What is Limping?
If your dog is limping, there could be a number of different reasons, some as simple as too much exercise and others as serious as cancer. There are usually additional signs besides just limping such as bleeding, lacerations, or bumps on the leg or foot. For example, if your dog’s toenails are too long, this can make walking uncomfortable. Some things to consider are how long your dog has been limping and if he has injuries anywhere else on his body. Here are some of the most common causes of limping:
- Too much exercise
- Toenail injury
- Something in his paw
- Sprain or strain
- Bone inflammation
- Ligament disorder
- Broken leg
- Luxating patella
- Torn ligament
- Spinal injury or degeneration
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Why Limping Occurs in Dogs
Because your dog cannot talk, you pretty much have to narrow it down by checking for other symptoms such as fever, other injuries, checking your dog’s paws and toenails, and checking for swelling or warmth in the leg or foot. Some further details about the above causes are:
Too Much Exercise
Your dog can become overexerted while playing fetch or playing with other dogs, but dogs do not usually know when to stop. It is up to you to put the brakes on play when it seems that your dog has had enough. If overexertion is the problem, your dog should be back to normal after a few hours of rest.
Toenails that are too long are uncomfortable and can even become ingrown. If you have not had your dog’s nails trimmed lately it may be an ingrown nail or he may have gotten a toenail stuck in something and damaged it, causing it to be sore.
Foreign Object in Paw
Check your dog’s paws. They run around without foot protection all day and night, so it is pretty common for them to step on something. If there is a thorn or rock in your dog’s paw, this can be extremely painful.
Injury (Sprain or Strain)
Your dog may have injured himself playing catch or playing outside. Check for swelling or warm spots on the leg. If your dog starts limping suddenly, injury is usually the cause. It can happen at any age with all breeds but is most often seen in active dogs.
One of the most common sources of pain in older dogs is arthritis, which is degenerative and caused by normal wear and tear on your dog’s joints. Just like humans, the pain can become debilitating in some cases and may be able to be treated with medication and therapy.
Panosteitis (Bone Inflammation)
This painful condition only affects young dogs that are still growing and mostly occurs in large or giant breeds such as the St. Bernard, Great Dane, and German Shepherd. Panosteitis usually shows up between 5 and 15 months of age and can last anywhere from 3 to 18 months, sometimes returning several times during your dog’s first few years of life. The pain may be in one or more legs and the cause is unknown.
Ligament Injury or Disease
There are several types of ligament injuries and disorders such as ruptures, tears, and degenerative diseases. These conditions may be caused by injury, illness, infection, or may be congenital. For example, cranial cruciate rupture is a hereditary condition that causes certain dogs to be more susceptible to tearing their cranial cruciate ligament.
If your dog has a broken leg, he will be in pain and the leg may be swollen and deformed. Your dog may hold the leg at a strange angle or be dragging it. In severe cases, the bone can break through the skin. This is a medical emergency.
A luxating patella is another name for dislocated knee, which can be excruciating. However, in some cases, your dog may not even seem to feel any pain. This condition is most common in Terriers and toy breeds.
Spinal Injury or Degeneration
A spinal disease such as intervertebral disc disease is similar to a ruptured or “slipped” disk in humans and can cause limping in dogs. This is more common in small breeds like the Shih Tzu, Basset Hound, Beagle, and Dachshund.
There is a chance that your dog may have a tumor (either benign or cancerous) that is causing the limp. You should check your dog at least a few times a week when grooming to look for lumps. Cancer is more common in dogs over the age of seven and bone cancer is more prevalent in large breed dogs.
What to do if your Dog is Limping
If your dog is in a lot of pain or cannot walk at all, take him to see a veterinary professional right away. Do not give your pet any kind of medication without your veterinarian’s approval. Some medications can be dangerous and may also hide symptoms that your veterinarian may need to see. If the leg is not swollen and your dog is not in any obvious pain, you should call your veterinarian and see whether you should bring him in or not. If the limp does not go away in a day or two, make an appointment. If there are any other symptoms such as a fever, other injuries, or if your dog is holding his leg in a strange way, you should seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible. The veterinarian will likely give your dog a thorough physical examination, take images (x-rays, MRI, ultrasound, CT scan), and possibly do some blood and urine tests.
The veterinarian will either wrap your dog’s leg or put it in a cast if it is broken, sprained, or if there is ligament damage. Medication such as steroids and NSAIDS may be given for pain. In the case of back injury, the veterinarian will likely need to perform surgery to repair the problem and will keep your pet overnight for observation.
Prevention of Limping
To prevent injuries that cause limping in your dog, you should provide a safe environment, plenty of food and water, and health care. Here are some other things to remember:
- Feed your dog high quality veterinary approved dog food and supply plenty of fresh water; your dog obtains certain vitamins and nutrients from his diet just like we do, and vitamin deficiencies can cause brittle bones and weak muscles
- Provide sufficient exercise and attention daily
- Visit the veterinarian regularly
- Keep vaccinations up to date
- Check the area where your dog is allowed to play for dangers that may cause accidents
Cost of Limping
The cost of treating your dog for limping depends on the cause of the condition. The prices can range from $200 for x-rays and a physical examination, about $8,000 for spinal trauma, to more than $15,000 for cancer.
Limping Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog has been getting a slight limp after hard exercise. If we go on long walks or he plays hard with another dog, I start to notice a limp. He will act fine but after a nap he will be stiff and limp for a little bit. After a few steps it isn’t noticeable. He doesn’t act different. He still loves to run and play. Should I been concerned or is this a growing thing?
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My dog started limping on his front right leg about 6 weeks ago. It’s only after he’s laid down for a period of time. When he gets up he limps for about 20 seconds and then goes back to normal. He doesn’t whine or whimper and it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He has no problem running or anything. I’ve had him on glucosamine for 5 weeks now and have seen no improvement. Do I need to be concerned?
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I came home yesterday evening to my dauschund mix limping on his right from paw. He whines when he adds pressure or lies down. Also when I apply pressure under the armpit or pull the leg he begins to wimper and shake his back legs. I know he is in pain but I am unable to afford veterinary care and was hoping he may have just sprained it and needs rest. I have been giving him baby aspirin for pain but he's not very active and keeps his eyes closed mostly. How long can I wait for it to "heal" on its own before it's considered inhumane? I'm considering using my Christmas savings for a vet visit. Please help!
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Leg is dangling from the hip, but she is managing to keep it off the ground, she was careful when she went to stand but seems to have little problem sitting
In a case where the limb is dangling, it is important to visit a Veterinarian immediately to examine the leg as the cause may be hip dislocation, nerve damage among other causes. Your Veterinarian will probably want to take x-rays as well to evaluate the limb, hips and spine for any anomalies; this isn’t something to wait to see if it gets better on its own. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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