What Looks Amusing May Be a Sign of Ill Health

Social media contributes to a distorted view of adorable canine behavior.


Perhaps you’ve seen the online videos of dogs with an adorably goofy-looking gait. They put one front leg very decidedly in front of the other as they prance along in a jangly style, or sometimes bring up their front legs as if they are marching, putting a smile on dog lovers’ faces. But what looks like great fun is actually a sign of a brain disorder called cerebellar hypoplasia. It begins in utero when the cerebellum, a part of the brain involved in balance and posture, doesn’t develop properly. The condition can also cause tremors, head-bobbing, difficulty with sensing oneself in space, and an overall spasticity.   

Cerebellar hypoplasia is apparently hereditary, with more than one puppy in a litter affected. Signs show as young as six weeks of age, with varying degrees of severity. It can be definitively diagnosed with advanced imaging, but that’s generally not necessary given the constellation of telltale symptoms at an early age.

The good news is that the condition is not fatal and will not affect a pet’s overall quality of life; affected dogs work to figure out their surroundings and how to move in them. They are perfectly happy and in fact can often be seen smiling. One of those smilers is Fenix, a white, blue-eyed Siberian husky whose “parents” explain his condition while showing videos of him. They fell in love with Fenix, and if you come across a dog with cerebellar hypoplasia who steals your own heart, feel free to bring him home. He has the potential to delight you as much as any other dog without causing medical heartache.

Walking on two legs

Like circus dogs, some dogs on popular online channels can be seen delighting people as they walk on their hind legs. Among them is a dog from Colorado named Dexter. After he was hit by a car, one of his front legs needed to be surgically removed and the other three mended with pins. The expectation was that Dexter would learn to walk on three legs, but his “mom” found one day that he had been taking the stairs on his hind legs only. He has been walking on “all twos” ever since.

Though Dexter is visibly happy with his new way of getting around and had no choice but to make an adjustment after his amputation, his walking style definitely falls into the “don’t try this at home” category. Purposely training a dog to walk upright can cause serious problems over time — even though there are videos on social media channels that teach people how to get their pets to learn.

A dog’s bones and muscles are set to accommodate a four-legged stance. In fact, the front legs normally carry significantly more weight than the back ones do. Consequently, when weight is shifted to two legs only, undue pressure is placed on the musculature and skeleton, leading to inflammation and potentially damaging ligaments. Even hip dysplasia and spinal disc injuries are possible, with the ability to cause severe pain. In a worst-case scenario, a dog may develop paralysis in his working legs, and it can then spread forward along the body.


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