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Why Is My Dog Limping?

Possible Causes and Solutions

By Lauren Leonardi. March 10, 2014 | See Comments

A Golden Retriever Laying In A Door Way

Has your dog been limping lately? Dogs experience limping and lameness for many different reasons. Learn to tell between serious causes and not-so-serious causes of limping in dogs.

There are many reasons why your dog may begin to limp. Some forms of lameness are not a big deal, but sometimes a dog limping is a symptom of something very serious. So how can you tell the difference?

First Things First

If your dog is in a lot of pain, don’t wait. Just go to the vet. Do not give pain medication, even natural pain relief solutions, without consulting a vet, as some drugs are bad for dogs and all mask symptoms the vet needs to see.

Is Your Dog Still Being Injured?

Examine your pup’s paw, especially between the toes, for anything like a thorn or a tack stuck in there. If you are outside, check if the ground is too hot or perhaps contaminated with something caustic like road salt. Your first job is to make sure the injury is not still happening.

Four Primary Reasons for Limping

If your pup is limping, narrowing the problem down to one of four basic categories is a good first step.

1.  Bone and Joint Problems Due to Injury
If your dog suddenly refuses to put weight on one leg, or holds the leg at an odd angle, you might be looking at a break or a dislocation. Excessive swelling or localized sensitivity to touch are also signs of breaks, and remember a lot of dogs bite when in pain. Others are more stoic and will even run and play on a broken toe. Either way, all suspected breaks and dislocations require a trip to the vet.

Some dogs have trick knees that cause recurrent lameness. This could look like an injury, except that the dog is not in pain. It’s called a luxating patella; basically, the kneecap pops out of place. Your pup might learn to pop it back in again. Talk to your vet to be sure, but the condition is not serious in small animals, and it can be treated with dietary supplements or surgery.

2. Cuts, Burns, and Other Injuries
Cuts and burns on the pads or between the toes are painful enough to cause limping, but can often heal on their own if your dog rests and you can keep the area clean. If in doubt, call a vet. Infected wounds always need treatment but might swell closed and hide under shaggy fur. To be safe, ask a vet about any unexplained painful swelling that doesn’t go away quickly.

3. Back Problems
Beagles, Dachshunds, and other long-bodied breeds are especially prone to back problems that can cause limping or even limb weakness. The limp might move from limb to limb and the spine will be sensitive to pressure or movement. With strict cage rest, anti-inflammatory meds, and painkillers, most dogs recover, but without prompt treatment permanent disability could result.

4. Bone and Joint Problems Not Due to Injury
Autoimmune diseases, tick-borne illnesses, and congenital problems can all cause joint problems, like various forms of arthritis, including hip or elbow dysplasia, that develop gradually or come and go. These issues can usually be treated, so it is important to talk to a vet and get a diagnosis.

Tick-borne diseases particularly can be very serious if left untreated. Another scary possibility is bone cancer, which can kill. It is a common cause of recurrent non-injury related lameness in some breeds.

When to Go to the Vet

Sometimes dogs limp briefly because of minor injuries, just like us. Large breed puppies often get growing pains, especially if overfed. These problems resolve on their own, but…

  • If your dog keeps crying out or is distracted by pain for more than a few minutes
  • If the limp gets worse rather than better over a number of hours
  • If there are signs of a break, a dislocation, or an infection
  • If the limp comes and goes repeatedly
  • If there are signs of spinal involvement

...then go to the vet so your pup can feel better as quickly as possible.

More on Joint Health

8 Ways to Treat Joint Pain
Dealing With Patellar Luxation in Dogs
4 Reasons Your Dog May Need Glucosamine and Chomdroitin

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Dog Limping at a glance

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  • 1Dogs may limp due to short term causes like lacerations, burns, and minor injuries
  • 2A dog may limp because they’re facing a more serious condition, like arthritis or even cancer
  • 3Try to identify the source of the limp on your own, in case an injury is still occurring