepherds caught your eye?

Indeed, all competitive German Shepherd dogs appear to have bent or bad back legs. Well, this is exactly how they appear to the eye.

A German Shepherd’s upper and lower thigh must form an angle as close to a right angle (90) as possible. This is one of the AKC German Shepherd breed standards that owners follow for shows and competitions. 

So people who are serious about entering their German Shepherd into competitions will stick strictly to these breed standards.

At all costs, they will make sure their next generation of German Shepherd puppies has right angular hindquarters. 

But, this is not always the way to get a healthy German Shepherd. In some cases, breeding this dog just for these back legs can also invite genetic defects. 

Curious to know who wins in a contest of German Shepherd vs Rottweiler.

German Shepherd Hip and Back Leg Conditions

The German Shepherd is a breed that is quite vulnerable to mobility issues.

These problems stem from breeding practices aimed at developing the right angle thighs and from lack of exercise during puppyhood.

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Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a joint-related disease that mainly affects large and giant dog breeds (it can affect small dogs also). 

This particular disease arises when the hip, ball, and socket joint does not develop properly. Instead of gliding smoothly, they will grind against each other causing deterioration of the parts (ball and socket).

Thus leading to eventual loss of mobility in the limbs it affects. 

Unfortunately due to genetic factors, the German Shepherd is one breed that commonly suffers from hip dysplasia.

Their low-set back does not make the situation any better for them. German Shepherd owners will have to be wary of this condition! 

Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia 

  1. “Bunny hopping” is a common sign to look out for if you suspect your dog has hip dysplasia. You will notice your dog lifting both back legs when walking or jumping. He does this to equally distribute his weight and avoid feeling pain during movement. 
  2. Reluctance to be active is another sign that something is not right. If it is hip dysplasia, movement will be painful. Because of this your dog will choose to sit in one place. 
  3. Difficulty climbing stairs and jumping is naturally a sign of hip dysplasia in adult dogs. The back legs of a dog are crucial for certain activities such as climbing slopes and stairs. Issues with the back legs will limit a dog’s physical abilities. 
  4. Does your dog have problems rising to his feet? Beware, this can very well mean he has early stages of hip dysplasia. To stand up on all four limbs, a dog must use his front legs and back legs. But, if the back legs are weak, using them could be difficult.  
  5. Pain can show in the form of barking, whining or howling. How a dog display’s pain varies from one dog to another. As his owner, you will know when your dog is in pain. If you notice your dog crying in pain, consult a vet to detect the cause.  
  6. Permanent or temporary lameness only exhibit themselves when your dog enters into severe hip dysplasia. But, you would have to be neglecting your dog for this condition to get this bad! We hope this is not the case since there is very little that a vet can do for your dog at this stage. 

Treating Hip Dysplasia

Severe cases of hip dysplasia require surgery, these surgeries are expensive! Surgery options that apply for dogs with hip dysplasia include:

  1. Juvenile Pubic Symphysiodesis
  2. Triple Pelvic Osteotomy
  3. Femoral Head Osteotomy  

The cost of surgery per hip is $1000 to $3000, while a complete hip replacement lies between $3500 to $7000.

It is instances like these that make you wish you had pet insurance. 

Surgery is not always the best method to handle hip dysplasia. Mild cases of hip dysplasia can receive non-invasive treatments to avoid pain and complete lameness.

Non-surgical methods of managing hip dysplasia include:

  • Weight loss 
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Using braces
  • Massage therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medications

Canine Myasthenia Gravis

This is another disease that a German Shepherd owner must beware of. Unlike other diseases, myasthenia gravis does not affect bones but nerves instead.

It affects the nerves, making the body attack them like they would a foreign body. 

As a result, the muscles and nerves cannot communicate, leading to weak limbs and poor mobility.

While there is no way to prevent myasthenia gravis, treatment is available and your dog can make a full recovery.

That is assuming there are no complications like pneumonia or cancer. 

Signs and Symptoms

If not caught in time, myasthenia gravis can be dangerous for your dog. Your German Shepherd is at high risk due to bad back legs and low hindquarters. 

  • Excessive drooling
  • Voice change
  • Collapse/weakness after exercise
  • Rapid energy depletion 
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing

Treatment of Myasthenia Gravis

Treating this condition in dogs uses Anticholinesterase drugs which work to reduce antibody attacks on muscle receptors.

This enables the strengthening of limb muscles and better mobility. 

Care has to be given to your dog to assure he is eating and drinking without choking or regurgitating food.

Hock Walking

The hock joint is the area connecting the dog’s paw and the shin (it corresponds to the ankle in a human).

It is common for some German Shepherd to constantly walk on their hocks. An activity brought about by over-angulation of the dog’s hips (breeding technique). 

Prolonged hock walking will affect a German Shepherd, in the long run, affecting their gait. Hock walking may be a cause of a sprain or dislocation in the hock/paw area. 

Signs and Symptoms

  • Constant walking on hocks
  • Whining or discomfort when walking
  • Swelling
  • Change in behavior 
  • Heat around the wounded area

Treatment of Hock Walking

The treatment of hock walking in a German Shepherd will depend on the cause. X-rays and blood tests will help a vet confirm the cause.

If it is a dislocation, invasive surgery may be required. But, if it is a sprain caused by physical problems, a hock holder or hock brace can offer support.

With therapy and hock support, a dog can recover from a hock injury.

Want to know why German Shepherds howl? Read these 7 Reasons Why German Shepherds Howl.

Degenerative Myelopathy

A worrying condition is a degenerative myelopathy, which is a neurological disease affecting the spine and muscles. It affects the nerves and causes dogs to slowly lose control of their hind legs. 

Eventually, a dog loses its ability to consciously urinate and defecate. In severe cases complete hind leg paralysis is common.

Dogs between the age of 5 and 14 years are at risk of developing degenerative myelopathy. 

Signs and Symptoms

  • Difficulty getting up and jumping 
  • Weakness in back legs during activity 
  • Reduced activity 

Treatment of Degenerative Myelopathy

Currently there are no treatments or cures for degenerative myelopathy. Nothing can slow or prevent degenerative myelopathy.

The prognosis is grim for dogs with this condition, and it can take a hold of mobility within months! 

The only thing an owner can do if their dog has this condition is to take care of their dog.

You can make him comfortable, provide a wheelchair and give them care they cannot provide for themselves. This will keep his quality of life high.

Osteoarthritis 

A condition seen in older dogs is osteoarthritis, the gradual degeneration of the cartilage in the joints.

Once a dog gets osteoarthritis he has more chances of developing arthritis as well. But, this greatly affects the activity range and levels of a dog. 

Signs and Symptoms

  • Loss of muscle mass in back legs
  • Reluctance to jump, get up, and move
  • Stiffness in the hindquarters
  • Lethargy 

Treatment of Osteoarthritis

The treatment of osteoarthritis involves bone and joint supplements, weight control, and pain medications.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common pain medication used. NSAIDs not only help the pain but also reduce joint inflammation.

breeding german shepherd

Tips To Avoid Bad Back Legs In Your German Shepherd

It’s no secret that prevention is better than cure, especially since some of these conditions do not have a cure yet.

So, keeping your dog relatively healthy can prevent some mobility conditions. Here are a few ways to ensure your German Shepherd is not the target of any mobility disease. 

Genetic Testing (Correct Breeding Methods)

When a German Shepherd develops bad legs, its owners want to know the cause immediately.

But, these owners are usually in shock to find out that genetics is the culprit! The German Shepherd is increasingly at risk for hip dysplasia. 

Buying from pedigree breeders means you can ask about the dogs used for breeding.

You can even ask them to conduct a genetic test to rule out hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy. Genetic testing for hip dysplasia depends on an x-ray test. 

The test requires an x-ray of the hips of the dog. The dog is given anesthesia to take the x-ray.

Once this is done, the results are sent to the BVA/KC Hip Dysplasia Scheme for assessment. Accordingly, test results (x-ray) are put against a pre-set group of values and given a grade. 

Dog experts aren’t lying when they say buy a dog from a pedigree/certified dog breeder. 

These breeders only select dogs of high-genetic composition for breeding. Each dog undergoes testing to ensure poor genetics and disease do not carry down to other generations.

Diet

Can’t ascertain the genetic background of your German Shepherd? 

You can always try your best to ward off disease and ailments with a healthy diet containing higher food quality.

But price doesn’t always dictate the quality of a dog’s food! Read the label carefully!

Important nutrients that should be present in dog food include: 

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K 

Each nutrient and mineral needs to be given to your dog in a certain quantity. This amount depends on your dog, age, weight, activity level, and overall health. 

In addition to healthy food, dog owners can provide their dogs with a supplement. These supplements can help improve bone and joint health.

The supplements dogs with bone issues may require are Collagen, Glucosamine, and Chondroitin. Luckily, the market has many options for these dog supplements.  

Immediate Medical Attention When Required

Notice something odd about your dog’s back legs or his mobility? Neglecting it is not a solution you should take to choosing.

It’s better to pay attention to it now, or else it could cost you dearly in the future! 

Mobility and joint issues can be initiated due to weight. If this is the case, increasing exercise through swimming can be a solution. 

Not all dogs experience pain in the early stages of back leg and spinal ailments.

You will have to observe your dog carefully to identify these diseases and their early signs and symptoms.

The German Shepherd has a higher chance of developing back leg issues and you should be aware of their symptoms.

This will help you to immediately pick up the slightest of changes in his life that point at disease. 

Adequate and Correct Exercise Habits

Exercising is a vital activity when you own a German Shepherd puppy. Having a regular and reliable exercise plan has two important benefits. 

Daily exercise will help to strengthen the bones and help stimulate muscle growth.

A regular exercise routine will aid in identifying poor back leg performance. Failing to get your German Shepherd enough exercise in his early years can lead to back leg defects. 

Another point to factor in is getting your German Shepherd the right exercise. Providing him with a range of exercises will be most beneficial for him.

Just playing tug of war will not do your German Shepherd puppy any good.

A dog needs to equally strengthen each one of its limbs, front and back. A mixture of all types of physical skills must be put to use. Running, jumping, and tugging is a must for any puppy. 

A good example of an exercise to strengthen the back leg muscles and hamstrings is the sit-to-stand exercise.

Bring your dog so he sits in front of you. Gradually move backward and call him to you. When he comes, give him a treat and repeat. 

Constant variable exercises will strengthen your German Shepherd’s back legs and also help to manage weight. 

Don’t Overstress Joints – Use A Pet Harness

If your dog is struggling with weight or has weak back legs, don’t allow him to carry his own weight.

The burden of his weight will affect his joints and bones more, especially if he is still a puppy. Instead, opt for a harness. 

The harness will alleviate the pressure that would otherwise be put on the back legs while walking.

This equipment is commonly put on dogs that are receiving physical therapy for spinal or back leg issues.

Massages and Hydrotherapy

Is your dog struggling to keep up with basic activity? Hydrotherapy could be the solution you are looking for.

Vet and dog rehabilitation clinics often use hydrotherapy to help dogs with mobility issues.

Read this if you are considering hydrotherapy for your dog and wondering: Do German Shepherds Like Water?

Water carries a dog’s weight and lets the dog use his limbs without any weight being put on them. This way the limbs can become stronger without being damaged by the weight of the whole body. 

Also, massaging your dog before and after exercise sessions can help improve mobility.

This helps to stretch the muscles and soften any stiff joints existing before/after exercise.

This might not cure the problem completely but you can use it in combination with another technique. 

Conclusion

If indeed you are set on getting a German Shepherd, take care to assure he is sourced from a good breeder! Poor breeding can be the bringer of bad new diseases.

The most dangerous are hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy.  

But even if you already have an adult German Shepherd, good practices can improve their health and delay disease.

So, start today, it is never too late to improve your dog’s life! 

FAQs

How can I strengthen my dog’s back legs?

Making your dog’s back legs stronger is a process that should start when he is just a puppy.
In fact, walking, swimming, and stretching the legs are great ways to improve mobility and stimulate muscle growth. 

Why do German Shepherds’ back legs slope?

Slight pain in a German Shepherd’s hip or the pelvic area will cause him to change gait and walk lower. Ultimately, this will make the back legs slope more.
Competition German Shepherd dogs have sloping back legs as it is a breed standard requirement.