Why Do Dogs Curl Their Paws?

Dog owners may wonder why their pets curl their paws. Paw curling can be typical behavior, or it may be a sign of physical problems that a veterinarian should address.

Why do dogs curl their paws? They bend their paws for several reasons depending on the situation. Sometimes dogs curl their feet under themselves while lying down if they feel chilly or comfortable. However, curling the paws during standing or walking, known as “knuckling,” causes medical concerns.

Dog lovers need to know how to address paw curling. This article will explain paw curling and knuckling and whether each situation presents cause for concern.

Learn more about reading the paws right in this video!

Situations Where Paw Curling Is Normal

Owners often observe that their pets tuck their paws under themselves while lying down and relaxing. In this case, bending the feet is expected and does not indicate possible medical issues.

When Dogs Are Feeling Comfortable

Dogs may bend their paws under their bodies when feeling relaxed and cozy. Many dogs enjoy relaxing in a tight fetal position. They tuck their feet under their bodies to feel more comfortable. This behavior is not a cause for medical concern but a sign of your pet’s contentment.

Temperature Changes

A dog that is feeling cold may tuck its paws underneath itself to conserve body heat. Pet owners should always create a comfortable sleeping area for their animals. Dogs who regularly curl up tightly may need a warmer bed or a blanket, especially in winter or indoor air conditioning.

When Owners Should Contact the Vet

Paw bending, especially when a dog is standing or walking, may indicate a severe medical issue. These include anxiety and physical problems in the feet, legs, and spine.

Signs of Anxiety

Dogs that feel anxious sometimes stand with one paw curled up underneath them. Anxious dogs may also curl themselves into a tight fetal ball while they are lying down, and owners may be able to see the whites of their eyes. A veterinarian should evaluate any animal that displays these behavioral signs of anxiety to check for underlying medical conditions. Anxiety is sometimes treatable with supplements or medications and changes in the dog’s environment.

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Paw Curling While Standing or Walking

Dog owners must pay close attention to their pets’ behaviors to ensure they are happy and healthy. Walking with the toes curled under the feet can signify serious medical issues. Here are several reasons a dog may stand or walk with its toes turned under.

Walking in this manner is commonly called “knuckling.” Anytime you notice your pet walking like this, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Knuckling can be a sign of serious neurological issues.

Conscious Proprioception

Conscious proprioception means that a dog controls its muscles and chooses to hold its body in a certain way. You can identify dogs with this condition by gently encouraging them to stand correctly on all four feet and observing whether it intentionally curls their paws under to walk. Dogs may do this to avoid the pain that occurs from walking normally.

Injured or Sore Paws

Dogs with sore paws may bend them to walk on the top of their feet. Owners need to keep a close eye on the health of their pets’ paws and ensure that there is no cracking, bruising, bleeding, burns, or discharge. Owners should monitor dogs on hard and hot surfaces, mainly sand or dark pavement, where burns can occur.

To prevent sore paws, owners can find dog-safe balms and lotions. Dogs may also need to wear booties when walking on unsafe surfaces. If owners have questions about keeping their dog’s paws healthy, they should direct them to their veterinarian.

Spinal Stroke (Fibrocartilagenous Embolism)

Foot bending while walking or standing is a significant sign of a possible spinal stroke. The symptoms may affect one side more than the other. Other symptoms to watch out for include a loss of coordination, weakness in one or more limbs, and partial or complete paralysis.

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Intervertebral Disc Disease

This condition is also known as a slipped disc. Symptoms include an abnormal knuckling gait, refusal to jump, paralysis, keeping the neck and back hunched, and other anxious behaviors. A dog in pain may cry out when moving its feet or legs.

Carpal Flexural Deformity

Puppies may knuckle their feet, walk poorly, or hyperextend their ankles when they have this problem. This condition typically appears by seven months of age and is caused by a growth plate problem.

When a puppy has this condition, the ligaments and joints cannot correctly support the puppy’s weight. According to a 2007 Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology study, the issue is more common in large-breed male puppies.

Learn more about knuckling in dogs in this detailed video!

When Should Dog Owners Worry About Curled Paws?

The various types of paw curling described in this article have vastly different causes, from traumatic injury to anxiety. If a pet is not walking abnormally and seems happy and relaxed, paw curling while lying down is not likely to be a concern. However, a veterinarian must address the problem if the paw curling or knuckling happens when the animal is standing or walking.

Keeping a pet healthy and happy is a bigger job than many owners understand before they adopt a dog. Owners must learn to be their pet’s best advocate and to have honest conversations about all behaviors and symptoms with their veterinarians.

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!

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