Written by Ella White
Like humans, dogs limp for a wide range of reasons. They might have something stuck in their paw, they might have stood on something causing temporary pain, or they might have damaged a joint. But, since they can’t tell us what they’ve done and where their pain is coming from, it’s usually best to seek veterinary advice if you suddenly notice that your pup isn’t walking right.
In this blog, we’ll look at the reasons for dogs limping, what you should do, and how it might be treated.
One of the most common reasons dogs are brought into the vet is due to limping or lameness. Often, this is caused by something being stuck in their paw, a strain or tear to their ligaments or muscles, or bite or sting. However, some more serious causes of dogs limping include broken bones and other trauma, osteoarthritis, vascular conditions, inflammation, and other diseases like Lyme Disease.
If your dog has gradually begun limping, it could be caused by a condition like osteoarthritis, cancer, or hip and elbow dysplasia or another underlying issue. This is usually degenerative and is more common in older dogs, but can be treated by the vet.
Sudden onset limping, however, is more likely to be caused by trauma or an injury – like a small stone stuck in their paw or a pulled tendon. Though still worrying, these are short-term injuries that can be easily fixed with medical support and rest.
Taking a limping dog to the vet regardless of the cause is almost always the right thing to do, and in the case of broken bones this should be an immediate response. If there is an obvious dislocation, break, dangling limb, swelling or fever then your dog should be taken to the vet straight away.
If your dog has gradual or sudden onset limping but doesn’t seem to be in too much pain then they should still see a vet, but it is likely to be less urgent. Make sure they rest and don’t put any excess pressure on the affected leg or paw until they have been to the vet.
The first step to diagnosing the limp is to check their feet and legs for injuries, bleeding or anything unusual. This could be a cut, a sting, something stuck in their paw pads or discoloration or mark on their pads (could be a corn). If you can’t notice any obvious injury, check for swelling and inflammation and apply heat or ice if necessary. In these cases, you might prefer to wait up to 48 hours to see if your dog recovers without veterinary interventions.
During this time, make sure they don’t exercise and try to limit their movement as much as possible to prevent extra strain on the injury.
If your dog’s limp isn’t getting better or is causing obvious pain and your dog is crying or yelping when it’s touched, a vet will be able to determine the cause of their condition. They might run tests to check for broken bones and joint diseases, and if they suspect an infectious disease like Lyme they may take blood tests.
Not all dogs will cry out when something hurts. It’s common for placid dogs to lick their lips in an attempt to self-soothe themselves when they’re in pain. When checking your dog’s legs or paws, keep an eye on their mouth, if they start licking their lips it could be the equivalent of when humans wince.
Some of the most common causes of limping in dogs can be easily spotted by owners. Knowing how to identify problems with your pet can help vets identify and treat the issue more quickly.
Unlike humans, dogs don’t have shoes to protect their feet from sharp objects on the ground. So it’s not unlikely that they will accidentally stand on glass, thorns, sharp stones, and other painful things throughout the course of their life.
Often these will only cause minor discomfort. But if the object becomes lodged it can lead to infection and further issues. As well as limping, you can identify this kind of injury if your dog has begun excessively licking their paws. Burns, bruises, and broken toenails can also cause this kind of response.
Trauma to the paws and legs are another common reason for dog’s limping. Like humans, dogs can break and fracture their bones, tear ligaments, sprain and dislocate their joints, and suffer spinal injuries.
If you know your dog has suffered an injury that might cause one of these problems, check whether they are able to put weight on the affected area. It’s often advised to wait 15 minutes or so to see if a dog remains in pain after a bout of lameness. But if after this time they still appear to be in pain and cannot put weight on their injured leg, take them to the vet.
Whilst these injuries can heal, they can also linger just like when humans experience traumatic injuries. If you’re adopting an old dog, make sure you get as much information about their past as possible. This shouldn’t put you off your planned adoption, it’s just so you have all the information if you ever need to make a trip to the vet from the result of a limp.
Joint diseases like hip and elbow dysplasia, arthritis, patellar luxation, ligament or intervertebral disc diseases and other conditions can affect the limbs and cause limping in dogs. Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin are useful in supporting joint strength – particularly in older dogs that might be suffering from arthritis.
If your dog is suffering from joint issues caused by an infection or inflammatory issue like Lyme Disease, they will likely be prescribed antibiotics and preventative tick treatments.
Some cancers can affect dogs’ bones and lead to limping so it’s important to have your vet check for all possible causes if you’re unable to identify an obvious cause of injury. Larger breeds are also more prone to bone conditions like hypertrophic osteodystrophy, which can make it painful to walk and lead to limping. This is more common in younger dogs and should be treated with veterinary care.
How a vet treats your dog’s limping or lameness will depend on their diagnosis. For minor injuries they may just need a few days rest without weight-bearing. Some might require surgery. And others might require long-term medication.
When taking your dog to the vet for treatment, carry them or put them in a crate to avoid putting further strain on their legs by walking. It’s important to always be honest with vets because if you can provide as much information as possible as to how your dog might have obtained their injury, your vet will be able to diagnose and treat them more effectively. Similarly, the sooner you take them the more likely they are to recover quickly.
Even if your pup’s just sustained an injury from a bout of zoomies, it can be hard to convince them to rest. As soon as the pain goes away, or any prescribed painkillers kick in, a dog is likely to think everything’s fine and they’ll want to start running about again. It’s your job to make sure they stay as still and calm as possible until they’re fully healed. This might sound like it’s easier said than done but little changes can help keep them still. A temporary stair gate can stop them charging up and down stairs (or even around the house when placed in doorways). Avoid moving too quickly in case your dog misinterprets this as a sign it’s time to play. You’ll know your dog’s triggers, does reaching for your coat make them think it’s walkies time? Do they jump up when you move your hand too close to the treat jar? All these little things can be avoided for a few days whilst they’re resting.
Our Move Supplement isn’t a cure for limping but it’s certainly a good idea if you know your dog is prone to joint problems. If you’ve got an older dog, a larger dog or a breed that’s genetically more predisposed to conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia, there are certain natural ingredients that are scientifically proven to have antiinflammatory properties.