Sophie Jackson is a dog lover and trainer living in the UK. She competes in agility and obedience with her four dogs.
You are watching your puppy or older walking towards you and it occurs to you that his front feet turn outwards, the toes pointing almost to the side. Is this something unusual that you should be worried about?
Turned out toes can be a product of the breed of your dog, its genetics, injuries it may have sustained or general health. It could indicate a problem that needs to be treated by your vet, or it could be just the way your dog is. Knowing why your dog points his toes out means you can manage the problem and keep him active, happy and pain-free.
What Should My Dog's Front Legs Look Like?
A dog's front legs have similar anatomy to human arms in that they have a shoulder, elbow and wrist joint. The front legs should form a straight line down from the dog's shoulder, the limbs appearing to be slightly tucked under the chest. The elbows should be straight and not stick out. The wrist joint should not twist either inwards or outwards.
When a dog's front legs are correctly aligned they provide the perfect support for an active life. They work as shock absorbers when a dog runs and jumps, allowing the force of a hard landing to be spread up evenly through the body to the shoulders and spine. They enable the dog to walk and run comfortably without undue strain on the joints that could lead to injury.
All dogs will occasionally turn their paw out at a slight angle, it may be when they change direction or are sitting and scratching. They will then correct the toe-out paw and stand normally again. It is when a dog cannot correct its paw and the wrist is permanently twisted that there is an issue.
Breeds Prone to Turned Out Paws
Certain breeds with long backs and short legs are predisposed to turned out paws. These include Basset Hounds, Dachshunds and certain small terriers. There are various theories as to why this occurs in these breeds. One suggestion is that long backs and short legs cause a dog to have bad posture which results in them splaying out their front feet.
Other breeds were purposely bred in the past to have turned out paws, these include the English bulldog, the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso. With our greater understanding of how a dog's joints work, such breeding practices are being discouraged.
Another genetic cause for turned out toes in these breeds is caused by the leg growing unevenly. The dog's lower front leg consists of two bones, the ulna and the radius. When one of these bones grows faster than the other, the leg becomes twisted. According to the charity Dachshund Health UK, the dachshund is more likely to have leg deformities because they are a dwarf breed (bred to be small and elongated) and dwarfism can lead to a number of physical problems. They recommend that only dachshunds with straight legs are bred to try to eliminate the problem.
The amount a dog turns out its feet due to these problems is variable. Some dogs may have just a slight turn to the foot, while others have paws that appear to turn out at a right angle to their leg. Extreme foot turning may require surgical correction as it can cause severe pain for the dog when walking.
Deformities Caused by Injuries
Sometimes a turned out foot is not due to the breed of the dog or its genetics, instead, it is caused by a trauma occurring that results in either the leg growing malformed or, in an older dog, healing twisted.
Puppies and young dogs are most vulnerable to these sorts of injuries. They can occur if a pup jumps down onto a hard surface, falls when running, slips or twists its leg, or if the puppy is over-exercised. Puppies have growth plates, these are at the ends of the bones and enable the bone to lengthen as the puppy grows. These eventually close to stop growth when the puppy reaches a certain age.
While the growth plates are open, they are vulnerable to injury that can result in disruption to normal bone development. Trauma to a limb during this time can cause a growth plate to close prematurely. If this occurs in the front leg and only affects one of the two bones that form the lower limb, then the leg will begin to grow unevenly and will start to twist.
Such problems need surgical intervention to correct the deformity and enable the dog to live a pain-free life.
Monitoring a puppy's exercise, avoiding strenuous activities (such as ball chasing and running up and down stairs) can help avoid this problem occurring.
In an older dog, a severe injury to the front leg can cause a paw to turn out. This might be a car accident where the limb was broken. Again, surgery may be required to correct the affected limb.
Other Causes of Turned Out Feet
While breed or injury tends to be the commonest reasons for a dog turning out their toes, there are other causes.
The elbow is a complex joint and when it develops abnormally it causes instability in the leg and ultimately arthritis in the joint. Dog's with elbow dysplasia may turn out their toes in an effort to alleviate the discomfort in their elbows. If the elbow dysplasia is treated, the dog will stop turning out its toes.
This condition affects the dog's carpus, or wrist and is seen in puppies usually between the ages of 6 to 12 weeks, but can affect puppies up to seven months of age. Though it can occur in any breed, it is primarily seen in medium and large breeds.
Though it is not certain what causes the condition, it is thought it may be due to an imbalance in the growth rate between the tendons and bones of the front legs. This may be due to genetics or diet.
Dogs can sometimes suffer from joint instability that results in weak joints. This may be due to malnutrition as a puppy or hypermobility (a condition where the ligaments are looser than they should be, also known as double-jointed in humans). If the wrist cannot properly support the leg, then the foot may turn out. This can be helped by physiotherapy to strengthen the wrist and supports to help the dog stand without twisting.
One of the easiest conditions to treat that might be causing your dog's foot to turn out is overly long claws. If the claws are too long they can make it difficult for the dog to walk on his toes properly and over time result in the feet being turned out. Trimming claws and keeping them short should solve the problem.
Deformities of the Paw
Though it is rare, sometimes a dog has a deformity to its front paws that means it cannot stand on them correctly. One example of this is when a toe does not grow and develop as it should, effectively leaving it stunted. This causes a dog to have only three functioning toes on the foot and they may compensate by twisting out their feet. This can also happen when a dog has to have a toe surgically removed. There is no treatment for this and dogs often cope well, but may need pain medication in later life.
In breeds predisposed to their toes turning out, being even slightly overweight can exacerbate the condition as it causes the dog to change its posture and how it carries its body. Keeping a dog slim will help the problem significantly.
Arthritis causes inflammation in a joint and over time extra bone forms where it is not needed. If there is arthritis in the wrist, the extra bone growth may cause it to twist and turn outwards. Joint supplements and veterinary anti-inflammatories can alleviate arthritis pain. Never use human anti-inflammatories unless your vet advises otherwise as they can cause fatal reactions.
Will My Puppy Stop Turning Out His Feet as He Grows?
Some puppies do go through a period when their toes turn out, but this disappears as they grow up. There are a couple of theories why this occurs, such as that it is to do with the overall growth of the dog and when their chest 'drops' this naturally corrects the toe-turning.
Puppies sometimes develop unevenly and this can cause them to appear awkward until the rest of their body catches up.
The important thing is, firstly, not to over-exercise a puppy and prevent them from doing a lot of activities that result in them landing on their front feet (jumping off furniture, climbing stairs). This can be easier said than done!
Secondly, if a puppy does not grow out of toe-turning within a couple of months, it is best to have a vet check them out as a problem caught sooner is likely to be less of an issue to correct.
The Consequences of Turned-Out Toes
When a dog stands with its toes out to the side, it is not carrying its body weight properly, the leg is twisted, the wrist is at an awkward angle and the dog cannot run or walk efficiently.
Long-term, this could result in your dog being in considerable pain and may result in arthritis in the affected joint. Dogs mask pain and will only show it when it has reached a severe stage. You may notice lameness or a reluctance to jump on and off furniture. The dog may dislike exercise as this leads to greater discomfort.
Correcting turned-out toes early can prevent this, but if left untreated the problem will become more severe over time and require more extension correction. Pain management, surgery and rehabilitation are all likely consequences for dogs with this issue.
Equally, dogs with turned-out toes will need their exercise managed to prevent them from injuring themselves or putting too much strain on their feet. Chasing balls and jumping for frisbees should all be avoided. Doing certain dog sports, such as agility or flyball, may also be out of the question depending on the severity of the turned out toes.
How Are They Corrected?
While mild toe turning may be corrected with physiotherapy and management, severe cases often require surgery by a specialist orthopaedic vet.
Initially, the vet will attempt to determine what has caused the problem and which part of the leg is affected. They will then determine a surgical plan. There are a variety of options;
- If one bone is growing longer than the other, the short bone is cut to allow the normal length bone to straighten and stop the leg from bowing.
- If the bone is twisted, cutting it and realigning it will resolve the problem.
- In dogs where growth of the limb has been prematurely stopped, an external frame is used to help the bone grow and adjust back to a normal length.
Any surgical options will require a dog's leg to be pinned and some alteration of the bone. The results of the surgery are normally dramatic and very encouraging. The leg straightens and the dog can return to normal activity after a period of rehabilitation. They are often more active due to the reduction in pain.
In dogs where surgery is not an option, pain management is going to be vital, as well as a suitable exercise regime to keep the dog fit and at a healthy weight. Your vet can advise on these and should be consulted whenever you notice an issue with your dog's feet.
© 2021 Sophie Jackson
For dogs who knuckle when they walk, Walkin’ Pets has the solution, the No-Knuckling Training Sock for rear or front legs. This training tool designed to help improve your pet’s paw placement by encouraging your dog to lift their paw off the ground. I created the sock after watching several of my patients struggle to lift their legs due to hind end weakness.
The training sock is light weight and simple to use. The sock’s straps are designed to wrap above and below the joint to provide additional joint support.
- Wrap the No-Knuckling Training Sock around your pet’s leg and secure with touch fastener straps.
- Place the elastic cord between your pet’s center toes.
- Pull slowly at top of cord to tighten.
- Check your dog’s reaction. If at first your dog isn’t lifting their paw, gradually tighten the cord to increase the cord tension.
How it Works
The elastic cord stimulates the nerves in your pet’s paw, triggering a withdrawal or flexor reflex causing the pet to pick up the leg. The hip, knee and hock will flex (bend) with the help of the sciatic nerve when this withdrawal reflex is engaged. Slowly retraining the pet to pick up its affected foot while walking.
The No-Knuckling Training Sock can be used on walks at home by pet owners and only needs to be worn for two to five minutes at the beginning of every walk or as directed by your Physical Rehabilitation professional. Incorporate the NKTS into your pets rehab sessions to enhance their training. Training Socks are available for both the front and rear legs to help any pet dealing with knuckling.
Many exercises and techniques in human medicine have made their way over to Veterinary Rehabilitation and now human medical advancements are being used to also help our pets. With rehab and the proper tools , there’s hope that your dog’s proprioception abnormalities can be improved.
The term dog knuckling refers to when a dog walks or rests on the top of their feet as opposed to their paws. This can happen to one limb or a couple but rarely all 4. Knuckling under is an uncomfortable position to be in and restricts dogs from doing all manner of things with ease, the most obvious ones being running and walking. If left untreated, dog knuckling back paw or dog knuckling front paw can lead to permanent damage and affect their gait forever. If you see your dog has started to knuckle it’s time to find a possible cause and to organise a trip to the vents.
Causes for knuckling in dogs vary wildly, there isn’t just one cause for it to happen. When looking to confirm if your dog is actually ‘knuckling under’ or just coincidentally placed it like that for no reason then hold your dogs paws and place it in a knuckling position on the floor if your dog corrects it then they aren’t knuckling if your dog doesn’t correct then they are knuckling under. It will be much more obvious if they do it with more than one paw.
Disclaimer: JugDog.co.uk are not a qualified source of canine medical help, and this guide is to be informative but not advice. If you suspect your dog needs medical attention consult a vet immediately.
Here are some common reasons why your dog may be knuckling under their paws:
One of the biggest causes for knuckling paws and the one you should look for first is sore paws. Sore paws itself could then have more than one symptom but if you check them out it should become obvious if this is the root cause of the knuckling. Has your dog cut or grazed their paws making it painful to walk on them? Be sure to clean the paw out and seek disinfectant for the wound and allow to heal over time – obviously try to not to make them go for walks unless necessary during this time. Other causes could be broken or infected nails which can arise from cutting them too close to the quick (we have an article of interest for the best dog nail clippers) or from their nails being split from wearing or a sudden impact.
Have a look at the paw and see for yourself, if it hasn’t resolved or healed well in a 24 hour period then consult a vet.
Carpal Flexural Deformity
Carpal flexural deformity means that the dog’s “wrists” haven’t developed well enough to bare the weight of the dog and makes the dog knuckle under to allow them to bare the weight. Carpal flexural deformity occurs usually in young puppies as they are under going a growth spurt and a plausible theory is that some parts of the dog is growing and developing faster than others. A splint can help get the development back on track and usually should rectify the problem permanently. It’s most common in larger breeds such as Great Danes, German Shepherds and Dobermans.
If you notice your puppy knuckling under and it’s a medium to large breed then consult your veterinarian straight away.
Older dogs who are experiencing arthritis can struggle to move because of their joints seizing up and this can lead to dogs knuckling under their paws as a means to make it a little bit more comfortable, this is a well known progressive disease which will only worsen with time unfortunately, knuckling under is likely to not be the first symptom of arthritis.
Degenerative myelopathy is a similar condition which affects the white matter in the canine’s spinal cord slowly making them lose control of their hind limbs slowly. This is a condition affecting dogs between the ages of 8 and 14 and unfortunately like arthritis this is a condition which will only get worse. However, it is not painful for the dog.
If you have a older dog whose paw is knuckling under then I’d consider these two reasons first, especially if they are of a larger breed such as a German Shepherd.
Carpal Flexural Deformity
Carpal flexural deformity is another condition which occurs during the dog’s early days. This is often as a result of a poor diet (see our range of high fibre dog food and wet dog food) and having an excess protein intake. As we’ve mentioned previously, we aren’t qualified veterinarians so if you have a young dog under 5 months of age who is knuckling their paws under then take them to the vet and they will be able to see if the cause can be treated with an improved diet. With carpal flexural deformity if treated properly and perhaps with the aid of a splint symptoms (knuckling) should go away after a couple of weeks.
Don’t self diagnose a dog. Go get them seen by a professional.
Fibrocartilaginous embolism is a nasty condition which can is brought on by sudden trauma during exercise, the trauma breaks of a part of the spine which cuts off blood supply to area of the body such as limbs and so on. This is a very serious condition which is difficult to spot initially – you may notice a yelp during exercise but may not see your dog in any more pain after that. Knuckling is but one of many symptoms of fibrocartilaginous embolism so you’ll probably know to take your dog to the vet before any knuckling happens.
Should You Allow It?
While the occasional paw during petting sessions or sweet moments with your pup can be endearing, it can quickly become an annoying habit. When our dogs are used to getting what they want each time they paw at our legs, they will continue to use this tactic whenever possible.
In most cases, when our companions are using their paw for communication, they are demanding our immediate attention in that moment. Allowing your pet to continue this behavior is only opening the door for other behaviors that lack manners.
While we love our pets dearly, it’s important to instill a relationship that is respectful on both ends.You wouldn’t tolerate a friend who constantly tugged at your arm each time they needed something, right? The relationship with our doggy companions should be no different. While our pets play a role in this pushy action, we also have to consider if it’s appropriate to let this pattern continue.
Putting an end to this behavior can be tough, since we don’t realize just how often we reward this type of behavior. Think of each time you walk in the door after a long day of work, and you are greeted by your excited pup. It warms our hearts to have our pets so excited to see us at the end of the day, that we allow the playful jumping and pawing at your legs as we are setting our things down in an effort to deliver the immediate love they are asking for.
Each time we allow this form of communication which is essentially asking for our immediate attention, we are blurring the lines of when these manners are acceptable. Every time we give in to pawing in any form, we are showing them that this behavior works, so why wouldn’t our dogs want to try it at other times?
A habit like this usually starts small and grows with time. What starts off as a gentle nudge under the table for a bite of your dinner, can quickly turn into rough scratching at your leg each time you sit down to eat. Taking away your response to this action is essential to stopping this behavior if it’s becoming overwhelming and something that may bother guests or family in your home.
Stopping the Paw
It’s up to us to stop giving in to the behavior when it does happen. Start by teaching your dog a new way to gain positive attention. When your pup tries to scratch your leg, immediately correct this behavior, and encourage them to sit instead. By being consistent with this training your doggo will learn that they no longer get what they want with pushy behaviors, but instead have a positive reaction when they sit politely and wait for your attention.
Each time try to delay the response in which you offer the attention that they are looking for. By extending the time that your pup has to wait for your response, he will eventually learn that we do not offer our attention on their time.
The most difficult part of this process is sticking to the training, as our pups can be quite convincing when they want to be! Just remember that a well behaved pup is a joy, and will result in a much happier home for everyone.
If at-home training fails to end this habit, basic obedience training can be a great way to teach your furry companion some manners. Basic training can only improve your pups quality of life, as structure and confidence are often gained from these courses.
8 Common Dog Paw Problems
The Spruce / Almar Creative
Dogs spend the majority of their time on their paws walking, running, and fetching, so it's easy to see how important it is to make sure that you take good care of your dog’s paws. Paw pads provide insulation for a dog’s feet, provide traction, aid with balance, slowing down, and stopping, and act as shock absorbers for the bones and joints that make up the dog’s feet and legs. Despite the fact that they are durable and designed to withstand a large amount of activity and wear, they do encounter some problems.
It is important to check your dog’s paws regularly for any issues, and to take steps to keep them healthy and protected