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Why Is My Dog Kicking Their Back Leg Randomly? Examining The Reasons - PawSafe

Why Is My Dog Kicking Their Back Leg Randomly? Examining The Reasons

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why dog is kicking their back leg randomly

Have you ever noticed your dog kicking their back leg randomly? It may seem like a strange behavior, but it is actually quite common among dogs. These leg kicks may appear arbitrary at first glance. Yet, they often communicate subtle but informative messages about your dog’s emotional and physical state.

It’s true that the most common reason for this kicking is due to a reflex action. Dogs have a natural reflex called the “scratch reflex,” which causes them to kick their legs when a certain spot on their body is scratched or rubbed. However, this is not the only reason for the random leg movements or tremors, with some having medical significance.

In this exploration, we dig deeper into unexpected hind leg movements in dogs, offering signs when it’s something to worry about. Sofia Gonzalez, DVM, ACVIM (Neurology), observes that involuntary movements without changes in consciousness characterize movement disorders such as this.

Normal hind movements are short-lived, while those that are medically related are long-lasting and recurring. Severe limb contractions and motions can affect a dog’s quality of life, such as constantly stumbling while walking, so prompt medical attention is vital.

Of course, my own dogs kick their legs all the time, mostly when they are dreaming or after they poop and kick the ground to mark their scent. 

The one time I have seen a dog start moving their hind legs randomly due to a medical issue was when my mother accidentally overdosed her tiny Yorkshire Terrier with too much tick and flea treatment for his size.

His neurological symptoms from the overdose caused tremors and muscle spasms in his back legs. A rush to a vet ended with some activated charcoal and luckily the overdose was not too severe to need a lot of medical treatment. But it’s worth noting the  leg spasm kept happening for several months after the incident.

Our article on a dog’s hind legs shaking offers insight into a movement that is not as pronounced as kicking but is still concerning. 

Identifying Spasms, Tremors, And Seizures That Affect The Hind Legs

A sleeping puppy kicking her hind leg while sleeping

Muscle spasms can cause your dog’s leg to jerk or twitch involuntarily. Tremors, on the other hand, are rhythmic movements that can affect one or more limbs (they look a lot like shaking). 

Seizures are more severe and can cause your dog to lose consciousness and experience violent muscle contractions. Seizures are a terrifying ordeal for both pets and owners. So, we’ve dedicated an entire article to help you know what a seizure looks like if you suspect it is the cause of the movements.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog’s hind legs, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian. They can perform a physical exam and run diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the issue.

Why Dogs Kick Their Back Legs Normally (Harmless Reasons)

A Jack Russell Terrier puppy kicking back leg at camera

There are actually a few reasons why dogs kick their rear legs normally. Let’s explore some of them.

Scratching an Itch

Dogs will throw their legs adorably when you hit that sweet spot, whether it’s when giving belly rubs or a good old scratch. Dogs have a natural reflex to kick their limbs when they’re being scratched or want to reach a certain spot. 

This reflex is a way to relieve the itch and feels good for them. So, if you notice your dog moving their hind leg when you’re scratching them, it’s likely just a reflex.

Excitement 

Some dogs may kick their legs as a way to release excess energy or excitement. This is especially common in puppies or younger dogs who may have more energy to burn off. It can also be a sign that your dog needs more physical activity or exercise to help them release their energy in a more productive way.

@rushabout30

Kung Fu Dog. Back leg kick#The cute pet has become a smart one.

♬ Love Story (Sped Up) – SNC

Stretching

Another reason for this motion is to stretch. Dogs need to stretch just like humans do, and kicking their hind legs is one way they can do it. When dogs stretch, they often kick their legs out to the side to help them balance. This is a natural movement for them and helps keep their muscles strong and flexible.

Spreading their scent 

Kicking, particularly after peeing, is a natural behavior for dogs to spread out their scent and mark their territory. This behavior is more common in male dogs, neutered or not, but females may also exhibit this behavior. Dogs have scent glands on their paws, so kicking the ground is an excellent way to leave a scent trail.

Playfulness

Finally, a dog may kick their back legs when they are feeling playful. This behavior is often seen in puppies, who love to play and explore their surroundings. Kicking their legs may be a way for them to play with their hoomans and other dogs, like this adorable Shiba:

@rushabout30

Kung Fu Dog. Back leg kick#The cute pet has become a smart one.

♬ Love Story (Sped Up) – SNC

15 Health Reasons for Random Leg Kicking

As dog owners, we may have observed our canines doing abrupt leg kicking while lying down or even standing up. While it may seem like an odd behavior, there are several possible reasons for this action.

1. Toxins 

Sudden limb kicks can sometimes be a sign of exposure to certain toxins or poisons. Toxins exist everywhere, such as organophosphates found in some pesticides, as well as poisonous foods like chocolate, grapes, garlic, and mushrooms. These can affect a dog’s nervous system, leading to involuntary muscle movements.

This was the case with Joshie, my mother’s 13-year-old Yorkie who got too much Simparica for his weight causing a spasm in his rear legs. While Simparica is quite a safe tick-and-flea treatment, we must always remember that getting the dosage on a medication wrong can be very dangerous for our dogs can cause neurological issues.

Other signs of poisoning are foaming at the mouth, bloody vomit, lethargy, excessive thirst, seizures, tremors, constricted or dilated pupils, and in severe cases, unconsciousness. Poisoning can be fatal to dogs, so contact your vet immediately.

2. Seizures

There are different types of seizures, including grand mal, psychomotor, and partial seizures. These seizures can cause involuntary muscle movements, including movement of the hind legs. One BMC study found the prevalence of canine epilepsy to be 0,62% of the population.

Grand mal seizures are the most severe type of seizures and can cause the dog to lose consciousness and have violent muscle contractions. Psychomotor seizures are less severe and can cause the dog to perform repetitive movements, such as kicking. Partial seizures can cause a variety of symptoms, including licking and swallowing.

Uncontrollable back leg kicking may also be a symptom of petite mal seizures, which are brief episodes of altered consciousness that can cause muscle twitching or jerking.

If you suspect that your dog is experiencing seizures, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. Seizures can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including epilepsy, brain tumors, and metabolic disorders, and may need life-long support. 

3. Dancing Doberman Syndrome 

Dancing Doberman Syndrome (distal polyneuropathy) doesn’t just affect Dobermans, but they’re the most affected. Dogs affected by this condition exhibit involuntary, rhythmic, and often bizarre movements in their hind limbs, which resemble dance-like twitches and jerks. This dog is a perfect example:

https://fb.watch/o7bG44DohF

4. Dehydration

When a dog becomes dehydrated, their muscles can become weak and twitchy, causing them to kick their legs. This can happen if your dog hasn’t been drinking enough water or if they’ve been playing or exercising in hot weather without cooling down.

If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, look for other signs such as dry gums, sunken eyes, and lethargy. If you’re concerned, contact your veterinarian for advice on how to rehydrate your dog and prevent further dehydration.

5. Strains & Injuries

Dogs use their hind legs for a variety of activities, including running, jumping, and scratching. Any strain or injury in their legs can cause your dog discomfort and pain, leading to sudden movements.

One common strain is a pulled muscle. This can occur when a dog overexerts himself during play or exercise. Other injuries are a torn ligament caused by a sudden twist or turn, hips dislocating, paw injuries,  and missing nails. Signs include limping, stiffness, and reluctance to move. Treatment includes rest, ice, and pain medication prescribed by a veterinarian.

Hip dysplasia can also cause this symptom. This is a genetic condition that affects the hip joint and can cause pain and discomfort. Hip dysplasia is a debilitating condition, and it has been shown time and again that genetic screening before breeding is one of the best prevention. 

6. Nerve Inflammation & Damage

Sometimes, dogs may move their hind limb randomly due to nerve inflammation or damage. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including injury, infection, or disease. In some cases, nerve damage may be caused by trauma, such as a car accident or a fall.

One common cause of nerve damage in dogs is a condition called intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). This occurs when the discs between the vertebrae in the spine become damaged or herniated, causing pressure on the nerves. 

IVDD is more common in certain breeds, such as Dachshunds, and can cause a range of symptoms, including back pain, weakness, and hind limb paralysis (see leg falling asleep).

7. Joint Disease & Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints. A variety of factors, including genetics, injury, and infection, can cause it. Arthritis can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, which can lead to difficulty moving and decreased mobility.

In addition to medical treatment, there are also some things you can do at home to help manage your dog’s joint disease or arthritis. These include:

  • Providing your dog with a comfortable and supportive bed;
  • Feeding your dog a healthy and balanced diet;
  • Encouraging regular exercise and low-impact activities, such as swimming or walking;
  • Using joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin; and
  • Providing your dog with a warm and comfortable environment, especially during the colder months.

8. REM Sleep Disorders

Most dogs experience dog dream kicks, often referred to as “dream running,” which are involuntary leg movements and twitches that dogs exhibit during their sleep. Normal kicks are part of canine sleep, much like whimpering, vocalization, and sticking out their tongue in their sleep.

This behavior is most often seen during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep. During this phase, the brain is highly active, and the body is almost completely relaxed, except for the muscles that control breathing and eye movement. 

However, some dogs may experience REM Sleep Disorders, which can cause them to exhibit abnormal behaviors, such as excessively kicking, vocalizing, or even sleepwalking. These disorders can occur due to various reasons, such as genetics, age, or underlying medical conditions.

9. Patella Luxation

This is a condition where the patella, or kneecap, moves out of its normal position. It can occur in one or both legs and can cause discomfort and pain for the dog. Patella luxation is more common in smaller breeds, but it can occur in any breed. It can be caused by genetics, trauma, or congenital abnormalities. Some dogs may be born with a predisposition to patella luxation, while others may develop it later in life.

10. Neurological Disorders & Hyperactive Tendon Reflexes

Underlying brain or nerve disorders or hyperactive tendon reflexes can also cause sudden limb movements. This behavior may be an indication of a problem with the central nervous system. 

Hyperactive tendon reflexes occur when the tendons in a dog’s leg are stretched too far, causing the muscle to contract involuntarily. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including brain or nerve disorders, injury, or disease.

One common nerve disorder that can cause hyperactive tendon reflexes is spinal cord injury. This can occur as a result of trauma, such as a car accident or fall, or from degenerative conditions, such as intervertebral disc disease.

Another neurological disorder that can cause hyperactive tendon reflexes is degenerative myelopathy. This is a progressive disease that affects the spinal cord and can cause weakness, loss of coordination, and muscle wasting.

11. Spinal Disorders

Spinal disorders can lead to involuntary muscle movements primarily because they disrupt the normal functioning of the spinal cord and the nerves that run through it. The spinal cord serves as the central communication pathway between the brain and the rest of the body, transmitting signals that control muscle movement. 

When spinal disorders or injuries affect the spinal cord or the nerve roots that branch off from it, they can interfere with these signals, resulting in various muscle-related issues, including involuntary movements. 

Some of the most common spinal disorders include:

  • Lumbosacral Stenosis – End of spinal canal narrows;
  • Lumbosacral Disc Disease – discs between the vertebrae in the lower back degenerate, putting pressure on the nerves in the area;
  • Spinal Arthritis – degenerative joint disease that affects the spine; and
  • Spinal Tumors – growths that develop in the spinal cord or the bones of the spine. 

12. Low Blood Sugar

Sometimes, dogs move their back legs abruptly due to low blood sugar. This can happen if they haven’t eaten enough or if they have diabetes and their insulin levels are off. Extremely small dogs (toys and teacups) are particularly susceptible to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

If your dog is diabetic, it’s important to monitor their blood sugar levels regularly and adjust their insulin dosage as needed. If your dog is not diabetic but is experiencing low blood sugar, try giving them a small snack to see if that helps.

13. Other Brain Disorders

One possible cause of this behavior is a brain tumor. Tumors can cause pressure on the brain, leading to a variety of symptoms, including changes in behavior or movement. If a dog is consistently kicking their rear leg, it may be a sign of a tumor affecting the part of the brain that controls movement.

Another possible cause of this behavior is brain inflammation. Inflammation can occur due to an infection or an autoimmune disorder and can cause a range of symptoms, including changes in behavior and movement.

Fluid or swelling in the brain can also cause similar symptoms. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including head trauma, infection, or a congenital condition. If a dog is consistently kicking their back leg and also displaying other symptoms, such as seizures or difficulty walking, it may be a sign of fluid or swelling in the brain.

14. Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a viral disease that affects dogs. It can cause various symptoms, including respiratory problems, fever, and nerve or brain issues. One of the possible signs of canine distemper is the abrupt leg movements.

The virus that causes canine distemper is highly contagious and can be spread through contact with infected animals or their bodily fluids. Puppies and dogs with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

15. Malignant Hyperthermia or Canine Stress Syndrome

Sometimes, involuntary back-leg movements can be emotionally charged. Conditions like Malignant Hyperthermia and Canine Stress Syndrome can be triggered by stress, anxiety, or excitement and can result in muscle spasms, fever, and even death.

Malignant Hyperthermia is a rare but potentially fatal condition that affects dogs’ muscles. It can be triggered by anesthesia or stress and can cause rapid muscle contractions, high fever, and even organ failure. 

Canine Stress Syndrome is caused by a genetic mutation that affects the dog’s ability to regulate calcium levels in the muscles. When the dog experiences stress or excitement, the muscles can contract uncontrollably, leading to spasms and other symptoms.

In some cases, simply reducing your dog’s stress levels and providing a calm environment can help alleviate the symptoms of these conditions. However, in more severe cases, medication or other treatments may be necessary.

When to Be Concerned

Abrupt leg movements may not always be a cause for concern. However, there are certain situations where you should be aware of your dog’s behavior and take action if necessary.

Excessive Kicking

If your dog is repeatedly kicking their back legs, it may be a sign of an underlying issue. Additionally, it’s concerning if the kicking keeps coming back.

Pain Indication

If your dog is kicking and showing other signs of pain, such as whining or limping, it’s important to take them to the vet for a check-up. Your vet can help determine the cause of the pain and provide appropriate treatment.

Change in Behavior

If your dog is kicking their back leg and exhibiting other changes in behavior, it may be a sign of a more serious issue. Changes in behavior could include lethargy, loss of appetite, or aggression. 

Consulting a Veterinarian

If your dog is experiencing random kicking of the limb, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. Here are some things to expect when you visit your vet:

What to Expect

During your visit, your veterinarian will likely perform a physical exam to check for any obvious signs of injury or discomfort. They may also recommend additional tests, such as blood work or X-rays, to help diagnose the issue.

It’s important to be honest with your vet about any symptoms you’ve noticed, as well as your dog’s overall behavior and health. This information can help your vet make an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Potential Treatments

The treatment for your dog’s random rear leg kicking will depend on the underlying cause. Some potential treatments may include:

  • Pain medication: If your dog is experiencing pain, your vet may prescribe medication to help alleviate their discomfort.
  • Physical therapy: In some cases, physical therapy may help improve your dog’s mobility and reduce their symptoms.
  • Surgery: If your dog has an injury or condition that requires surgical intervention, your vet may recommend surgery to correct the issue.
  • Lifestyle changes: Your vet may recommend lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or exercise modifications, to help improve your dog’s overall health and reduce their symptoms.

Preventing Excessive Leg Kicking

Excessive leg kicking can be a sign of discomfort or pain in dogs. Here are some tips to help prevent it:

Regular exercise

Make sure your dog gets enough exercise to keep their muscles healthy and their energy levels balanced. A lack of exercise can lead to pent-up energy and discomfort, which may cause excessive leg kicking.

Balanced diet

Ensure your dog is eating a well-balanced diet with the right nutrients to support their muscles and overall health. A poor diet can lead to muscle weakness and discomfort, which may cause excessive leg kicking.

Regular vet check-ups

Regular check-ups with your vet can help identify any underlying health issues that may be causing your dog to kick their legs excessively. Your vet can also recommend treatments or therapies to help alleviate any discomfort or pain.

Comfortable sleeping area

Make sure your dog has a comfortable and supportive sleeping area. A lack of support or discomfort while sleeping can lead to muscle tension and discomfort, which may cause excessive leg kicking.

By following these tips, you can help prevent excessive leg kicking in your furry friend and ensure their overall health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why does my dog kick his back legs when playing?

Dogs often kick their rear legs when playing because it’s a natural behavior that helps them release pent-up energy and excitement. Sometimes, they may also do it as a way to communicate with other dogs or to show dominance.

Why does my dog kick his back legs on the carpet?

Kicking hind legs on the carpet is a way for dogs to scratch an itch or to get rid of any dirt or debris that may be stuck to their paws. It’s also a way for them to mark their territory by leaving their scent on the carpet.

Why does my dog kick his back legs after peeing?

After peeing, dogs may kick their back legs as a way to spread their scent and mark their territory. It’s also a way for them to clean themselves and get rid of any excess urine that may be on their paws.

Why is my dog jerking every few seconds?

If your dog is jerking every few seconds, it could be a sign of a medical condition, such as seizures or spasms. It’s important to take your dog to the vet for a check-up to determine the underlying cause.

Why does my dog thump his back leg?

Thumping back legs is a way for dogs to show their contentment and relaxation. It’s often a sign that they’re enjoying being petted or receiving attention from their owner.

What could be causing my dog’s leg twitching while awake?

Leg twitching while awake could be a sign of anxiety or stress in dogs. It could also be a result of spasms or an underlying medical condition. It’s important to monitor your dog’s behavior and consult with a vet if the twitching persists.

Final Thoughts 

Dogs kicking the hind legs can be caused by a variety of reasons, such as muscle spasms, brainl issues like seizures, or excitement. It is important to note that if the kicking is excessive or accompanied by other symptoms, it may be a sign of an underlying medical issue that requires attention.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.