Muscular Atrophy in Older Dogs

As the dog grows older, his body shows physical signs of aging, such as a gray muzzle, cloudy eyes, thick nails, and loss of muscle strength. Muscular Atrophy may not necessarily be part of normal aging, though; it can be a symptom of a medical problem that can be corrected through veterinary care.

Muscular Atrophy
Muscular dystrophy is the weakening or wasting of muscle mass. It can be seen as a loss of muscle strength and is most noticeable in the hind legs and hips of the large dogs. Muscular dystrophy has two main causes: lack of activity and disease, both of which work together. For example, a dog with a muscle-weakening disease may become inactive, which accelerates muscle atrophy.

Natural aging
As the dog’s body ages, he naturally suffers from a small amount of Muscular Atrophy due to a lack of growth hormones and his body’s changing ability to process protein. Less activity due to lower energy levels also leads to muscle loss in the large dog. This normal muscle loss is mild and mainly appears on its hind limb, where the muscle is most noticeable. If your dog shows signs of major muscular dystrophy, or if his loss is visible around his head and neck, this could be a sign of a serious illness. Call your vet if you have any concerns.

Arthritis attacks the joints of older dogs, not the muscles, but can still lead to muscle atrophy. As arthritis degenerates the joint, often in your dog’s hips and knees, it causes significant pain. This pain causes your dog to move stiffly and slowly and makes him hesitant to play, run or exercise like usual. This decrease in activity, coupled with a reluctance to stretch the muscles and use them fully, leads to muscular atrophy. Pain management medications, as well as joint support and physical therapy, can minimize the effects of arthritis, which in turn encourages your dog to exercise and restore his muscle mass.

Other diseases
Many serious diseases common in older dogs can lead to muscular atrophy. These include degenerative myelopathy, which is common in German Shepherds but is also present in other strains, sciatic dysplasia, intervertebral disc diseases, and cervical spondylopathy, known as the oscillator. Treating the cause of the problem, such as sciatic dysplasia repair surgery, can eventually improve your dog’s muscle strength as he becomes more active.

Treatment or treatment
In the absence of other problems, muscular atrophy is treated with regular exercise and weight loss. Your dog’s activity level should gradually increase to give him time to become conditioned on additional exercises without feeling intense or uncomfortable. Excess weight increases pressure on the dog’s joints and make movement more difficult, so weight loss encourages him to move and exercise more, which in turn reduces muscular atrophy. Consult your veterinarian to create an exercise and diet suitable for your dog.