As dogs get older, their muscles gradually begin to lose function and waste away in a process called muscle atrophy. It’s a natural side effect of getting older, but it can also result from inactivity after an injury or illness, like a broken leg. Here’s what you need to know about muscle atrophy in dogs.
General muscle atrophy is typically not an emergency situation and has likely been progressing for a while as your dog has gotten older. You can make an appointment at the vet to get it evaluated, but it’s not urgent. It becomes more severe if the atrophying muscles are concentrated around the neck or head. That can be an emergency, so call your vet right as soon as you notice it.
Muscle atrophy in dogs is common and inevitable. Here’s why it happens:
Muscle atrophy may be caused by different issues, like age or injury, but the end result is the same: the muscles themselves waste away. Atrophied muscles inhibit the dog’s movement and negatively impact their quality of life.
To determine why your dog’s muscles are atrophying, your vet will do a complete physical exam, which will include a body condition score. After that, they will begin to rule out possible causes, like myositis, by doing blood work, X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, and urine and stool analysis. For degenerative myelopathy, the vet might also add some extra bloodwork, myelography, or a spinal tap to their diagnostic workup.
Muscle atrophy in dogs can cause its own set of symptoms, including limping, balance problems, and paralysis. Watch out for these other symptoms that could happen in conjunction with muscle atrophy:
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