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What Causes a Bunny Hopping Gait in Dogs?

Updated on March 27, 2016
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Why is my dog hopping like a bunny?
Why is my dog hopping like a bunny?

If you ever watched a dog bunny hopping, you may find the behavior quite curious and may wonder what may be going on. Does the dog have an identity problem and thinks he's the canine personification of a rabbit, or perhaps a kangaroo? Is he just doing it just for sheer fun? Or can it be caused by some medical problem, causing the dog to be reluctant to make the rear legs 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 bunnies hop around. This movement is mostly seen when the dog is running at high speed and it's quite a common sight in puppies and young dogs. In this article, we will discuss several causes that may cause a dog to bunny hop. These are only possible causes. If your dog is bunny hopping, it's in your dog's best interest to see the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Dog Bunny Hops Through Tall Grass

1) A Hunting Strategy

If you live in the city or in the suburbs, you might miss out seeing a dog hop around like a rabbit. This sight in most likely to be seen by those who have the fortune of bringing their dogs off leash in acres of fields with tall grass where wildlife critters live undisturbed. When a dog is taken to these areas, they may engage in hopping and pouncing around just like a kangaroo in the vast lands of Australia. Why are they doing this? Most likely they are pouncing around to catch some small critter, perhaps a small 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 he can be captured. There are many animals in the wild who resort to this kind of behavior, but when dogs do it, it makes it extra fun to watch! No critters in the grass? Then, 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. Some dog owners see their dogs pounce this way also in the snow or in the water. For those who don't have the luxury to take their dogs in areas of tall grass (or don't want to in fear of pesky ticks, and who can blame them?) then here is a fun video of a dog having a blast bunny hopping around in tall grass.

Puppy Bunny Hopping

2) One of Those "Puppy Things"

If you are wondering why puppies and young dogs are over-represented when it comes to bunny hopping, there's a good reason why. It's one of those cute things puppy do when they are playing and running around at lightening speeds. You'll literally see them arch their back and tuck both legs under them as they try to attain as much speed as they can. Many owners of puppies and young dogs attest that their dogs have a tendency to bunny hop when they get a bout of zoomies, those moments of frenetic energy when they're acting crazy and romping around. Even when these owners saw their vet, wondering if there might be a medical cause for the bunny hopping gait, the x-rays often revealed nothing structurally wrong with their dog's hips and 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," claims veterinarian Dr. Marie, but if the bunny is accompanied by other signs such as whining, limping then things at that point become more concerning.

German Shepherd Puppy Bunny Hopping

3) A Matter of Development

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. Just like adolescents, dogs go through a gangly stage when the puppy goofiness causes dogs to move in an uncoordinated matter. 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 are learning 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 wax and wane.

However, as mention above, it's not a bad idea to mention the bunny hopping behavior to a vet just to make sure everything is going well in the developmental department. Some dog breeds are prone to growing pains and they may go through some painful episodes of pano. If your puppy is persistently bunny hopping or appears stiff, see your vet to just makes sure all is well. Fact is, 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 anyway, claims Dr. Melj, a graduate of the University of MN College of Vet Med.

Bunny hopping due to hip dysplasia

4) A Symptom of Hip Dysplasia

Not always is bunny hopping in dogs a sign of a dog having fun romping around or a dog who is 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 take a conservative approach so to minimize the impact of putting their weight on a specific leg when running or climbing up a flight of stairs.

Hip dsyplasia is painful condition affecting the dog's hips. It's for the most part a genetic disorder that's passed down from one generation to another, but not always. It's 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 its accompanying pain and inflammation. While the symptoms associated with arthritis generally show mostly in older dogs, the symptoms can show up early in life when a dog is severely affected. According to veterinary surgeon Dr. Daniel A. Degner, the first signs of hip dysplasia may show up as early as 4 month 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. The video on the right shows a dog who is bunny hopping from hip dysplasia.


What does Medial Patellar Luxation Look Like in a dog

5) A Matter of Floating Kneecaps

When it comes to small dogs who bunny hop, one of the most common causes are luxating patellas, also known as floating kneecaps or trick knees. What happens in this case, is that the dogs kneecap (patella) pops out of its normal location. The first signs may be seen as early as 4 to 6 months of age. These dogs may be bunny hopping or they may be seen running on three legs, even shifting them at times, explains veterinarian Dr. Gary. 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 get-go, and they may sometimes just think their dogs may get a cramp just as we do at times, when instead the dog's kneecap is out of position. Dog owners often report their dog skipping, bunny hoping or running on three legs, and then, just a second later, their dogs are back to moving on their four legs as if nothing ever happened. In the video on the right, a dog owner provides footage of her dog bunny hopping due to a luxating patella.

The Bottom Line

These are just a few of the possible cause 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 your dog is bunny hopping, it's therefore best to inform the vet just to play it safe. It could be just a puppy thing, a developmental stage or it could be something more that warrants more attention.

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy.

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


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    • Penny Sebring profile image

      Penny Leigh Sebring 

      2 months ago from Fort Collins

      What a great article! I wonder if some breeds are more prone to bunny hopping in puppyhood than others?

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      3 years ago

      My dog as a puppy had a bunny hopping gait, and fortunately she outgrew it.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      3 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Thanks for this informative article. The dog next door has a hopping gait and we always wondered why.


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