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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
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bone inflammation
  • Ligament disorder
  • Broken leg
  • Luxating patella
  • Torn ligament
  • Spinal injury or degeneration
  • Cancer

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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.

Toenail Injury

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.

Arthritis

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.

Broken Leg

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.

Luxating Patella

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.

Cancer

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

Tessa
Spaniel
10 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Limping
Pain when standing up

Medication Used

Gerivet powder
Inflacam 1,5mg

My 10 year old Spaniel has never had an issue with injuries. She is a relatively health dog, except for having tick bite fever two times before I started with Bravecto. She started to limp for about a week. I 'forced' her to rest and not jump or do anything. After a week of rest it wasn't better. So I took her to the vet I work at. He found nothing wrong and gave me pain meds for about three days. After that I took her back and we did x-rays.

Her right hip has started to show signs of arthritis, but there are no fractures or tears in the ligaments. I started given her a powder over her food for geriatric dogs as well as changed her diet to Hill's J/D. It's only been about three weeks, but there is already improvement. She doesn't limp anymore, there are no signs of pain and she runs like a young dog again, chasing the birds and occasionally catching one. The vet and I suspect she might have had a sport injury from being so active, but rather safe than sorry.

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Brina
Australian Cattle/terrier mix
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

My dog since she was young always seemed to have stiff back legs and is always stretches her back legs out. Recently, I have noticed she has been limping every time she wakes from a nap or sleep as well when she runs sometimes. She loves to run and after a while she doesn't limp anymore but she does always seems stiff and is always stretching. I worry about her having a muscle problem.

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Prince
Pit bull
6 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

My dog just started to limp 2 days ago after he went outside to go potty I didnt watch him like i normally do but when he came back in his been limping and putting no weight on his back leg at all but he doesn't whine at all but he does pant showing he is in pain.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Without examining Prince I cannot determine whether it is sprained, dislocated, fractured or other; however you should restrict Prince’s movement and only take him outside to do his business on a lead. You should monitor him for signs of improvement but if there is no improvement over the next few days or he is showing signs of pain you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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sally
bull arab cross
4 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

how do I apply rapigel to my dogs rear leg? do I need to bandage area? is it poisonous to my dog if she licks the area?

she has a torn medial cruciate and were waiting for surgery.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
While Rapigel has been shown to be safe in dogs, Sally may also need to be on prescription pain medication to help with her pain until she has surgery to repair that ligament. It isn't advised to bandage the leg, as more damage can occur from the bandage than it may help. If she isn't on any pain medication, that would be a good idea for her, and you can contact your veterinarian to get safe treatment for her.

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Malcom
Boxer
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

I spent 1,200 trying to figure out y my 2 year old boxer was limping they found out he has neruophils in his back joint on his right leg and his lymph nodes r swollen but they won’t tell me anything else want me to take him to a specialist I don’t have the money right now. So all I know is they r high

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Without examining Malcolm myself I cannot diagnose the specific condition, however the presence of neutrophils in the joint fluid may be an indicator for immune-mediated polyarthritis, infection among other conditions (I confirm anything without an examination). You should think about raising the money to visit a Specialist to get a diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/recognizing-and-treating-immune-mediated-polyarthritis-dogs?id=&sk=&date=&pageID=4

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Brody
Dauschund mix
4-5 years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

No appetite
sleeping
Limping, whining, no appetite,
Very little activity
Whining,
Limpimg,

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!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
You should give Brody strict rest for the time being and continue with the (baby) aspirin; however, if it is a simple sprain you should see improvement over the next few days as long as he has rest. If you don’t see any improvement you should visit your Veterinarian regardless of cost for an examination and pain relief. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Scout
Goldendoodle
7 Months
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

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?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
It is possible that Scout is just overdoing it when it comes to exercise and playing, I would suggest trying to restrict exercise and excitement for a few weeks to see if there is any overall improvement; a visit to your Veterinarian to check for any specific anomalies would also be useful (x-rays etc…). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Dex
Bouvier des Flandres
9 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Leg Swelling

My Bouvier (about 9yrs) has had past issue with Arthritis upper shoulders. Lately he was favoring his hind leg a bit. Last night I noticed he has swelling of both hind legs from knee down (like edema). He has been obsessed with eating pine cones - I've read they can be toxic. Is it possible he could've consumed enough of them the last few months and could cause this type of reaction? Also gags/yaks. Or more likely cancer/liver/kidney/heart?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Pinecones are not toxic but may cause some gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea; the swelling of the lower hind legs would be unrelated. Swollen limbs are typically caused by irritation, infections, allergies, trauma, pooling of fluid among other causes; you should really visit your Veterinarian for an examination to determine the cause of the leg swelling so the correct course of action may be taken. Regard Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Bella
Labrador Retriever
8 Years 10 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

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

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations

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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Myles
Silky Terrier
13 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

I was in a car accident, it wasn't bad, just a quick jolt. My 13 year old silky terrier was in the back seat and now he's limping. It's been a few days and he's hoping to get from point A to B. He's panting but I don't know if it's the hoping or the heat. He doesn't seem to be in pain. He went through liver failure in 2014 so I'm always worried about him. He'll be seeing the vet next week

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Myles may have suffered a variety of different injuries in a car accident, head injury shouldn’t be rule out either; you should keep Myles calm and restrict his movement so that he doesn’t cause further injury to himself before you visit your Veterinarian. Without examining him I cannot determine the severity of any injury. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Denver
Labrador
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Limping

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?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Denver is at an age where he may start to have joint or bone problems, and there are pain medications that are safe for dogs that are available if he needs them. It would be best to have him examined by a veterinarian, as they will be able to determine what might be going on with the leg, whether he needs x-rays, and if pain medication might help him. I hope that he is okay.

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Teddy
Yorkshire Terrier
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Medication Used

Prednisolone

My yorkie teddy fell off our bed today. He started limping but a few minutes later stopped limping but was walking slowly and gingerly. So I took him to our vet. The vet examined him and said it was likely a leg and back sprain he didn’t feel it was broken but didn’t xray it. Said to give teddy 2.5 mg of prednisone twice a day for three days than once a day. If not improved in 3 days to return for X-rays. My concern is within a few hours of the appointment Teddy began to limp and he barely can walk around now. Can the limping worsen should I be concerned? Should I bring him to immediate care ?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
The severity of limping may vary and the more Teddy moves the more pain he will be in; try to keep his movement restricted as much as possible and place his bed, food and water next to each other so he doesn’t need to travel far and carry him outside to do his business. However, if Teddy is showing severe symptoms of pain or you’re generally concerned visit an Emergency Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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