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Muscle Atrophy In Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment



Reviewed By: Dr. Joel Robertson

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Muscle atrophy in dogs is a common yet often misunderstood condition. It occurs when the muscle fibers in your dog’s body become weaker and smaller due to lack of use or exercise.

This can lead to decreased movement and an overall decrease in physical activity level, which may affect your pet’s quality of life.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the causes and symptoms of muscle atrophy in dogs, as well as the treatments that can help improve your pet’s condition.

Key Takeaway

  • the dog’s muscle tissue, often affecting the legs, particularly the hind legs, and it can occur due to various factors including aging, illness, or reduced activity.
  • Muscle atrophy in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors, including aging, lack of physical activity, malnutrition, nerve damage, specific diseases such as myositis or Cushing’s disease, and certain injuries or conditions that restrict movement.
  • Symptoms of muscle atrophy in dogs may include noticeable weight loss, a decrease in muscle mass especially in the hind legs, weakness, lameness, difficulty in moving around, and in severe cases, an inability to stand or walk.
  • Treatment for muscle atrophy in dogs can involve a combination of targeted, low-impact rehabilitative exercises to rebuild muscle mass, dietary supplements like Fortetropin® to increase lean muscle mass, medication, and maintaining a healthy exercise regimen, even in older dogs.

What Is Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

Muscle Atrophy In Dogs - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Muscle atrophy in dogs is a condition characterized by the loss of muscle mass, often due to lack of use, malnutrition, disease, or aging.

Muscle atrophy in dogs can present itself in different ways. It is often visible as a noticeable shrinkage or thinning of the muscle, which can lead to weakness and reduced mobility in the affected area.

This condition can occur as a result of various factors such as prolonged inactivity due to illness or injury, advanced age, malnutrition, or certain diseases like degenerative myelopathy or cancer.

The severity of muscle atrophy can range from mild to severe. Mild cases might only cause slight discomfort and reduced strength, while severe cases can significantly impact a dog’s quality of life, hampering its ability to move or function normally.

Causes of Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

Muscle atrophy in dogs is primarily caused by aging, reduced physical activity, illness, or injury.


As dogs age, they naturally lose muscle mass. This is a normal part of the aging process and can result in muscle atrophy. Older dogs may not be as active as they once were, leading to the disuse of certain muscles and subsequent atrophy.

Reduced Physical Activity

Inactivity or reduced physical activity can also lead to muscle atrophy in dogs. If a dog is not regularly exercising and using its muscles, the muscle tissues can waste away over time.

This is particularly common in dogs that are recovering from surgery or an injury, or those with conditions that limit their mobility such as arthritis or hip dysplasia.


Various illnesses can cause muscle atrophy in dogs. Conditions like degenerative myelopathy, diabetes, and other diseases can lead to muscle loss.

In some cases, the disease itself causes muscle atrophy, while in others it’s a side effect of the dog’s decreased activity level due to the illness.


Injury is another common cause of muscle atrophy in dogs. When a dog injures itself, it may become less active or avoid using the injured area, leading to muscle disuse and atrophy.

This is especially common following surgeries or in cases of chronic conditions like arthritis.

Hormonal Imbalances

A reduction in growth hormones can cause a dog to be less able to maintain its muscle mass. These hormonal changes often occur with age but can also be caused by certain diseases or conditions.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Lack of proper nutrition can also lead to muscle atrophy in dogs. Dogs need a balanced diet to maintain healthy muscle tissue.

If they’re not getting the necessary nutrients, their bodies may start breaking down muscle tissue for energy, leading to muscle atrophy.

Symptoms of Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

Symptoms of muscle atrophy in dogs include noticeable muscle loss, weakness, difficulty moving, and changes in behavior such as lethargy or depression.

Noticeable Muscle Loss

One of the most apparent signs of muscle atrophy in dogs is a visible loss of muscle mass. This can often be observed in the hind legs, hips, face, or neck.

The muscles may appear thinner than usual, and in severe cases, you might even be able to feel the dog’s bones more easily through its skin due to the loss of muscle padding.


Muscle atrophy can lead to generalized weakness, particularly in the affected areas. This can manifest as difficulty standing, walking, or running.

In some cases, the dog’s limbs may not be able to support its weight, leading to frequent falling or stumbling.

Difficulty Moving

Dogs with muscle atrophy may also display abnormal movements, such as paw dragging or limping.

They may use their front legs more as their hind legs lose strength, which can affect their balance and coordination.

Changes in Behavior

Behavioral changes are another common symptom of muscle atrophy in dogs. These can include lethargy, depression, and lack of energy.

The dog may seem less interested in playing or exercising and may sleep or rest more than usual. In some cases, muscle atrophy can also cause pain or discomfort, which can further affect the dog’s behavior and quality of life.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is often associated with muscle atrophy in dogs. As the body breaks down muscle tissue for energy, it can lead to a decrease in the dog’s overall body weight.

This is especially noticeable in cases where muscle atrophy is due to malnutrition or a serious illness.

Body Sagging

In severe cases of muscle atrophy, the dog’s body may appear to sag due to the loss of muscle support.

This is particularly evident in the hindquarters, where muscle loss is often most pronounced.

Diagnosing Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

Diagnosing muscle atrophy in dogs involves a thorough physical examination, assessment of the dog’s medical history and various medical tests.

Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing muscle atrophy in dogs is a comprehensive physical examination. The veterinarian will examine the dog’s body to check for visible signs of muscle loss, weakness, or abnormal movements.

They may palpate (feel) the muscles to assess their size and firmness and observe the dog’s gait and mobility.

Medical History

The veterinarian will also take into account the dog’s medical history. They will ask about the dog’s diet, exercise routine, any injuries or illnesses it has had, and any changes in behavior.

This information can help determine whether the muscle atrophy is due to age, disuse, illness, injury, or other factors.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can provide valuable information about the dog’s overall health and can help rule out certain diseases that might be causing the muscle atrophy.

For instance, blood tests can detect signs of infection, inflammation, organ dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, or nutritional deficiencies.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasound, or MRI may be used to visualize the dog’s muscles and other tissues.

These tests can reveal abnormalities like muscle wasting, tumors, or injuries that might be causing muscle atrophy.

Muscle Biopsy

In some cases, a muscle biopsy may be required for diagnosis. This involves taking a small sample of muscle tissue and examining it under a microscope to look for signs of disease or damage. This can help diagnose conditions like myopathy or muscular dystrophy says Top Dog Health.

Neurological Evaluation

A neurological evaluation may also be performed to assess the dog’s nerve function. This can help determine whether the muscle atrophy is due to a neurologic condition such as degenerative myelopathy.

Treatment For Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

Treatment for muscle atrophy in dogs typically involves addressing the underlying cause, implementing a proper diet and exercise routine, and in some cases, physical therapy or medications.

Addressing the Underlying Cause

The first step in treating muscle atrophy in dogs is to address the underlying cause. If the muscle loss is due to an illness or injury, appropriate treatment for that condition will be necessary.

This could involve medication, surgery, or other interventions depending on the specific illness or injury.

Proper Diet

Diet plays a crucial role in maintaining muscle mass. Dogs with muscle atrophy may need a diet high in quality protein to help rebuild lost muscle tissue.

In some cases, dietary supplements may also be recommended to provide additional nutrients that support muscle health.

Exercise Routine

Regular exercise can help prevent further muscle loss and may even help rebuild some of the lost muscle tissue. The exercise routine should be tailored to the dog’s abilities and health status.

It’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercise as the dog’s strength improves.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be very beneficial for dogs with muscle atrophy. Techniques such as massage, hydrotherapy, and therapeutic exercises can help improve muscle strength and mobility.

A professional animal physical therapist can develop a customized therapy program based on the dog’s specific needs.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms or treat underlying conditions causing muscle atrophy.

For instance, anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to reduce pain and inflammation, while hormone replacement therapy may be used in cases of hormonal imbalances. Always consult with a veterinarian before starting any new medication regimen for your pet.

Regular Vet Check-ups

Regular vet check-ups are vital during the treatment phase. These check-ups allow the vet to monitor the dog’s progress and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

They can also help catch any potential complications early, improving the overall prognosis.

Preventing Muscle Atrophy In Dogs

Preventing muscle atrophy in dogs involves maintaining a balanced diet, ensuring regular exercise, providing appropriate care after injury or surgery, and administering preventative healthcare.

Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is crucial for preventing muscle atrophy in dogs. The diet should be rich in high-quality protein to support muscle health.

It’s also important not to overfeed your pet, as excessive weight can put additional strain on the muscles and joints. Major dietary changes should always be discussed with a veterinarian.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise can help maintain muscle mass and strength. Exercise routines should be tailored to the dog’s age, health status, and abilities. For older dogs or those with health issues, low-impact activities like walking or swimming can be beneficial.

Care After Injury or Surgery

After an injury or surgery, it’s important to provide appropriate care to prevent muscle atrophy. This could involve a progressive walking program, physical therapy, or other rehabilitative exercises.

Muscle atrophy can persist if a dog is left to recover with just crate rest, so active rehabilitation is often necessary.

Preventative Healthcare

Preventative healthcare can also help prevent muscle atrophy in dogs. This includes regular vet check-ups to catch and treat potential health issues early.

In some cases, medication or supplements may be recommended to support muscle health.

Physical Therapy

For dogs with severe muscle weakness, a physical therapy program led by an expert can help reduce the risk of injury and muscle atrophy.

These programs typically involve targeted strengthening exercises to rebuild muscle mass.

Care for Senior Dogs

Special care should be given to senior dogs, as they are more prone to muscle atrophy due to age. This includes managing any chronic conditions, providing a suitable diet, and ensuring gentle but regular exercise.

Anti-inflammatories can help reduce inflammation, but proactive measures are necessary to reverse or prevent muscle loss.

What Do You Feed a Dog With Muscle Atrophy?

  1. High-quality Commercial Dog Food: Choose a brand that is high in protein and low in fillers.
  2. Lean Meats: Chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef or pork can provide high-quality protein.
  3. Fish: Fish such as salmon and sardines are rich in protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. Eggs: Eggs are an excellent source of complete protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids your dog needs.
  5. Quinoa: This is a good source of plant-based protein and is also rich in essential amino acids.
  6. Cottage Cheese: This is an easily digestible source of protein. However, it should be given in moderation due to its high calcium content.
  7. Protein-rich Vegetables: Peas and lentils can add extra protein to your dog’s diet.
  8. Omega-3 Supplements: These can help reduce inflammation and support muscle health.
  9. Vitamin E Supplements: This can help improve muscle health.
  10. Amino Acid Supplements: Specific amino acids like L-carnitine and taurine can support muscle health.
  11. Joint Supplements: Ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin can support joint health and reduce strain on muscles.

Can Dogs Recover From Muscle Atrophy?

Yes, dogs can recover from muscle atrophy, especially if it is due to injury or disuse, and proactive measures like a balanced diet, regular exercise, and physical therapy are taken.

Recovery from muscle atrophy largely depends on the cause of the muscle loss. If the atrophy is due to disuse following an injury or surgery, dogs often regain muscle mass with a progressive walking program and rehabilitative exercises.

In cases where muscle atrophy is caused by aging, recovery may be slower but can still be improved with a high-protein diet, regular low-impact exercise, and other supportive care.

Muscle atrophy resulting from certain illnesses or diseases, such as myositis (an inflammation of muscle tissue), may also improve once the underlying condition is treated. However, it’s important to note that some degree of muscle loss may be permanent in severe or chronic cases.

Physical therapy can be particularly beneficial for dogs recovering from muscle atrophy. It can include a range of techniques such as massage, hydrotherapy, and targeted exercises to help improve muscle strength and mobility.

What Can I Give My Dog For Muscle Atrophy?

  1. High-Protein Diet: Feed your dog a diet rich in protein to help build muscle mass.
  2. Low-Calorie Diet & Exercise: If your dog is overweight, they may need a low-calorie diet combined with plenty of exercise to build up their muscle tone and mass.
  3. Alternative Therapies: Consider alternative modalities like acupuncture, PEMF therapy, or laser therapy to help improve muscle health.
  4. Anti-Inflammatories: These can help reduce inflammation that may be contributing to muscle atrophy.
  5. Rehabilitative Exercises: Engage your dog in targeted low-impact rehabilitative strengthening exercises to rebuild muscle mass.
  6. Fish Oil Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can reduce joint pain and other aches that make your dog resistant to exercise.
  7. Muscle-Boosting Supplements: Your vet may suggest a natural muscle-boosting supplement, such as MYOS Canine Muscle Formula, to support muscle growth and recovery.

What Supplements Help Muscle Atrophy in Dogs?

Supplement NameDescription
MYOS Canine Muscle FormulaA new supplement by Myos Rens Technology Inc. aimed at addressing muscle atrophy in dogs.
FortetropinThis nutritional supplement has been proven to curb muscle atrophy associated with postoperative exercise restriction in dogs. It’s a natural myostatin inhibitor that has been shown to reduce serum myostatin levels, thus helping to prevent muscle loss.
Fish OilBeneficial for a variety of health issues including slowing muscle atrophy. This is due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and support overall muscle health.
GlycanAid HAA comprehensive supplement that can support your dog’s joints and help them stay active longer, reducing the likelihood of muscle atrophy.
MyosVet (Fortetropin)This supplement is often associated with slow recovery from injury or surgery. It’s designed to combat muscle atrophy and promote strength.

How Can I Get My Dog To Build Muscle Back?

To get your dog to build muscle back, you’ll need a strategic approach that includes a proper diet, regular exercise, and potentially physical therapy or supplements under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is crucial for muscle recovery and growth. Your dog’s diet should be rich in high-quality proteins, which are the building blocks of muscle tissue.

You may also want to consider adding dog-safe, protein-rich foods like chicken, turkey, or fish to their diet. Always consult with a vet before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is vital in building and maintaining muscle mass. Start with light exercises like walking or swimming and gradually increase intensity as your dog’s strength improves. Remember, consistency is key here.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be extremely beneficial in recovering muscle mass. A professional canine physical therapist can use techniques such as massage, hydrotherapy, and targeted exercises to help improve muscle strength and mobility.

Muscle-Building Supplements

Certain supplements can support muscle growth in dogs. These include products like MYOS Canine Muscle Formula, Fortetropin, and fish oil. It’s important to consult with a vet before starting your dog on any new supplement regimen.

Regular Vet Check-ups

Regular vet check-ups can help monitor your dog’s progress and adjust their treatment plan as necessary. Your vet can provide guidance on your dog’s diet, exercise routine, and whether any additional treatments or interventions are required.

How Long Can a Dog Live With Muscle Atrophy

The lifespan of a dog with muscle atrophy can vary greatly depending on the underlying cause of the condition, the dog’s overall health, and the care and treatment they receive.

Muscle atrophy in dogs is typically a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease in itself. It can occur due to various reasons such as aging, injury, lack of use, malnutrition, or certain diseases. The longevity of a dog with muscle atrophy will depend on these factors.

If the atrophy is due to aging or lack of use, improving the dog’s diet and exercise regimen can often slow the progression of muscle loss and improve their quality of life, potentially extending their lifespan.

However, if the muscle atrophy is a result of a more serious underlying disease, the prognosis may not be as positive, and the focus would be on managing symptoms and improving the dog’s comfort levels.


Q: How can I tell if my dog has muscle atrophy?

A: Signs of muscle atrophy in dogs include a visibly smaller muscle size, difficulty in performing regular activities, such as climbing stairs or jumping, abnormal gait or limp, and hind legs appearing weaker or thinner.

Q: Can muscle atrophy be reversed in dogs?

A: Depending on the underlying cause, muscle atrophy in dogs may be reversible. With proper treatment, rehabilitation, and strengthening exercises, it is possible to regain muscle mass and improve muscle function. However, it is important to consult a veterinarian for a thorough diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

Q: How is muscle atrophy in dogs diagnosed?

A: A veterinarian can diagnose muscle atrophy in dogs through a physical examination, reviewing the dog’s medical history, and conducting various diagnostic tests such as blood work, X-rays, ultrasounds, or muscle biopsies.

Q: Is muscle atrophy common in older dogs?

A: Yes, muscle atrophy is more commonly observed in older dogs. As dogs age, their muscle mass naturally decreases, and factors such as decreased activity levels, joint problems, and medical conditions can contribute to muscle loss.

Q: Can certain dog breeds be more prone to muscle atrophy?

A: While any dog can develop muscle atrophy, certain breeds may be more predisposed to it. Large breeds such as Great Danes and older dogs are generally more susceptible to muscle loss and atrophy.

Q: When should I seek veterinary attention for muscle atrophy in my dog?

A: If you notice any signs of muscle atrophy or a decline in your dog’s muscle condition, it is recommended to consult a veterinarian. They can assess your dog’s overall health, determine the underlying cause, and provide appropriate treatment options to address the muscle atrophy.

Conclusion and final thoughts

In conclusion, muscle atrophy in dogs is a serious and potentially life-threatening health condition.

It can be caused by numerous factors, such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, or an underlying disease.

It is important to recognize the signs of muscle atrophy early on and take steps to prevent it from occurring.

Please take the time and leave a comment below if this article helped you, or you have any additional questions.

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