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5 Movement Patterns in our pets that could spell big trouble if we don’t change them

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

Have you ever found yourself looking at your pet and thinking is that normal? Is their leg meant to do that?


Well if you have this is the blog for you. I’m going to take you through 5 movement patterns that are very common but not all that helpful in the long term.


Just like us our pets can get into bad movement patterns, postures or even habits that alter how they move or hold themselves. And just like us later in life these poor movement patterns can lead to pain and discomfort. Ultimately they can be the cause of our pets quality of life declining quicker and stopping them from doing the things they love. But don’t worry most of these movement patterns can be easily identified and worked on with your pet physio.


This is a huge part of my work and it is why I am so passionate about all pets having regular physiotherapy sessions not just those who have suffered an obvious illness or injury.



So lets take a look at the movement patterns, postures and habits you can be on the look out for. If you notice any of these in your pet, don’t panic but do speak with your vet physio about how they can help.


The 5 signs to keep an eye out for are:


  1. Dipped or arched back

  2. Swinging legs around rather than picking up and putting down

  3. Swaying of the hips

  4. Crossing of Limbs

  5. Head nod or lifting limbs



Lets take a deeper look at each of these and see how they can affect you pets in both the long and short term.


  1. Dipper or arched back

A dipped back (lordosis) or an arched back (kyphosis) are often seen in both dogs and horse's and can be a sign of a weak core and back pain. SO how does that affect our pets?


Short-Term:

  • Your pet likely has some discomfort, pain or tension in the back muscles

  • Can lead to behavioural changes such as back sensitivity

  • Can contribute to a lack of coordination or balance


Long-Term:

  • Can lead to other movement patterns

  • Can be exacerbated by other movement patterns

  • Can increase injury risk due to lack of balance, coordination etc.

  • Can lead to long term pain and discomfort



2. Swinging legs around rather than picking them up


This can be of the front or back legs and the legs can swing out then in or in then out. Either way the leg is not picking up and following through to be put down as is it should but is instead kept strighter with a sideways movement to compensate. SO how does that affect our pets?


Short-Term:

  • This can be a sign of a limb injury especially if it is also accompanied by decreased weight on the limb

  • Decreased movement of the joints in the affected limb

  • The back must compensate so this movement can also cause back muscle tension or pain

  • Can lead to trips and falls

  • Can lead to other movement patterns such as crossing limbs


Long-term:

  • Decrease joint movement can lead to decreased joint lubrication which in turn reduces joint health and can accelerate OA and lead to earlier onset or quicker progression of OA (arthritis)

  • Leads to decrease muscle mass on the affected limb(s) and tension in compensatory muscles which can lead to pain


3. Swaying of the hips


This is excessive movement of the hips and lower back to help with moving the hindlimbs. So what affect does this have?


Short-Term:

  • The lower back muscles must work overtime to create this movement so they can become overworked which leads to fatigue, tension and pain

  • Reduces limb movement or is used due to lack of limb movement (see above for mor info on the effects of that)



Long-term:

  • Discomfort and pain of the back muscles

  • Could be the early signs of an underlying hindlimb condition or injury

  • If joint movement is decreased this can lead to OA


4. Crossing of limbs


When the limbs don’t stay straight and hip/shoulder width apart they can cross. So why is this important?


Short-Term:

  • Can lead to trips and falls if the legs become tangled or if the feet step on one another

  • Foot injury

  • Decrease muscle mass and joint movement


Long-Term:

  • Can be a sign of degeneration of OA or neurological conditions

  • Change in muscle recruitment leading to some muscle over/under developing


5. Head nod or lifting limbs


The head should remain neutral when walking but if it doesn't this can be called a head nod. And a lifting of the limb is just that, lifting it up and not using it. So what does that mean?


Short-Term:

  • This is a sign of lameness which can be caused by injury or a disease such as OA, elbow or hip dysplasia etc.

  • This is a sign of pain and needs to be seen by the vet ASAP



Long-Term:

  • If left untreated the cause of the head nod or limb lifting can become worse

  • Can lead to chronic pain

  • Decreased muscle mass



If you are worried about how your pet moves be sure to speak with your vet and vet physio ASAP. Same again if your pets movement or behaviour change.


I hope you have found this helpful and if you have any further questions please email me at zoe@fitpetphysio.com.

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