What is Muscle Atrophy in dogs?

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What is muscle atrophy in dogs? You might already be familiar with the term ‘Muscle Atrophy’, or it could be the first time you’ve ever heard of it. Either way, it’s something all dog owners should be aware of and understand.  

What is Muscle Atrophy in dogs?

Muscle Atrophy is when the muscles in a dog’s body begin to weaken and waste away. It mostly affects the back legs, but, occasionally, it can be an issue in the head or the stomach. This is an introduction to Muscle Atrophy in dogs – the tell-tale signs, the causes and how you can support your pet if it becomes a problem… 

How to spot the signs of Muscle Atrophy

As dog owners, it’s important that we learn to spot the signs of Muscle Atrophy as soon as possible. The first thing to look out for? How your dog is acting when it comes to walkies. Do they seem generally less comfortable when they’re on the move? Do they look stiffer than usual? Are they in pain? These are all behaviours that could point towards Muscle Atrophy. Here are some other key watchouts… 

  • Your dog’s hind legs are looking thinner  
  • Your dog may be using its front legs more  
  • Sudden weight loss 
  • Crossing of the legs when standing or walking 
  • Dragging of the paws 
  • Muscles that feel soft or ‘flabby’ under the fur and skin 

What causes Muscle Atrophy in dogs?

The most common causes of Muscle Atrophy in dogs are age and inactivity. If you combine the two, you’re left with a senior dog who’s way less active than he or she once was. This pairing, which is really common in senior canines, can lead to Muscle Atrophy fairly easily.  
A certain amount of Muscle Atrophy is normal as your dog gets older. Just like humans, senior dogs produce less growth hormones as they age. It means they’re not as competent when it comes to breaking down protein, which helps to build that all-important muscle mass.  
For this reason, dogs naturally get slower and stiffer, which means they’re less mobile and therefore less active. Because they’re less mobile, they get even slower and even stiffer…you start to see a pattern here, don’t you? That’s why regular exercise is crucial to keep a canine moving. Supplements can be extremely effective at easing stiffness and pain, and promoting mobility.   
It goes without saying that, if you notice your dog is losing a considerable amount of muscle, you should contact your vet immediately. It could be a sign of an even more serious, life-threatening condition.  

Breeds more at risk of Muscle Atrophy

Certain breeds are actually more prone to ‘myopathy’ than others – the diseases that cause damage to muscles and eventually result in Muscle Atrophy. These breeds fall into two categories:  

  • Large dogs, such as German Shepherds 
  • Sighthounds (so-called for using their sight and speed to hunt) such as Greyhounds   

These types of breeds may be more susceptible to things like Fibrotic Myopathy, which causes weakness in the thigh muscles, Centronuclear Myopathy, which can cause muscle loss in the early years, and disorders that result in muscle wastage or muscle loss.  

How can you help if your dog has Muscle Atrophy?

Once you’ve identified the cause of the muscle loss, and have established it’s Muscle Atrophy at play and not something more sinister, there are a couple of things you can do to help… 

Get walking! 
As we’ve touched on, exercise is the number one building block for muscle tone and mass, so get that lead back out and head out into the fresh air! If your pooch has been struggling with activity and that’s part of the problem, keep it slow and steady, and aim for short, gentle walks instead of long ones. If you’re worried, speak to your vet about a suitable routine.  

Maintain a healthy diet  
Extra weight will make Muscle Atrophy worse, as it puts even more strain on your dog’s joints and muscles. To combat this, go easy on the tasty treats, ensure your canine’s got a nutritious feeding routine that’s full of protein, and steer well clear of human food. A healthy dog is a happy dog!  

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