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Can A Dog’s Leg Fall Asleep?

Does your dog sometimes limp or drag their leg after waking up? This could be due to their leg “falling asleep” – but it could also be a symptom of a more worrying medical condition.

In this article, we’ll discuss why a dog’s legs might fall asleep after resting. We’ll also go through other potential reasons for limping after sleeping and when to visit a vet.

Can A Dog’s Leg Fall Asleep?

Can Dogs Leg Fall Asleep?

The short answer is “yes,” a dog’s leg can fall asleep if they lie in an awkward position. It’s more likely to happen to the hind legs, but any of a dog’s legs can fall asleep.

Just like humans, a dog who rests in a way that puts pressure on a nerve may experience numbness, tingling sensation, sharp piercing pins and needles, and loss of limb control when they stand up. They may also suffer from discomfort as the nerve’s sensitivity is being restored, which can lead to whimpering or other vocalisations.

When the dog tries to stand up, they’ll often drag the affected leg or limp until normal sensations return.

Note: All dog breeds can suffer from this problem if they settle into a bad sleeping position. However, heavier breeds may be more likely to put prolonged pressure on certain nerves affecting the back legs.

What Causes Dogs Legs to Fall Asleep? 

There’s a misconception that the reason a dog’s legs fall asleep (paresthesia) is due to blood flow being cut off to the entire limb. This isn’t the case.

Instead, paresthesia is caused by sitting or lying in a position that compresses the nerves in that limb. As the brain can no longer properly communicate with these nerves after lying in the same position for an extended period, the dog experiences pins and needles, numbness, and a feeling that the leg is “asleep.” 

In most cases, a dog won’t realise that their leg is “asleep” until they try to stand up. It can take a short time for nerve communication to be restored, so the dog may yelp in surprise and limp. They may also drag or lick the affected leg.

Fortunately, a leg falling asleep due to pressure on a nerve isn’t dangerous. Once the pressure has been relieved, the nerves shouldn’t take long to wake up.

How Long Does Paresthesia Last?

Paresthesia shouldn’t last more than a few minutes after your dog gets up.

In most cases, the symptoms will disappear even quicker than this, as the nerve endings are fast to recover. If your dog’s legs fell asleep and the symptoms last for longer, then there may be another underlying cause.

Paresthesia also shouldn’t happen regularly. The occasional paresthesia is probably nothing to worry about, but if it happens frequently then this could be a sign of a medical condition.

When Should You Contact A Vet?

The symptoms of a leg that’s fallen asleep could also be caused by a variety of health conditions. So, it’s important to watch your dog for potentially worrying signs.

For example, you should contact a vet if your dog’s limping lasts for a long time after waking, or they drag their feet for an extended time. Frequent paresthesia could also be a sign of a nerve condition, especially if it happens multiple times during the day (or whenever the dog falls asleep).

Another reason to contact a vet is if your dog limps or shows discomfort during waking hours. Paresthesia due to nerve pressure is only likely to happen when the dog is resting, so symptoms when the dog is active are likely to be caused by another issue.

Other symptoms, such as swelling, fever, vomiting, or behaviour change, could also indicate a medical problem. You should contact your vet immediately if you notice any unusual or worrying symptoms.

Some examples of medical conditions that can cause a dog to limp after sleeping include:

  • Arthritis. Dogs with arthritis often experience stiffness and discomfort after sleeping. This is because the muscles tend to tighten up when at rest, which puts more pressure on the joints. As the joint warms up during movement, the pain usually reduces. Other symptoms of arthritis included a slower gait, warm joints, difficulties sitting or jumping, and swelling.
  • Other joint pain conditions (such as hip dysplasia or intervertebral disc disease). Other joint conditions also tend to become worse after resting, which can cause limping and other signs of discomfort. However, the dog is also likely to show symptoms at other times of the day.
  • Diabetes. Nerve endings can be damaged by high blood sugar, which is why dogs with diabetes are prone to nerve problems. This nerve damage could cause symptoms that appear similar to paresthesia.
  • Injury or foreign objects. Limping due to injury is often more noticeable after resting, as the surrounding muscles tighten up. Examples include muscle strains, joint dislocation, and broken bones. Foreign objects stuck in the paws can also cause limping.
  • Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an inflammatory condition that’s found in ticks. The symptoms of Lyme disease vary, but it can cause intermittent lameness. This can be more noticeable when the dog first wakes up, as the muscles and joints are likely to be stiff.

Always visit your vet if you notice any symptoms of discomfort, pain, or illness. Dogs can’t tell us what they feel, so it’s important for dog owners to get a vet checkup if their pet is showing signs of a medical problem.

Tip: If you notice your dog limp, try to record a video of the behaviour (or any other symptoms.) It’s much easier for a vet to understand what’s happening if they can watch the behaviour. 

Summary

A dog’s legs can fall asleep if his sleeping position puts pressure on nerves in the affected limb. This can lead to the dog limping, yelping, licking, or dragging the leg when she wakes up. The hind legs are more likely to fall asleep, but it can happen to any of a dog’s limbs.

Fortunately, paresthesia due to nerve pressure is a short-lived condition that should go away in a few minutes.

If the limping lasts longer, happens at other times during the day, happens frequently, or is combined with other symptoms, then you should always visit a vet. These symptoms could be a sign of a medical condition, such as arthritis, diabetes, or Lyme disease.

Do you have any questions about whether a dog’s leg can fall asleep? Please let us know in the comments below.

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About The Author: Richard Cross

Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter.

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