My Dog is Dragging the Top of His Paws

    Dogs don't shuffle. They don't even appreciate the concept of cool. Therefore, if your dog is dragging the tops of his paws when he walks, there is definitely something wrong. Usually this represents something known as a proprioceptive deficit. This is similar to the feeling we get when our legs “fall asleep.” In dogs, it is always a sign of some form of neurological problem and should be evaluated by a veterinarian, preferably a neurologist.

    What to Look For

    Start by observing your dog closely as he walks toward you, then away from you. Look for evidence of unsteadiness or any unevenness of gait. Watch as each paw strikes the ground. Evaluate both your dog's way of carrying himself as a whole and, more specifically, the way he holds his head.

    Next, stand him beside you and, one at a time, lift each paw and place it on the ground “knuckled under.” His normal response should be to immediately lift the paw and replace it correctly, pads down. Finally, perform an ocular exam like the one outlined in “My Dog's Eyes Are Red” and a spinal exam like the one included in “My Dog Is Stiff” [not available online].

    What to Do
    Answer the following questions to figure out what to do based upon what you found:

    • Does your dog's sense of balance seem abnormal? Paw dragging can be caused by poor balance. Refer to “My Dog Keeps Losing His Balance” for advice on how to evaluate and deal with balance issues.
    • Does your dog appear to be favoring one limb in particular? If the favored limb is also the one that your dog is dragging, examine it more closely for signs of pain, starting at the toes and working your way up to the body. If you find any point of tenderness, deal with it appropriately, but if there is no evidence of pain or discomfort, the problem is probably neurological.
    • Did your ocular exam reveal any evidence of neurological damage? Paw dragging can result from a variety of intra- cranial events such as hemorrhage, stroke, or tumor growth. Seek help from your veterinarian if you suspect any of these.
    • Did your spinal exam show any evidence of abnormalities? Intervertebral disc disease and spinal column problems can be the source of proprioceptive deficits that may be treatable. See your vet for advice.
    • Has your dog recently gotten into any unusual chemicals or medications? Since many toxins have a direct effect on the nervous system, it is common for exposure to a variety of substances to result in abnormal behaviors or neurological symptoms. Some may even cause temporary blindness.

    When to Get the Vet

    If you know what chemicals or medications your dog has possibly ingested or inhaled, call the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for immediate advice. Plan to make a trip to the nearest animal emergency facility as well.