Pugs are generally a sturdy looking little dog, so it's surprising how frequently this breed suffers from hind quarter weakness. Pugs are at a higher risk of certain orthopedic problems than other dog breeds, and they may also develop a specific nerve disorder affecting the back legs as they get older.
Short-face breeds like the pug and French bulldog are at high risk of this congenital disorder in which the spinal vertebrae are deformed. Although little is known about the genetic cause, it is believed it is connected to the characteristic pug screw-tail, according to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. The condition is usually seen quite early in your pug pup's life. Typically it may appear around the age of 4 to 6 months, so it is unlikely you'll know your pug has hemivertebrae until after you get him home. If you notice your puppy staggering, or showing a lack of coordination and weakness when he walks, this condition could be the cause. As the condition progresses, the pug experiences increased pain, he may become incontinent and he may end up unable to walk at all. The vet will need to X-ray your pug and will probably recommend spinal surgery to correct the vertebrae, if possible.
A significant number of dog breeds are predisposed to hip dysplasia. Usually it is a condition associated with larger breeds like the Labrador or German shepherd, but the little pug is the second most affected breed, with 62 percent of pugs having the condition. Hip dysplasia affects the hip joints, which are in the hind quarters, and makes walking painful and difficult. The Pug Dog Club of America suggests putting a pug puppy on adult food at 12 to 16 weeks and keeping his weight down -- difficult with a pug -- as research has shown this helps prevent the condition from developing. Pugs with hip dysplasia usually respond well to medical treatment and don't need surgery, unlike the larger dog breeds.
Legg-Perthes Calves Disease
Legg-Perthes also affects the hip joints and hind legs. Pugs and toy breeds are particularly at risk. A pug pup tends to develop this after he reaches 12 weeks but will only show symptoms once he reaches 6 to 10 months. The blood supply to the thigh bone decreases, causing the bone to deteriorate. As the condition progresses, the top of the thigh bone, where it meets the hip joint, becomes deformed and its cartilage cracks. The hip joint is then affected and the pug shows signs of lameness. He's also likely to experience arthritic pain. Irritability and chewing the affected limb are other signs of this disease. Surgery is the usual treatment for it, although the vet may choose a more conservative treatment initially, such as cage confinement and physiotherapy.
Nerve degeneration is more usual in older pugs, and you're unlikely to see it in your puppy. Nobody knows why pugs get this, and it doesn't even have an official name. Your pug may be showing signs of the problem if he drags his back feet and his hind legs seem to stagger a bit. He will probably also have a problem jumping up on a chair. His back may also become arched. Usually his front body will seem quite healthy, and it is only his hind quarters that are affected. The disease does not progress quickly, but anti-inflammatory treatments have little effect. The Pug Dog Club of America suggests getting a special cart to support the hind quarters for a pug who is incapacitated. Also, as the organization points out, pugs are fairly easy to carry about, and as an owner you can help your pug get about this way.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.