Written by Ella White
When our pets are injured, we wish more than ever that they could talk and let us know what’s causing them pain. And when you notice your dog won’t put weight on their paw, there are a wide range of reasons that could be causing them to limp. The best we can do is narrow down the potential causes – from mild injuries to trauma to potential disease – and understand the different treatments available.
In this article, we’ll look at the different reasons your dog might be limping, conditions that prevent them from putting weight on paws, and how different causes of limping are treated.
Dogs limping is never normal, but the causes can range from mild and easily treatable to very serious. If your dog has been limping for a while or if you notice the limp getting worse then you should seek advice from your vet.
Sometimes, a dog will limp for a moment or for a few steps and then be back to normal again, which is nothing to worry about. But if their limp lasts for two weeks or more it will be considered a ‘chronic’ limp by the vet, and should be seen to.
Even if your dog has only just started limping, but it seems that they are uncomfortable, unable to bear weight on the paw or leg, or are displaying other signs of discomfort or poor health, then you should see a vet to diagnose the issue as soon as possible.
If your dog’s limb or paw is swollen, dragging, bleeding, appears to be broken or fractured, or if your dog is unable or unwilling to move and shows signs or pain or aggression (or excessive lip licking) when you try to move them, speak to your vet straight away.
Though diagnosing a limp is not always straightforward, there are different ways to help identify the cause. Firstly, are they limping on their front leg and touching their nose to the ground as they struggle to bear weight, or are they leaning forward to prevent bearing weight on a painful hind leg?
How quickly the limp started is another indicator of the cause. Limping that occurs slowly over time, known as gradual onset limping, is more likely to be caused by a health condition or underlying illness, while sudden onset limping – where your dog quickly displays signs of pain – is usually a response to trauma or injury.
Limping and lameness is one of the most common reasons that dogs visit the vets, because there are so many possible causes. Here we will break down some of the most common reasons that dogs don’t put weight on their paws.
If something has injured your dog’s paw or leg, it’s likely that they won’t be able to bear weight on it and will limp as a result. These injuries could be caused by:
If your dog is also licking their paw frequently, this is a sign that there is an injury which needs to be treated. Check to see if you can identify any of these causes, and see your vet for treatment.
Trauma can occur from various accidents or injuries, including those listed above but also extending to more serious issues like broken bones, sprains, dislocated limbs, spinal injuries, injuries caused during activities, and even car accidents.
If your dog has been injured, they may continue to limp after they’ve been treated due to trauma in the limb or paw. If you are worried about their trauma recovery, your vet will be able to advise you on how long limping should be expected, and when it should be healed.
Diseases that affect a dog’s bones can make walking and bearing weight on the limbs very painful. These conditions include some cancers, panosteitis, and hypertrophic osteodystrophy. If you can’t identify injury or trauma as a cause for your dog’s limping, and if the limp has come on gradually, see your vet to rule out bone disease.
Joint disease is a fairly common condition in dogs. It can be hereditary or it can come on over time as a result of wear and tear as they get older. Arthritis, dysplasia, a luxating patella, diseases of the ligaments or invertebrate, and Lyme disease can all cause limping in dogs.
Other causes of limping in dogs include:
Sometimes, you will be able to diagnose your dog’s limp at home – either you know the cause of their injury, or are able to find it yourself by inspecting their limping limb. On these occasions, it’s still advised that owners seek professional advice to help treat the injury so it can heal as quickly and healthily as possible.
If you are unable to diagnose the cause of your dog’s limp, then it’s essential that you see your vet for advice. The quicker the cause of a limp is diagnosed and treated, the faster they will be able to recover and the better the prognosis will be.
Your vet might run a series of tests including physical exams to find the source of pain, radiographs to check for bone and joint issues, biopsies to look for cancers, and blood tests to identify immune issues and other diseases. Or sometimes a vet with years of experience will be able to spot something straight away that only seems obvious in hindsight.
The cause of your dog’s limping will determine how it is treated. In some cases they may need rest to recover. In other cases, it might require a course of medication or surgery. When you notice your dog is limping, immediately pause exercise and allow them to rest and stay calm at home until professional treatment is prescribed.
The most likely treatments for limping in dogs are:
As humans, our first course of action when we experience pain, an injury or are limping, is often to take painkillers. So you might have wondered if you can help your dog quickly relieve their pain in the same way.
The answer is no. Dogs should never be given human painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen, or paracetamol. These can all cause severe side effects for dogs. So you should never give them any medications that have not been prescribed by their vet.