What is Knuckling?

What is Knuckling?

You may or may not have heard of the term “knuckling.”

Today I want to talk about knuckling in dogs, what it is, why it happens, and what – if anything – you can do about it.


What is Knuckling?


What is Knuckling?


Jet knuckles his feet.

What does this mean?

It means that he walks on the tops of his feet. Visualize how a gorilla walks

Visualize how a gorilla walks on its knuckles with its fingers turned under, THIS is knuckling.

Knuckling in dogs or “knuckling under” can happen with the front paws or the back, with one paw, two paws, three paws, or four, and it can happen to dogs of all ages. But what causes it?


What Causes Knuckling?


The causes of knuckling are varied and in order to determine what is causing your dog’s knuckling, you need to get to your vet as soon as possible. The reason for this is both because knuckling can cause damage to your dog’s paws, but also because some causes of knuckling require immediate intervention.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that your dog could be knuckling.


Injury to the Paws

The most basic explanation for knuckling is injury of some kind to the paw or paws. This can range from a thorn or tack in the paw pad to a burn or laceration on the paw pad. In an effort to avoid putting weight on this injured part of the paw, your dog may turn their paw over and knuckle.



As dogs age, they lose muscle mass, develop arthritis, and inflammation or other causes can cause slowed nerve conduction. All of these factors can culminate to result in knuckling of the paws. This is a frequent cause of knuckling in older dogs and while it can be eased with anti-inflammatories, steroids, pain relief medications, and exercise routines, it is often a part and process of aging and cannot be eliminated completely.

This is the cause of Jet’s knuckling.


Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can be another cause of knuckling in dogs. This damage can have any range of causes from something as simple as inflammation to something more severe like trauma or degenerative disease. Treatment for nerve damage may or may not be possible depending upon its cause.



Tumors that impinge upon nerves, press on the spinal cord or otherwise affect the extremities or brain can result in paw knuckling. Depending upon the type of tumor and its location, it may or may not be removable or treatable. This is a rare cause of knuckling however usually it can be explained by other factors.


Carpal Flexural Deformity

This is medical speak for a condition where a younger dog’s wrist joints will bulge forward, this happens as a result of growth spurts and in most cases, it resolves without veterinary treatment. It is necessary for owners to limit activity of dogs with this condition until it resolves to prevent any damage to the developing joint. This cause of knuckling is most often seen in large dog breeds under 4 to 5 months.

In cases where carpal flexural deformity requires veterinary intervention, treatment can vary but includes:

Casting the legs to allow them to heal on their own

A tightly controlled exercise routine to improve muscle tone to tighten the carpal flexor tendons

Surgery to go in and fuse the joint in to a functional position

The particular treatment approach for this cause of knuckling depends greatly upon the extent of deformity to the joint as well as the cause of deformity. In dogs where the deformity is the result of trauma, for example, the only solution for remedying the situation is through surgical intervention.


Intervertebral Disc Disease

Intervertebral disc disease is a disease that is usually seen in older dogs and is the result of the degeneration of the discs between the spinal vertebrae. As with people, the purpose of these discs is to absorb shock and protect the vertebrae of the spine. When the discs are damaged, damage can occur to the spine, the spinal cord, and surrounding areas. There are quite a few symptoms of invertebral disc disease, but one of them is knuckling of the paws.

Most often this is a disease that is treated with anti-inflammatories, steroid treatment, and pain control medication however in some cases, it is necessary to surgically intervene. Surgical intervention is reserved for only the most severe cases of IDD because of the delicate nature of neurological surgery.


Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive degenerative disease that is most often seen in older dogs. Much like the process of multiple sclerosis in people, degenerative myelopathy involves the loss of myelin. Where MS in people focuses on the destruction of the nerve sheathing in the body, DM in dogs focuses on the myelin covering (sheathing) of the spinal cord. It is the responsibility of this sheathing or myelin to assist in conducting nerve impulses so when it is lost from the spinal cord the nerve impulses that are passed through the spinal cord are interrupted. This can cause a wide range of symptoms including knuckling.

Unfortunately, as DM progresses it becomes necessary to put a dog to sleep because of the significant loss of nerve impulse conduction. Fortunately, though, this is not a painful disease for the dog experiencing it, but it is a painful disease to watch for an owner.

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