Skipping Back to the Basics

I recently wrote about how a slouch is not a sit. Here’s another common problem that often gets overlooked in the same way, skipping!

Skipping is not walking, trotting, cantering or galloping! It doesn't matter if it is a Jack Russell or a Border Collie. Stop and look at your dog on the move and ask if it looks smooth and fluid, because it should. if it doesn’t, and the dog is skipping, then there may be a problem. When I say ‘skipping’ I am talking about when a dog lifts up a back leg and miss putting it down, so that they skip a step every two or three or even ten steps. 

It’s worth noting that skipping doesn't always mean pain, but it does mean ‘something’. Skipping is a form of compensation, just like a slouch. An indicator that somewhere there is something that isn’t going quite right. Dogs, cats, horses and even people subconsciously compensate for limitations, imbalances and injuries all the time. But just because compensating is normal, doesn't make it ideal. By being aware of the behaviour we have the opportunity to take action and correct it, before it spirals out of control an turns into a major problem. 

If the skipping dog is small, or predisposed to luxating patella’s then that is the first thing I like to rule in or out. The patella is a small bone at the front of the knee that helps the muscles extend the knee without being worn away over time. It should sit in front of the femur to allow normal forces to move across the joint. When it moves to the side it changes how the whole knee works and causes a dog to skip.

Dogs with a luxating patella will often try to avoid completely extending their leg to the reear as this movement can increase the chance of their patella slipping to the side. Luxating patellas can be caused by a traumatic injury to the area or how them bones line up. So the treatment may be surgical or it may be through therapy. 

But this is certainly not the only cause for a dog to skip. I have also diagnosed skipping dogs who have a ileopsoas injury or a stifle instability. 

There may be other mechanical reasons for skipping, like uneven leg lengths or something as simple as a bindi or grass seed between the toes. Some of these conditions can be quickly fixed. Some take longer or never completely resolve (we can’t make a short leg longer). It is still important that we work out why the dog is skipping and ensure it is not in pain. 

In cases where we can not completely resolve the underlying problem it is important to ensure that your dog is not causing other problems through their body as they shift weight to compensate for the skip. Just like humans who limp for long periods of time, were we can often see lower back pain. These compensatory issues can be resolved when you bring your dog to a rehabilitation professional. 

Love your dog, look at how they move and make sure they are moving freely and correctly so they live a long amazing life without pain. 

Dr Jaime Jackson