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Muscle Atrophy In Dogs – Causes, Prevention, & Treatments

Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

What Is Muscle Atrophy In Dogs?

Muscular Atrophy is a congenital, progressive, non-inflammatory, degenerative muscular disease causing deterioration of the mass of muscles. Wasting of the dog's muscles occurs sometimes in localized areas and other times affecting multiple locations. Muscle atrophy can affect any breed, while giant dog breeds are highly prone to experience it as they are more inclined to have diseases like arthritis and can age faster than small breeds.

Muscular Atrophy often occurs in the legs, mainly the hind legs, however, it can manifest in other areas of the body. When there is atrophy due to surgery or injury, it may be quite obvious. Atrophy can crop up gradually over a period of time and is non-noticeable at all times, particularly in dogs with longer coats. There are a variety of reasons for muscle atrophy. The natural aging process, illness, and reduced activity often result in muscle atrophy. Surgery or chronic limping on a limb naturally cause atrophy typically is more noticeable.

Disuse or reduced activity is another reason for atrophy. When your dog always uses a muscle less than he is supposed to use for an extended period, atrophy can creep in. This can be the case for dogs with injuries, arthritis, or those dogs that have undergone surgery and are on prolonged crate rest.

In general, the definition of Muscle atrophy is a reduction in the mass of the muscle that can be a partial or total wasting away of tissues of a muscle. There may be several common diseases that can cause muscle atrophy, such as myositis, Degenerative myelopathy, diabetes, renal failure, and cancer.

Symptoms Of Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

  • Stiffness in muscles/Weakening of muscles
  • Stiff gait (bunny hops)
  • Progressive rear limb weakness
  • Plantigrade stance
  • Progressive generalized weakness
  • Ataxia
  • Paw dragging
  • Tremors
  • Limb deformity
  • Resistance to exercise

Treatment Options For Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

There are no ways to prevent or reverse muscular atrophy now

There is no specific cure for muscle trophy but it can be treated to relieve symptoms

Based on the underlying condition, experts may advise one or a combination of these treatments:

Treatment of trophy of tumor origin: Surgery, radiation therapy chemotherapy

Treatment of atrophy of infectious origin: Antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, or antiparasitics

Treatment of immune-mediated or inflammatory diseases:

Immunosuppressive therapy: Cyclosporine (Atopica and Optimmune), Budesonide (Entocort EC, Uceris, Pulmicort), Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine, Sulfazine) or Chlorambucil

Home Remedies For Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

There are no home remedies as mostly this is an inherited/ idiopathic disease.

However, Physical therapy can be useful in some dogs depending on the severity of the disease. Physical therapy can also be done to improve muscle strength.

How To Prevent Muscle Atrophy In Dogs?

When dogs are diagnosed with muscular atrophy, it is significant to take steps to avoid breeding those dogs to eliminate muscular atrophied dogs from the gene pool.

Affected Dog Breeds Of Muscle Atrophy

Afghan Hound, German Shepherd, English Mastiff, Irish Wolfhound, Italian Greyhound, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger, Miniature Schnauzer, Neapolitan Mastiff, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Large Dog Breeds, Senior Dogs

Causes And Types For Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

1. Causes:

  1. Hereditary: Some dogs may be predisposed genetically to muscle atrophy.
  2. Acquired myopathy causes:
    • Idiopathic
    • Myositis
    • Degenerative myelopathy
    • Diabetes
    • Renal failure
    • cancer
    • Bacterial and/or viral infection
    • Trauma/ Exposure to allergens/ environmental toxins

2. Types:

1. Hereditary atrophy:

Metabolic atrophy: Muscular atrophy is due to the failure to appropriately convert food into energy because of a lack of enzymes needed for metabolism.

Mitochondrial atrophy: This is caused due to breakdown of the energy-producing structures in the cells called mitochondria.

2. Acquired Atrophy:

Inflammatory atrophy: Idiopathic inflammation of the skeletal muscles.

Endocrine atrophy: Atrophy due to too much or too little hormone production from the endocrine glands (e.g. pituitary gland).

Toxic atrophy: This is caused by certain toxins and drugs.

Infectious myopathy: The name implies, this is due to an infection that prevents the muscles from functioning properly.

3. Morbidity:

There are different types of muscular trophies and they can vary in terms of the dogs they affect, what their clinical signs are and which muscles they affect. However, whatever the form of the trophy is, it is not self-limiting and always becomes increasingly worse— this indicates, the longer the dog has the condition, muscles get increasingly weaker.

4. Diagnosis:

  • Nerve and muscle biopsy
  • Nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG)
  • CT scan and MRI
  • Serum creatine kinase test
  • EKGs and a neurological examination

5. Mortality:

Dogs affected with atrophy are similar to muscle atrophy symptoms of humans. The dogs usually adapt to the weakness and typically muscle atrophy is not life-threatening by itself.

6. Prognosis:

The prognosis for muscular atrophy is guarded. As the existing condition is not life-threatening, meticulous treatment is usually not necessary. There is also no approved treatment protocol as of now. Healthy food and exercise are the best defenses available.

When To See A Vet For Muscle Atrophy In Dogs?

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

  • Stiff gait (bunny hops)
  • Stiffness in muscles/Weakening of muscles
  • Difficulty in swallowing

Food Suggestions For Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

  • High protein, Low fat, and low carbohydrate meals
  • Lean meats such as Lean ground beef, chicken breast, whitefish (cod, haddock, tilapia, and trout), spinach, kale, eggs, peas, and broccoli
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products like cottage cheese, plain yogurt, and kefir
  • Healthy carb ingredients such as Fresh or frozen carrots, peas, green beans, lentils, corn sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin

Supplements needed:

  • Vitamin D and calcium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Creatine
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Resveratrol


Muscle atrophy restricts your dog from living its life to the fullest. Diagnosis of muscle atrophy in dogs can be tested, sometimes even by vet professionals. However, early diagnosis and a proper treatment plan do a world of good for atrophied dogs. In many cases, this prevents the development of any underlying condition to a permanent or to a more severe state.

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