Any dog owner will tell you that, at times, they tend to do some strange stuff. Sometimes out of nowhere, they will start running around the house for no apparent reason or bark at nothing, leaving you a little creeped out.
But there’s one movement that frightens all dog owners and results in us frantically phoning the vets: a twisting body when your dog is walking. It’s often referred to as your dog walking sideways, sidewinding, like a crab, or in a c shape.
Whatever name you have given this walk, we bet it’s concerning you and left you wondering, what should I do? The last thing any of us wants is for our dogs to be unwell!
Well, fear not! We are here to alleviate your fears and find out why your dog is walking sideways, looking at the different reasons to provide you with a clear mind. Remember, if you have any concerns, you should take them to your vet, who will be able to offer you the best advice for your dog!
For all the answers you could ever want, just keep on reading!
Why is my dog walking sideways?
Let’s get straight into it! Your dog could be walking sideways for several reasons. Their body could be twisted, they could be suffering from hip dysplasia, one dominant leg, an ear infection, they could have pins and needles after waking up, or they could just be excited!
Now, we know there are many reasons there, and they range from mild issues to severe and potentially life-threatening complications. Don’t worry; we will go into more detail about these later on to help you understand your dog and why it’s walking sideways.
Why your dog’s body is twisting when walking
Your dog’s body twisting while walking or running sideways as they move forward will change the way your dog looks. They might seem off-kilter, running like a crab or in a c shape.
You can see that their bodies become curved and twisted, with their back legs off to the side, compared to their front legs. These features of a dog running sideways can be very concerning, especially as it can look like a leg or body injury! Most of us can’t bear the thoughts of our dogs in pain, which can be difficult to watch.
We mentioned why your dog could be walking sideways earlier and have now covered what the twisting shape can look like. So, let’s get into some of those reasons in closer detail and get you the answers you want!
Is it natural?
Let’s start with a nice and non-threatening reason: your dog running or walking sideways could be their natural gait. You might have noticed how humans walk and run differently from one another; well, the same can be said for dogs!
Like we have friends who walk very lightly and seem to appear from nowhere, and those whose footsteps can be heard a mile away, it’s the same with dogs! Some dogs will have small and rapid steps, especially little dogs, while others will have long and heavy strides.
You will even see some who walk in circles when they get excited! If your dog has been walking or running sideways for as long as you remember, it could just be their natural gait. If this is the case, then it is probably nothing to worry about!
If you need further peace of mind, it’s always worth speaking to your vet for more information and guidance.
Do they have a dominant leg?
If you have noticed your dog is walking in a c shape like a crab, it could be due to them having one dominant leg. This leg will carry more weight and movement than the others, and we often see this with one back leg, giving your dog that crab-like walk.
We see this more commonly in younger dogs and puppies. They are still a little unsure on their feet and clumsy, meaning they can walk in strange and funny shapes at times. You can sometimes see this pattern in older dogs, too; you should take them to a vet for a check-up to ensure there is nothing untoward happening.
In general, most puppies and young dogs will grow out of it, so you won’t need to worry too much about this!
Check for infection!
Walking sideways could be the sign of an ear infection and is a cause you should check for! If you notice your dog scratching excessively, their ears smell, or there is more wax than usual, book an appointment with your vet so they can provide you with treatment.
Some dog breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and Bloodhounds are more susceptible to ear infections than others, so it is worth exploring this option. That does not mean that only long-eared dogs are prone to ear infections; they can impact any dog breed!
An ear infection can impact your dog’s balance, forcing them to walk sideways or with a twisted body. These infections are mostly bacterial, although fungal infections can occur from time to time too. Whichever infection it is, your vet should be able to provide a course of treatment for it.
Alongside ear infections, ear mites or polyps can also impact your dog’s balance and play a part in causing ear infections in your dogs. Remember to get any symptoms checked by a vet to ensure you have the correct diagnosis. We would recommend doing this first before trying any at-home treatments yourself.
Are they suddenly walking sideways?
Generally speaking, crabbing or walking sideways isn’t often anything dangerous. But there are times where it can be the sign of something serious and will need medical attention. It could mean your dog has a medical condition or a proportional and structural discrepancy.
If you have an older dog, for example, and they suddenly start to walk sideways, we recommend you contact your vet immediately to get your dog examined. While it could mean nothing, it’s better to air on the side of caution here, as it could be the sign of a serious condition.
Sometimes it can be caused by something as simple as jumping off the sofa and landing funny, causing your dog to walk a bit funny for a few days (like they have been hitting leg day at the gym). Still, it’s always best to have a professional check and provide you with that reassurance.
Walking sideways when your dog is elderly
For those with older dogs, hip dysplasia is one of the most common reasons your dog is walking sideways, or their body is twisted. This condition is quite severe and is often seen in larger or giant breed dogs.
The ball and socket located in the hip (where the hip and leg join) start to rub and grind against each other instead of sliding smoothly as your dog walks. As you can imagine, this can be incredibly painful for your dog, and you should speak to your vet immediately if you suspect it is hip dysplasia.
As time goes on, the joint will deteriorate, and your dog will notice a loss of function, which only adds to the pain caused. It’s not just older dogs that suffer from hip dysplasia, but it is commonly where we see it.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom! Several treatment options are available, such as joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy that can relieve your dog’s pain and improve their walk.
Are they walking or running sideways when they are excited?
Sometimes your dog is running or walking sideways because they’re excited! One of our dogs does it, she will be running for a ball or a stick, and her back legs stick out behind her.
There’s not too much research about this cause, although some theories that the fast wagging of their tails when they are excited causes the dog’s body to twist out of balance slightly.
We would recommend speaking to a vet about this if your dog is older or you have some concerns about their health. Generally, if it only happens when your dog is excited, it shouldn’t be anything too serious to worry about.
Could it be pins and needles?
Like humans, dogs too can get pins and needles. Whether they have been static for too long or slept awkwardly on one of their legs, they might be suffering from pins and needles!
If it’s pins and needles, your dog should stop walking sideways when they subside, but just like humans, this can take a while! Keep your dog moving to help alleviate the pins and needles and observe them for the rest of the day to ensure they stop walking sideways.
If this happens frequently or you are concerned, be sure to consult your vet for further advice and guidance.
How should a dog move?
Now that we have covered all the reasons why your dog is walking sideways, it’s worth looking at how a dog should typically walk. This can provide us with more insight as to why your dog is now walking or running sideways.
A range of different movements your dog can display when walking or running sideways and understanding these and how your dog should walk can help diagnose your dog’s twisted body and know what to do!
Typically, there are four stages of dog walking movements, known as gaits, and each has its name. We start with walking and build up to running. Each movement will look different, and identifying them will help ascertain when your dog walks sideways.
Let’s start with walking. When your dog usually walks, each foot will be lifted one at a time in a timed sequence. The back foot first, followed by the corresponding front foot, then the opposite back foot, and front foot, and so on, for example, is your dog’s walk.
Watch your dog or any dog for that matter, and you will notice that three of its legs support its body at all times, keeping them steady and balanced while they walk.
Kick it up a notch to the trot, slightly faster than a walk, with the dog’s legs moving diagonally in two beats. First, the right front foot and back left foot lift together (while the other two feet stay on the ground), then the opposite legs wrap, with the left front foot and back right foot lifted off the ground, and the others remain on the floor.
Unlike walking, when trotting, there is a brief moment where all four of your dog’s feet will be lifted off the ground. Who is now off to try and take a photo of their dog looking as though they are floating?
Next is the canter. It’s slightly slower than a trot, but dogs can easily gather speed and hit those faster paces when they are moving this way. It can be difficult to distinguish between a canter and a gallop, especially those new to watching a dog’s movements, but we have a sneaky trick for you!
Focus instead on the 1-2-1 pattern. First, one back foot hits the ground, then the other back foot and corresponding front foot, then the other front foot completes the motion. These will follow a 1-2-2 pattern that, once you have identified, will be easy to spot.
Completing the set is the gallop. It’s the fastest gait of them all and follows a four-beat rhythm that makes dogs look like they are flying. Mid-gallop, their feet will be suspended in the air as though they are moving through the air. It’s absolutely the time for a photograph!
The front legs will extend mid-air, and the back legs will extend backward; the front feet then land first, with the back feet shortly after. They almost touch during the process, giving it that signature gallop look.
It’s worth knowing these different gaits when it comes to your dog walking sideways. It can be more common for dogs to walk sideways during a walk or a trot than a gallop or canter. If you notice crabbing in a faster gait, it can signal issues with your dog’s balance, and you should consult a vet.
Crabbing can still be seen when running, although it is more commonly seen in slower gaits. When walking, trotting, or cantering, your dog’s feet naturally move diagonally, which can give the appearance of a sideways walk. You will need to be mindful of this when assessing if your dog is walking sideways or not.
And just like that, we have reached the end of our dog walking journey together! As you can see, walking sideways is more common than you think and can be exacerbated by the type of gait your dog is doing.
What’s more, it isn’t always a serious condition, which can relieve many worried dog owners across the country! Remember, if you have any concerns, to speak to your vet, who can offer you an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan if needed. We recommend that those with older dogs seek help immediately if they are walking or running sideways.