Limping or lameness is a common ailment in dogs caused due to injuries, illnesses, or allergies. The treatment involves identifying the cause of the limp. Watching your dog in pain or discomfort is hard to fathom but knowing the underlying cause at home can help mitigate the pain.
Why Is My Dog Limping?
Just like in humans, limping in dogs may be caused by multiple reasons – an injury impacting the bones, ligaments, or skin, insect bites, allergies etc. In dogs and cats, the most common cause of limping is an injury to the front leg, broken bones, and joint dislocation. If the limp is due to a joint problem, such as arthritis, your veterinarian may also prescribe medications or supplements to help improve the dog’s mobility.
Gradual onset limping (joint diseases – hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia etc.) worsens gradually over time while sudden limping is caused by an injury or trauma.
What are the common causes of lameness in dogs?
- Paw injury – a foreign object like glass, nail or thorn stuck in your dog’s paw can lead to infection.
- Muscle strain, sprains, broken bone or ligament rupture could cause difficulty to walk or run.
- Insect – mosquito or tick bites, or a bee sting or cut on the affected leg may cause lameness in dogs.
- In senior dogs, arthritis, can cause pain in the joints, causing difficulty in movement and overall health.
- Inflammation of joints, such as arthritis or dysplasia, can lead to limping. Joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis, are more common in elderly dogs as they put on weight. Others, like osteochondritis dissecans, happen in younger pups during growth periods.
When should you worry about your dog limping?
If your dog is experiencing any of the following symptoms, call your vet immediately:
- Inability to walk or stand, insignificant movement in the leg(s)
- Is your dog dragging her leg when walking?
- Sign of pain – Whimpering, crying, or excessive panting
- Extreme shivering or trembling
- Unusually tensed body
- Is your dog licking his paw?
Why is my dog limping without a sign of pain?
It is very unusual for a dog to limp without showing clear signs of pain like yelping, and it can be difficult for pet owners to assess pain. Dogs with chronic pain sometimes don’t vocalize to show their discomfort.
You can check by investigating your dog’s activity/energy level. Is your dog more tired than usual? Does giving your dog pain medication increase her activity? Remember to never give pain relievers or other medications without prior approval from your veterinarian.
Treating non-emergency limps at home
Conduct a physical examination of your dog’s limp and provide her first aid. Watch her walk and identify the limping leg – front or hind, left or right, or if she carries the leg only when walking but balances on it when standing still.
The use of pain medication for dogs has been a controversial topic for many years. The main reason for this is that there are so many different types of OTC medications available, and it is difficult to know for sure the one to administer. Please don't give any painkillers meant for humans to your dog as they could be toxic.
If you see a foreign object – splinter, thorn etc., remove it gently, clean the wound and apply antibiotic ointment. In case your dog has a swollen leg due to a sprain or bruise, give her the ice pack treatment over the affected leg twice a day.
For wounds or abscesses, consult a veterinarian to help with the wound and further course of treatment. Adequate rest and anti-inflammatory medications are common treatments for dog limping.
How to transport a limping dog?
Making logistics arrangements as you transit your dog from home to the veterinarian could be tricky. The best solution is to let the hospital staff handle it as they are trained to handle this and have a pet ambulance. However, if you are driving your pet to the vet, try to crate your dog in the car to prevent further injury.
While at the transit and at the clinic, be around your dog to keep her calm.
A comprehensive physical exam will likely be performed, including everything from reviewing vital signs (temperature, breathing, and heart rate) to an orthopaedic assessment. Your veterinarian may also want to monitor your dog’s gait and observe your pet’s movements closely: to see if your dog is limping on his front legs or in the hind legs.
Note: This blog post is for informational purposes. Please call your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for your dog’s limp.