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Need Help With My Border Collie Who Has Hard Time Walking

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Dear Dr. Chris,

I have a senior border collie I rescued at the age of 10. To my best knowledge she is now 16. Her back legs will not support her well enough to poop. I have been trying to hold her for support but she will not let me yet. I work and have to leave her alone during the day, I want her to be comfortable and know she can use the pads I’m providing but i don’t know how to teach her. What do you suggest?

Debbie, New Jersey

Thank you for your question Debbie.  It’s always difficult to see our dear friends struggle as they age.  We all know how active Border Collies love to be.  Since this is a fairly common problem, I’m glad you brought it up and I hope I can help you with your sweet girl.  I always admire and respect people who are willing to rescue an older dog and give them the love they deserve.  There are millions of senior dogs out there that need homes!

First  of all, our most important consideration is improving her quality of life.

Providing a surface to give her better footing is a great idea.  If the pads slip or slide, area rugs may be a better choice.  The best way to handle this is to carry her over to the pads and place her on them.  Loop a towel under her abdomen as a sling and help support her weight and have another person with her favorite treat encourage her to walk forward on the pads.  Use lots of encouragement and praise and build up her stamina and steps over time.  Even two steps initially is progress.

Although the pads may be helpful, we need to figure out the cause of her trouble and see if we can improve her quality of life and mobility.  I suspect she either has weakness due to nerve dysfunction or pain.  Being unable to posture to have a bowel movement can be a sign of hip, knee or spinal disease.  Since we can’t ask her if she hurts or if her feet tingle or if she can’t feel her feet, we have to work through this problem in a systematic way.

Neurologic weakness occurs in some dogs as they age from a degeneration of the nerve-muscle connection.  This can be caused by spinal issues such as pressure on the spinal cord or a breakdown of the nerve-muscle connection in the muscle of the back legs.   This is a difficult problem to deal with as it is often not reversible and doesn’t respond to supplements or medication.  Sometimes surgery can be used to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord.  Diabetes can sometimes cause this type of weakness as well.

The other possible cause of your Border Collie’s trouble is pain.  Dogs that are in chronic pain don’t cry, whimper, yelp or moan most of the time.  They just decrease their normal activity.  This is a survival instinct as weak animals are preyed upon.  Us humans are big babies compared to dogs.

It is important to figure out the underlying cause of her trouble so we can help her.

Recently, I saw an older Golden Retriever that came into the hospital, unable to stand in the hind legs. The owner told me that this has been a problem that had been developing slowly but got much worse that morning.  They had been giving a glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate supplement for possible arthritis. The interesting thing is that the owner said “she isn’t in pain, she just won’t get up”.  I did my exam and found that she had torn cruciate ligaments in both knees and cried when I manipulated the knees.  After further testing with x-rays and blood work, we admitted her to the hospital so we could get her pain under control.  The next day she was up and walking, although with some trouble due to the torn ligaments in her knees.  Her mom cried when she saw her because she thought she would never be able to walk again.

We sent her home with a plan to give a prescription dog food for arthritis, a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and 2 other pain relievers that work in different ways.  She had surgery the following week and went through physical therapy and was walking with minimal symptoms within 6 weeks.

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Your baby needs a helping hand

Your baby may not need or be a candidate for surgery but may benefit from a pain management program and physical therapy.  We use several different medications and approaches to improve results and reduce the risk of side effects.  Laser therapy, stem cell therapy and acupuncture also help some dogs.

I would recommend taking her to your veterinarian and having an exam, x rays and blood tests done. Make sure she doesn’t have diabetes and put together a plan to include nutritional supplementation, pain medication and physical therapy to improve her quality of life.

You and your veterinarian can work together to help your sweet girl.   You rescued her once 6 years ago.  Let’s see if we can rescue her again with a team approach between you and your vet.


Dr. Chris Smith

Your Dog’s Favorite Veterinarian

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  1. In previous post, I mention modern homes, what I meant is that we have gone so far in the direction of smooth flooring like wood, terra cotta, and laminates, that a home can truly become a minefield for a pet, and this applies to younger dogs as well! Observe your dogs and if they have an issue getting around your house, make some adjustments- it’s worth it!
    And please accept my sincerest condolences to all here and everywhere who have suffered the loss of a beloved companion. Making the incredibly tough decision that the quality of life is no longer there and your animal is most likely suffering is indeed the hardest thing we ever do as animal guardians, and perhaps the most noble. Most of us gone into “hospice mode” with our older dogs and provided lots of extra TLC in their advanced years, as we would with any aging family member. They deserve that extra effort from us for those last couple of years of their life, and we learn a lot about what caregiving REALLY means with a companion animal when we enter this phase of their lives. Rely on your brain but let your heart have a say as well, and again, really LISTEN TO YOUR DOGS.

  2. Hello Jay and all:
    I had Carly, our beautiful Chow and the “founding dog” of Clear Conscience Pet (clearconsciencepet.com)on PPA for the last 4 years of her life. It’s practically a miracle for older spayed females with mild to severe urinary incontinence. She never had a problem and I wish I had known about it sooner, we wasted 6 months trying different remedies and saddling her with diapers (which is fine if necessary, but obviously not a real SOLUTION, nor is it fun for a dog). As for the mobility issues, hats off to Dr. Chris for lots of smart and compassionately communicated advice! Our 14 Resolutions for 2014, published here in the Dogington Post,(dogingtonpost.com/a-nutrition-experts-14-resolutions-for-a-healthier-happier-dog-in-2014/#.UsnxLbso5lY) addresses the issue of dogs with mild to moderate mobility challenges whose lives are VASTLY improved by adding stair runners, room to room runners, and area rugs to today’s modern homes which too often become “skating rinks” for dogs with joint pain. Start with this easy stuff, watch those nails closely, and LISTEN to your dog, she’ll tell you what she needs.

  3. Avatar Of Jay Levy

    Jay Levy


    We have a dog that has incontinence. The vet put her on PPA or phenylpropanalimine. I have heard that there can be downsides, but we haven’t seen any yet. She’s been taking it for about 3 years now. Never an accident since. My dog suffers from severe arthritis as well. One day, because she was panting extremely hard and was hot, the vet asked if she always did this. I answered yes. He asked to test her thyroid. I was shocked to learn that she did in fact have an underactive thyroid. She now takes levothyroxine and it has helped with her hips SO MUCH! She actually goes downstairs now to hang with the kids! She does also take meloxicam for her arthritis, but I didn’t even know that thyroid function affected joints. It’s worth checking out. Hope this helps.

  4. Avatar Of Ronda



    We are using Adequan injections for our 15 yr old
    Blue Heeler. She takes supplements also. She
    will have her fifth shot out of eight on Friday. I am amazed
    at the changes in her. She is scratching her ears(been a long
    time since she could) with her hind legs and just started
    using all four legs on the stairs, she was bunny hopping on
    them. These shots have definitely given her relief and she has
    a higher quality of life that she deserves.

  5. Avatar Of Ara Lee

    Ara Lee


    I have a 2 yr old boarder collie chow mix and she started walking on 3 legs, I thought maybe her paw was hurt and took her to our vet. The ligaments in both knees do not stay in the groves and her knees on both legs go out several times a day,when this happens she sets down they go into place and she is fine. She dosnt cry with pain but it makes it hard to walk her. Surgery is expensive and not sure it will work. She eats a cuo of food a day and now seems to be getting bigger and bigger. When the weather is better we take her to the lake to swim but the walking is hard on her due to her having to stop and set so often to get the knees back in. What do we do next?

  6. Avatar Of Sharon



    I totally agree with you. I had boxer who was 11 yrs old also suffered from severe arthritis in his hind legs . Pancho got to the point where he dragged his back leg and cried out in pain for 24 hrs despite morphine for pain I euthanized him at home and it was the absolute best way for him to go. I stayed with Pancho rubbing his head the whole time I love him so much and miss him every day. I could not drop him off at a vet and say here put him to sleep
    I can’t stop thinking about him but I know he is not crying out in pain any longer.

  7. Avatar Of Jennie Baker

    jennie baker


    Dear Dr. Chris:
    On Wednesday, Sept. 12 we euthanized our 17-1/2 Akita/German Shepard, Cheyenne. We had it done at home. I took two days off from work and my husband took off the day of to spend all that time with her. She suffered from severe arthritis in her legs and back and we believe Degentive Myilopothy. She had a difficult walking and getting up. We bought a harness to assist us in getting her up but when we tried to assist with the back end, she would cry. She stopped wagging her tail and I believe in so much pain that she did not really want to socialize with us that much. e. She was incontinent and I used pads throughout the house. This was so hard for us but I believe she is pain free and socialzing with some family members. I truly recommend euthanizing your loved one at home…so stress free for you companion. Love your website…I wish you were in Los Angeles. Jennie Baker

    • Avatar Of Marie



      so sorry for ur loss, i have a 14 yr old lab/German Shepard mix i rescued 6 months ago, he is the sweetest most gently loving dog and i know i won’t have him long, his hips and back legs r weak and bother him as well but he’s on a pain pill daily and that helps him a lot. i will miss him so much once hes gone. take care

      • Avatar Of Vicki



        Our 14 year old has bad hips and also takes pain meds everyday, has been for about 4 years, stills plays eats well and loves the family. I have also put her on antioxidant treats and glucosamine, its helps her 100%. When we stop giving them to her she has a very hard time getting around. So we will keep this up for her so she still can get around. Our vet says shes doing very well for her age. I have bad knees and started myself on Glucosamine to people! I feel so much better and can move around better, I tried it on me first to see if it worked for me before I got my GSD Joint Health Glucosamine at Petco! Try it! Can only help!

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