While not as common as limping, knuckling is a concerning issue among pet parents worldwide. Dog knuckling is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying problem.

In this article, I, Ivana Crnec, DVM, will explain everything you need to know about knuckling in dogs, from causes and symptoms to diagnosis and treatment.

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  1. What Is Knuckling in Dogs
  2. Causes of Knuckling in Dogs
  3. Symptoms of Knuckling in Dogs
  4. Diagnosing Dog Knuckling
  5. Knuckling Treatment for Dogs
  6. FAQs
  7. Conclusion

What Is Knuckling in Dogs

Knuckling in dogs is a condition in which the paw bends under, and the dog walks on its paw tops or knuckles. The issue is mostly neurologic and, in rare cases, orthopedic.

Dogs are more likely to develop knuckling on the hind legs; however, the front legs are affected in some cases. Knuckling is sporadic or continuous and can affect one, more, or all limbs.

“Knuckling in dogs is usually fairly easy to recognize but can signal a variety of conditions,” explains Dr. Julie Buzby in an article for ToeGrips.

Observe your dog’s gait and balance while walking or standing to check for knuckling. If you are walking and your dog suddenly starts bending its paws under, seek vet attention. Also, make sure the dog is wearing a GPS tracker when walking to prevent escape-related accidents.

Causes of Knuckling in Dogs

The tendons, muscles, and joints of the legs have receptors that send signals via the nerves to the spinal cord and brain. The signals are processed and determine the foot’s position in the space.

Knuckling occurs when the signaling pathway is interrupted. In rare cases, it develops when the leg structures cannot support the dog’s weight or when senior dogs become too frail.

Neurological Disorders Causing Paw Knuckling

Here are the top four neurological causes of dog knuckling.

  • Spinal Stroke: Spinal stroke or fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) is a condition when an intervertebral disc ruptures and its pieces enter and obstruct the small blood vessels supplying the spinal cord.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy: Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive disease of the spinal cords with an unknown origin, causes paralysis, and has a poor prognosis.
  • Wobbler Syndrome: Wobbler syndrome develops when the spinal cord is compressed in the neck area. It has a high incidence in Dobermans and Great Danes.
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease: Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) occurs when the disc ruptures, degenerates, and bulges, pressuring the dog’s spinal cord. IVDD is prevalent in Dachshunds.

Orthopedic Problems Causing Paw Knuckling

Here are the top three orthopedic causes of paw knuckling.

  • Carpal Flexural Deformity: Carpal flexural deformity is a knuckling-causing syndrome in large and giant-breed puppies, typically associated with poor dietary choices.
  • Muscle Tone Loss: Muscle tone loss occurs due to nutritional imbalances, increased body weight, or old age and causes knuckling in some cases.
  • Traumatic Injuries: Paw bending, in some cases, is the result of painful conditions on the paws, such as foreign objects lodged between the dog’s toes.

Symptoms of Knuckling in Dogs

Symptoms of knuckling in dogs include abnormal paw positioning, foot-dragging, shaking, trouble walking, and abnormal gait.

  • Abnormal Paw Positioning: Keeping the paw bent or curled under is a telltale sign of knuckling and is easily noticeable.
  • Foot Scrapping or Dragging: The dog scrapes or drags the affected leg behind it while walking.
  • Leg Shaking: The area above the knuckled paw, called the metacarpus (on front legs) or metatarsus (on hind legs), is often weak and shaking.
  • Trouble Walking: Knuckling throws the dog out of balance and causes difficulty walking. The dog is reluctant to get up and be physically active.
  • Unsteady or Uneven Gait: The dog seems unstable when walking or sitting. Use the Petcube Pet Camera to keep an eye on your dog’s movement when not at home.

Diagnosing Dog Knuckling

Diagnosing dog knuckling requires X-rays and advanced imaging techniques, such as MRI and CT scans. The imaging helps determine the underlying cause and helps choose the best treatment option.

The dog knuckling test is also helpful. To perform it, the vet keeps the dog standing while supporting its weight and flips the paw. The veterinarian checks whether and how fast the dog corrects the knuckled paw into a normal position.

Knuckling Treatment for Dogs

The treatment for knuckling in dogs depends on the underlying cause and ranges from simple medications to complex surgeries.

NSAIDs or non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs are used to manage the pain. Laser therapy helps with the pain while also supporting faster healing.

Customized dog knuckling braces and mobility aids like harnesses are helpful in keeping the paw straight while supporting the dog’s weight.

Physical therapy, including low-impact proprioception exercises and alternative treatments such as acupuncture, acupressure, and massage, are worth considering in some cases.

The veterinarian will recommend a treatment plan tailored to the dog’s condition and individual needs.

Treating knuckling in dogs can be expensive. Consider a pet insurance plan, such as the Petcube Emergency Fund, to deal with veterinary bills easily.

The fund offers $3,000 for emergencies and unlimited access to online vets. We are rewarding you for reading this article with a 27% off the emergency fund; you just need to use this link.


How to Wrap a Dog’s Leg for Knuckling Over?

Wrap a dog’s lef for knuckling over with the No-Knuckling Training Sock. Put the sock on and strap it using the fasteners. Consult your trusted veterinarian before wrapping the dog’s leg as part of the knuckling management plan.

Will Knuckling Over Correct Itself?

Some puppies' knuckling corrects itself without treatment. In certain situations, puppies can overgrow knuckling, while others require treatment or retain it throughout their lives.

Is Knuckling in Dogs Painful?

Knuckling itself is not painful, but it is sometimes the result of severe pain. Also, the injuries associated with dragging the feet and scraping them against the floor are painful or at least uncomfortable.


Knuckling is a neurological or orthopedic condition characterized by bent paws. It can affect one or more paws and is seen in dogs of all ages.

Abnormal paw positioning, foot scraping or dragging, leg shaking, trouble walking, and unsteady or uneven gait are telltale signs of dog knuckling.

The treatment for knuckling depends on the cause and is medical or surgical. The prognosis is also variable and goes from good to poor.

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