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How You Can Help a Dog That Limps at Night
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/03/2017, edited: 08/10/2021
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Walking on four legs has certain advantages over walking on two. If one leg hurts, there are three more that can carry the weight. A dog will naturally carry most of their weight on the forelegs. Lameness can be detected if your dog is taking shorter steps than usual, is placing less weight on one leg or is bobbing the head as they walk. Lameness or limping is the most common sign of muscle, joint, or bone disorders. It may also be caused by injury to the foot or pad of the paw, or by nerve degeneration.
Finding the actual cause of the lameness can be more challenging than you might think. Even determining which leg your dog is limping on can sometimes be difficult. If your dog displays signs of pain when moving, is unable to settle, or holds their leg at an awkward angle, veterinary care is warranted. Additionally, if the lameness is getting worse instead of improving, or there are visible open or infected wounds, then it is time to make an appointment with your vet.
Why is my dog limping at night?
The severity of the lameness is often exacerbated during the night. This happens because of the soreness that builds up from too much activity during the day. This is why it is important to monitor your dog after exercise to determine how much is too much. Stiffness from inactivity during the day is another culprit. Helping your dog to get movement in during the day with a few short walks can make a difference. Cooler evening temperatures (and when the seasons move into fall and winter) can have an effect, too.
How can I help my lame dog?
Discuss pain medication options with your vet.
There have been several medical advancements that have improved the available care for dogs with lameness. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain and reduce inflammation in acute injuries and are used long-term for dogs with chronic lameness.
Mild lameness cases may be managed with holistic options. However, since almost all medications have side-effects, never use over the counter meds without a veterinarian's guidance and approval.
Add a supplement to your dog's diet.
Natural bone and joint supplements can help your dog maintain strong bones and healthy joints. Glucosamine supplements and supplements containing lactoferrin complex have been shown to help minimize inflammation and support the overall skeletal strength.
Owners should consider that most of these supplements tend to work well for several weeks or months and then taper off. Once the effect of the supplement diminishes, it is time to switch to a new brand.
Massage the painful area and apply compresses.
A relaxing and soothing massage is a natural way to treat mild lameness. Massage relieves pain by reducing tension and improving the circulation in the affected area while promoting relaxation and flexibility.
Depending on the cause of lameness, apply either dog-safe heating pads or bags of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel over the sore area to reduce the pain. Your vet can recommend the appropriate temperature.
Avoid carbs and keep your dog at a healthy weight.
Excessive amounts of carbohydrates like corn, wheat, rice, soy, millet, and potatoes have an inflammatory effect. Additionally, a few extra pounds cause a lot of additional pressure on your dog's joints.
Look for a high-quality food that uses real chicken or beef as the main ingredient, maintain a low impact daily exercise routine, and limit the treats or use low-calorie treats.
Acute limping cases entail movement restriction. Some of these severe cases require placing your dog in a special crate with an orthopedic mat if you are not at home. If this is the case, make this hard time easier for your dog by trying to keep them occupied with plenty of toys and occasional low-calorie treats.
During the movement restriction period, do not allow your dog to go up and down the stairs, play with other dogs, or sleep on the bed, as they can attempt to jump down and injure themselves even more. Also, avoid picking your dog up, and if you do, always put them down carefully on all four legs, so they do not land on the sore leg.
Do not over exercise your lame dog.
If your dog is limping, they must be allowed to rest entirely for a few days or even several weeks, depending on the case. Even when the lameness subsides, the rest must be continued for at least another 24-48 hours. After that, gentle exercise can be gradually reintroduced.
Controlled exercise promotes both muscular and cardiovascular fitness over an extended period.
Use 'lameness friendly' products.
There are no specific brands that cater exclusively to lame dogs. However, using products that spare your dog from unnecessary bending and climbing is quite helpful. Such products include elevated food and water bowls, orthopedic dog beds and mats, ramps and stairs that simplify getting up or down, and supportive carriers and slings.
Maintain regular check-ups with your vet.
Even if you've identified the lameness cause, a lame dog must be monitored on a regular basis. Talk to your vet about your dog's symptoms and discuss a unique and tailored management plan that fits your dog and your lifestyle.
There are several options to help and improve your limping dog's life, especially during night time. However, your pet will have a better chance of proper healing if you seek and follow prompt veterinary advice.