By Darlene Stott
Published: 07/24/2017, edited: 09/07/2022
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You’ve just sat down after a hard day at work. You were on your feet, it seems like, all day, followed by a trip to the gym or run in the park with your pooch, when all of the sudden, your leg cramps up! Leg cramps are caused by muscles spasming, and are painful and prevent the afflicted from comfortably using the leg until the spasm passes. Commonly, overexercise and strain of the muscles causes a leg cramp, but there are a host of medical conditions that can also contribute to them. So, if you get a leg cramp after your run at the park, can your dog get one, too?
Can dogs get leg cramps?
It turns out dogs get leg cramps, just like people, and mostly for the same reasons. So if your dog yelps in pain and can't straighten or use their leg temporarily, it may well be a leg cramp from overdoing it at the dog park or as a result of a medical condition that they could be suffering from.
Does my dog have leg cramps?
Leg cramping or muscle spasming in the leg occurs quite commonly in our four-legged friends. Your dog may be suffering from a leg cramp if they:
Move slowly and stiffly
Are in pain when they move or when touched
Won't run or avoid moving
Have problems getting up or lying down
Pain is usually in one leg only, it is rare to have cramps in multiple legs at once
Leg cramps that occur as a result of muscles in the leg spasming can be caused by a variety of things. Most commonly, overexertion or muscle strain causes muscles to spasm in such a way, but there is a host of medical conditions that can also cause or contribute to leg cramping in your dog including:
Other neurological disease or disorder that impairs nerve function
Toxins or bacterial infections releasing toxins
Dietary vitamin or mineral deficiencies such as vitamin B or calcium
Structural anomaly or injury to the limb may be causing undue stress to muscles in the leg
Strain from obesity
Impairment of blood flow, may be temporary if your pet has been sitting on the leg cutting off circulation, or indicative of blood flow problem
Reaction to medication
Your veterinarian will physically examine your dog when presented with a dog suffering from muscle spasms. If the leg cramp resolves on its own quickly, it may be attributed to overexertion. However, if it continues, and pain remains, an underlying medical cause will be investigated. Blood chemistry and urine tests may be conducted and radiographs taken to determine if illness or injury is contributing to leg cramping.
Learn more at our guide to Muscle Spasms in Dogs.
How do I treat my dog's leg cramps?
If leg cramping is due to overexertion, your vet can prescribe anti-inflammatories or pain-relieving medications to ease symptoms. You can also stretch and massage your dog's leg gently to relieve pain. Warm compresses or ice packs applied to the muscle may also help. Gentle exercise, such as walking, or jiggling the leg may help restore circulation, if a temporary interruption had occurred. Adjusting your dog's activity level until they recover, and working on building strength up in the affected limb gradually, should resolve the issue.
If an underlying medical cause is determined to be contributing to leg cramps, it will need to be addressed to resolve the condition. If your dog is obese or is suffering from a deficiency of nutrients in their diet, adjusting their diet accordingly will be recommended. For dehydration, hydrate them and gently massage the affected limb. If neurological, circulatory, toxin-related, bacterial or viral disorders are occurring, the condition will need to be treated with appropriate medications. Orthopedic injury or anomaly may be corrected with surgical intervention to decrease strain on the muscles. If leg cramps are thought to be an unwanted side effect of a medication, the administration of the medication will need to be evaluated and alternatives may be recommended.
How are leg cramps similar in dogs and humans?
Leg cramps in you and your dog are very much the same.
They are most commonly caused by overexertion or a temporary interruption in circulation.
A host of similar medical conditions, including dietary deficiencies and neurological conditions can contribute.
Painkillers, anti-inflammatories, warm or cold compresses, and gentle activity and stretching are the most common remedies for leg cramps caused by simple overexertion.
How are leg cramps different in dogs and humans?
The biggest difference in your leg cramp versus your dog’s is that your dog can not tell you exactly what is happening.
If your dog having pain in their leg, you have to figure out when, how and where in order to help them.
Also, dogs and other animals can be uncooperative patients when in pain, as they do not understand that treatments such as compresses or medications are being administered to help them not hurt them.
A Great Dane puppy just loves to go to the dog park with her owners and romp. One day, she is especially exuberant on finding another young, large, dog at the park to play with, and she runs, jumps, rolls and plays for an extra long time. When she gets home she is exhausted and collapses in a heap on the sofa with her leg cocked in an awkward position underneath her.
When she gets up a few hours later she yelps in pain and can't use her leg. She is shaking and upset, obviously in discomfort. Her owner also notices her water dish is empty, and they forgot to refill it after her trip to the park, also it is an especially warm day out. The puppy’s owners quickly supply her with water, calm her down, and apply a warm towel to her leg, Gentle massaging and stretching and hydration restore her leg to normal functioning in about an hour. After a slow walk around the block to make sure everything is okay, the big girl is back to her normal self. In the future, her owner is more careful about making sure she stays hydrated and restricting her activity when she starts to overdo it!
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