Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Why Does My Dog Hop When Running?
If you've ever seen a dog bunny hopping, you may find the behavior curious and wonder what's going on. Does the dog have an identity problem and think he's part rabbit, or maybe a kangaroo? Is he doing it just for sheer fun? Or is it a medical problem or abnormality, causing the dog to be reluctant to allow his rear legs to touch the ground? The answer is that it depends on various factors.
Just to clarify, when people refer to "bunny hopping" in dogs, it's the picking up of both the rear legs at the same time, just like rabbits hop around. This movement is mostly seen when the dog is running at high speed, and it's quite common in puppies and young dogs.
In this article, we will discuss several reasons that dogs might bunny hop, but keep in mind that these are only possible explanations. If your dog is bunny hopping, it's advised that you take him to your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment if needed.
5 Reasons a Dog Will Bunny Hop
- Hunting Strategy
- Puppy Power
- A Growing Stage
- Hip Dysplasia
- Floating Kneecaps
1. A Hunting Strategy
If you live in the city or the suburbs, you might miss out on seeing a dog hop around like a rabbit. It's more commonly seen by those who can take their dogs off leash in acres of fields with tall grass where they may engage in hopping and pouncing, just like a kangaroo in the Australian Outback.
Why are they doing this? Most likely they are pouncing around to catch some small critter, perhaps a rabbit or a field mouse. The pouncing in this case is likely a hunting strategy that helps the dog flush the critter out of its hiding spot so it can be captured. There are many animals in the wild who resort to this kind of behavior, but when dogs do it, it's extra fun to watch!
No critters in the grass? You may still see this behavior take place if you toss a ball in the tall grass. If your dog has lots of energy, there are chances he may even bounce around just for sheer fun. Dog owners may also see their dogs pounce this way in the snow or in the water.
If you aren't able to take your dog to an open area, here's a fun video of a dog having a blast bunny hopping his way through the tall grass.
2. Puppy Power
If you're wondering why puppies and young dogs are over-represented when it comes to bunny hopping, there's a good reason: it's one of those cute things puppies do when they're playing and running around at lightning speeds. You may see them arch their back and tuck both legs under them as they try to attain as much speed as they can.
Concerned owners who take their puppies to the vet for x-rays to see if there’s a medical cause for their bouncy gait will likely be told that nothing is structurally wrong with their dog’s hips or knees, making the behavior just one of those cute puppy things.
However, as with everything in life, it never hurts to be extra cautious. "I wouldn't say that bunny hopping would make me concerned," says veterinarian Dr. Marie, but if the bunny hop is accompanied by other signs such as whining or limping, then there may be cause for concern and owners should consult with their vets.
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3. A Growing Stage
There is another good reason why puppies and young dogs are often seen bunny hopping. Turns out it may simply be a matter of development. Like adolescent humans, dogs go through a gangly stage when the puppy goofiness causes them to move in an uncoordinated manner.
The developmental process in dogs can be awkward as dogs are rapidly growing and trying to adjust to their bodies, explains veterinarian Eric Barchas. With those long legs, dogs need to learn how to coordinate themselves and this may sometimes result in generally short-lived episodes of bunny hopping. Dogs will outgrow this stage, and as they develop, the bunny-hopping episodes should gradually become more infrequent.
However, as mentioned above, it's not a bad idea to inform your vet about the bunny-hopping behavior just to make sure everything is going well in the developmental department. Some dog breeds are prone to growing pains and may go through some painful episodes of pano. If your puppy is persistently bunny hopping or appears stiff, see your vet to make sure all is well.
Things can get a bit tricky when it comes to distinguishing normal development from medical problems, especially in large and giant breed dogs, who tend to be gangly and awkward as they develop, says DrMelJ, a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and verified vet expert on JustAnswer.com.
4. A Symptom of Hip Dysplasia
Bunny hopping isn't always a sign of a dog having fun romping around or going through the gangly stage. In some instances, bunny hopping can be a sign of an orthopedic problem. When these dogs bunny hop, it's because of pain as they learn to minimize the impact of putting their weight on a specific leg when running or climbing up a flight of stairs.
Hip dysplasia is a painful condition that affects a dog's hips. For the most part, it's a genetic disorder that can be passed down from one generation to another. Hip dysplasia is mostly seen in large-breed dogs and tends to take place when a loose-fitting hip joint causes significant wear and tear over time, leading to arthritic changes and accompanying pain and inflammation.
While the symptoms associated with arthritis manifest mostly in older dogs, they can show up early in life if a dog is severely affected. According to veterinary surgeon Dr. Daniel Degner, the first signs of hip dysplasia may show up as early as 4 months of age, but they're mostly seen in dogs between the ages of 8 and 12 months.
Typical symptoms include bunny hopping, stiffness, problems getting up from a lying down position, limb lameness, and atrophy of the dog's hind leg muscles.
This video shows a dog who is bunny hopping from hip dysplasia.
5. Floating Kneecaps
When it comes to small dogs who bunny hop, one of the more common causes is luxating patella, also known as floating kneecaps or trick knees. In this case, the dog's kneecap (patella) pops out of its normal location. The first signs may be seen as early as four to six months of age.
These dogs may bunny hop or run on three legs—even shifting between legs at times—then immediately return to moving on four legs as if nothing has happened.
Affected dogs are often graded based on the severity of this condition. There are four degrees, ranging from a kneecap that can be manually moved but rapidly returns to its position on its own to a disabling level where the kneecap is perpetually out of position and requires surgery to correct.
Dog owners may not be aware of this problem from the onset, and they may just think their dog is getting a cramp like everyone does sometimes, not being aware the dog's kneecap is out of position.
In this video, an owner provides footage of her dog bunny hopping due to a luxating patella.
Consult Your Veterinarian Just in Case
These are just a few of the possible causes of a bunny hopping gait in dogs. There are several other causes, such as a soft tissue injury or a neurological problem such as protozoal polyradiculoneuritis or spinal dysraphism.
If you're seeing bunny hopping and other similar behavior, it could just be your dog being goofy and having fun, or maybe it's just your puppy getting used to his growing body. Either way, it's always best to play it safe and inform your vet.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2016 Adrienne Farricelli
Penny Leigh Sebring from Fort Collins on November 19, 2019:
What a great article! I wonder if some breeds are more prone to bunny hopping in puppyhood than others?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 05, 2016:
My dog as a puppy had a bunny hopping gait, and fortunately she outgrew it.
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on April 04, 2016:
Thanks for this informative article. The dog next door has a hopping gait and we always wondered why.