If you have an elderly dog or a dog with a medical condition, it's important to be aware of something called muscle atrophy. Muscle atrophy is the weakening or loss of muscle tissue in dogs. It most commonly affects the legs, especially the hind legs, but it may occasionally affect other parts of the body.  

When atrophy occurs as a result of an accident or surgery, it can be very noticeable. But, this isn't always the case. Atrophy can develop slowly over time, making it harder for you to notice, especially in dogs with dense fur.

My dog has lost muscle mass. Why? 

Muscle atrophy can be caused by a number of factors. It’s a common side effect of the aging process, as well as disease and decreased activity. Atrophy can occur early in the course of a disease or injury. Chronic limping or amputation of a leg also causes atrophy, which occurs much more visibly and rapidly than would otherwise be the case.

Another common cause is pain. Pain is common in dogs with joint injuries or arthritis, and pain can cause muscle fiber damage. Weakness and atrophy may occur when muscle fibers are not completely activated.

Your dog not remaining active can also lead to muscle atrophy. Atrophy may begin to occur when your dog uses a muscle less than he usually does for an extended period of time. This is especially true for dogs with arthritis, disabilities, or those on crate rest following surgery.

Clinical signs of muscle atrophy in dogs

Checking your dog's muscles on a regular basis will help you detect early signs of atrophy, before it gets too far. Other symptoms of atrophy, in addition to muscles that appear to be weakening or thinning, include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Muscle wasting in dogs, or muscles that are soft or frail
  • Limping or dragging his or her paws 
  • Loss of coordination or an unbalanced stance
  • A rear limb that is no longer being used as a source of support
  • Changes in posture
  • Inactivity 

You should also remain aware of any changes in your dog's general behavior. Dogs who are experiencing the beginning of atrophy may have a hard time walking up the stairs or jumping in the car on their own. 

If your dog is recovering from surgery

While your dog will need some crate rest after surgery, movement is an important part of the healing process. Crate rest without any form of exercise increases the likelihood of atrophy. It may also make the healing process take longer.

Even if your dog is limited to crate rest, you can keep his mind and body engaged by engaging him in stimulating activities. During the healing period, make sure the exercises are matched to your dog's unique injury and behavior capabilities. Start slowly and steadily increase the number and types of activities as your dog gains strength. 

A well-balanced diet can help promote muscle health in dogs

The idea of a balanced diet isn't new, but it's only in the last decade or so that we've really started to understand how food affects us (and our dogs) at the most fundamental level. Feed your dog a range of whole, natural foods, including nutrient-dense carbohydrates, fats, and high-quality protein, to fulfill his nutritional needs.

Dogs' muscle fitness is just as critical as human muscle health. Keeping dogs' nutritional needs met will help them live longer, have a better quality of life, and have less vet visits as they get older.

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies can greatly reduce pain, inflammation, and discomfort the atrophy may be causing your dog.

Nutritional supplements, like Canine Cush, can help with mobility and homeostasis (balance within the body). Canine Cush contains THC-free CBD oil, as well as highly bioavailable forms of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, boswellia, curcumin and hyaluronic acid. All of these highly bioavailable ingredients work together synergistically to add anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) support.

Other options, such as those used in dog rehabilitation programs, including hydrotherapy (water therapy/swimming) and regular physical therapy should also be considered for dogs with muscle atrophy. 

The bottom line

It's important not to panic if you suspect your dog is suffering from muscle atrophy, particularly given how common this condition is. To assist your dog, the first step is to take it to the veterinarian to ascertain the cause of the atrophy.

If your pup is not sick, and the muscle loss is related to senior dog muscle atrophy, it is important that you stick to a regimen of exercise and implement a well-balanced diet for your dog. Your dog may be reluctant to exercise at first, but it's important to rebuild those muscles.   

If your dog is diagnosed with an illness, your veterinarian will assist you in developing a proper routine to follow relating to activity and diet.

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