Why is my dog limping
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Ciara LaVelleHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

Why Is My Dog Limping?

Is your dog walking funny or holding up a paw? If so, you’re probably wondering, “Why is my dog limping?” Limping in dogs is not necessarily a medical emergency, but it could be. Anything from a thorn to a torn ligament to a bone tumor can cause dog limping, and the treatment for each case is very different.

Possible Reasons a Dog Is Limping

Anything that causes pain or affects a dog’s ability to walk can cause dog limping. Infections, inflammation, cancer, chronic degenerative joint disorders, developmental problems, broken bones, torn ligaments and joint dysplasias can all cause a dog to limp.

Sudden vs. Long-Term Limping in Dogs

Whether your dog’s limping started all of a sudden or slowly happened over time is important information that your veterinarian will need to know.
 
Sudden limping is usually caused by trauma or injury. Sudden causes of dog limping include:

  • Torn ligament in the knee
  • Dislocated hip or elbow
  • Sprained or strained muscle, ligament, or tendon
  • Nerve injury, or a pinched nerve
  • Bone fractures
  • Lacerated or burned paw pad
  • Thorn in the foot
  • Bone infection
  • Bone cancer
  • Panosteitis in young dogs
  • Insect bite or sting
  • Vaccine reaction
  • Tick bite infections (Lyme, etc.)

Sometimes, a dog can have a chronic problem, like osteoarthritis or an undiagnosed bone tumor that becomes irritated with exercise, and can suddenly start limping. Unless you can resolve the problem yourself (such as pull out the thorn), then a sudden limping is considered painful and could be a sign of an emergency. Take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
 
Gradual limping is exactly what it says: limping that slowly gets worse over time. Causes of gradual dog limping include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Chronic back problems

Just because a dog has been gradually limping over time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consult a veterinarian. If you notice gradual limping in your dog, make an appointment to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Determining Why Your Dog Is Limping

Your veterinarian is your best resource for determining the root cause of limping and resolving the issue. If your dog is limping, schedule an exam appointment with your local veterinarian. You will need to know your dog’s age, breed, spay/neuter status, any other diseases your dog may have, if your dog is on any meds or heartworm prevention, and your dog’s vaccination history.
 
During the appointment, your veterinarian will ask you more questions, which could include:

  • Which leg (or legs) are affected: Is your dog limping on the back leg or legs, limping on the front leg or legs, or both?
  • How long has the limping been going on?
  • Can you think of something that caused it?
  • Any history of joint problems known in the parents of your dog?
  • Is it worse after exercise?

Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical exam including taking vitals (temperature, respiratory rate and heart rate) and an orthopedic exam of your whole dog. She may also want to watch your dog walk and trot, and may ask you to take your dog outside so she can watch how your dog is limping on their front or back legs.
 
In order to obtain a diagnosis, your veterinarian may need to take X-rays and pull blood samples for testing. Your dog may need to be sedated during X-rays to get good pictures of bones, muscles, joints and ligaments. In some cases, a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or joint tap (aspiration) may be recommended. Be prepared to follow your veterinarian’s instructions. You may be able to get a diagnosis during your visit, or you may need to wait for test results.

Treatment of Dog Limping

Treatment of dog limping consists of pain management and addressing the root cause. Regardless of the cause, your primary concern is helping your dog feel better. Administer all pain medications as prescribed, even if you think your dog is feeling better.
 
Learn more about what you can give a dog for pain.
 
When it comes to addressing the root cause of dog limping, treatment depends on what is causing the limping.
 
If your dog is limping due to osteoarthritis, then treatment consists of pain management, weight management, joint supplements that promote joint health, and physical therapy (exercise).
 
If your dog is limping due to an injury or a bone tumor, then surgery is indicated to correct the problem.
 
If your dog is limping due to an infection, then appropriate antibiotics and pain relievers are indicated.
 
Because the underlying cause of limping varies widely, it is of extreme importance to work with your veterinarian to determine why your dog is limping to get the best chance of a cure.

At-Home Care for Dog Limping

If your dog is being treated for limping, at-home care is as important as veterinary care and varies depending on the cause of limping.

At-Home Care for Dogs Recovering From Surgery or Other Procedures

Follow all instructions from your vet, and give all medications as instructed. How your dog recovers from surgery can affect the long-term outcome. Your dog will likely be under some exercise restrictions to allow for healing; follow these closely. If your veterinarian recommends any post-operative physical therapy exercises, doing these diligently will also improve your dog’s outcome.

At-Home Care for Dogs Limping Due to Osteoarthritis

Make sure your dog is comfortable. There are many pain management options available, including medication, supplements, photobiomodulation, acupuncture, canine rehabilitation, passive range of motion exercise, massage, etc. Talk with your veterinarian to determine the best options for your dog. Make sure your dog has a supportive sleeping surface, such as a Big Barker Orthopedic Waterproof and Tear Resistant Pillow Top Dog Crate Pad, and provide pet ramps for your dog to get up and down, if needed.
 
By acting quickly and partnering with your veterinary care team, you can successfully determine the cause of limping, help your dog feel better and get back to what really matters. You know, the important stuff: chasing squirrels, rolling in the grass and playing fetch.
 
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By: Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM
Dr. Sarah Wooten is a practicing veterinarian, certified veterinary journalist, author, speaker, landlord, tea tavern owner, mom and warrior goddess. When it is time to play, she can be found either skiing in Colorado, diving a coral reef or triathlon training with Team LC.

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