“Why is my dog limping?” Much like their human pals, dogs can limp for various reasons. Usually, dogs begin limping to alleviate some sort of pain or discomfort that they may be feeling. This pain or discomfort could range from a minor irritation or injury to a more complicated health concern.
As a pawrent, it can be hard to see your best buddy hobbling around and harder still to figure out why your dog is limping all of a sudden. These are the times when you wish your dog could just tell you where it hurts or what happened.
While your vet should always be your first port of call whenever you’re concerned about your canine companion, it helps to know the common causes of dog limping, how to help a limping dog, and what to expect from your vet when you get there.
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Causes and Symptoms
While dog limping is common, it’s certainly not normal. Typically, limping in dogs is caused by an injury or an illness and should always be taken very seriously.
There are various reasons for dogs limping:
- Ligament sprains;
- Muscle strains;
- Cuts and abrasions;
- Bone fractures;
- Foreign objects and paw pad trauma;
- Insect bites and stings;
- Joint dislocations;
- Torn nails;
- Bacterial or fungal infections;
- Autoimmune conditions;
- Inflammatory conditions;
- Joint disease;
- Nervous system conditions;
- Tick-borne diseases.
Dog limping causes can be broken down into a few categories.
This covers a wide range of things that could (and very often do) happen to your doggo. Things like thorns, stones, and other foreign bodies getting stuck in your dog’s paw can cause significant discomfort and result in your dog limping and licking their paws. Other injuries like insect bites and stings can also cause limping.
Injury or trauma
This includes things like broken bones, sprains, dislocations, and ligament injuries, among others. These kinds of injuries can cause moderate to severe limping in dogs, and in some cases, your dog might not be able to put any weight on the leg at all.
In this category, you’ll find conditions like osteoarthritis, hip, and elbow dysplasia, and even intervertebral disk disease. Other infections like Lyme disease also fall within this category.
According to research, conditions like hypertrophic osteodystrophy and panosteitis (commonly affecting puppies of larger breeds) can cause limping. Certain types of bone cancer, like osteosarcoma, can cause limping in dogs.
Gradual Onset vs Sudden
A common question among dog owners is, “Why is my dog limping all of a sudden?”. A dog that suddenly begins limping has likely sustained some injury or trauma. So, when you head to the vet with your limping canine, it’s important to mention whether the limping came on suddenly or if it’s been a slow and gradual onset.
Limping that comes on gradually is usually caused by chronic or degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis.
After reading the above, you may think that sudden onset limping should be treated as an emergency while slow onset limping can be treated with less urgency. Not so. Even if the limping came on slowly, it’s always a good idea to get to the vet soonest.
Some conditions can benefit from being diagnosed early, like bone cancer. The sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your vet will most likely begin the consultation with a string of questions. They may want to know how long your dog has been limping, if you can identify what may have caused the limping, and if you’ve noticed any other changes in your dog’s behavior.
They would be interested in things like any fear, aggression, crying, swelling, fever, vomiting, trouble breathing, and lethargy that you may have noticed. Pet camera footage can be super helpful in spotting unusual behavior even when you’re not at home!
This conversation will be followed up by a physical exam during which your vet will examine your dog’s entire body looking for signs that may explain the limping. X-rays may be needed to look for things like fractures that aren’t visible on the surface.
Lab testing is often requested to check things like blood cell counts and organ function. These tests also help to rule out other health concerns that may be at the root of the limping. You may think that bloodwork at this stage is entirely unnecessary (and costly). Still, it’s always a good idea to do the lab work to identify any unrelated and underlying conditions that may make medication or sedation risky.
The treatment that your vet prescribes will depend on the cause of the limping and can be as simple as a few days of rest and some anti-inflammatories, or it may require surgery and rehabilitation. Bandages, splints, and physical therapy may be needed and sometimes a supplement for joint health is prescribed.
In most cases, getting to the vet sooner is always better.
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How to treat a limping dog at home?
Most of the time, if your dog is limping, you should contact a vet. But for those non-emergency situations, here are some handy first-aid measures you can perform when you need to know how to help a limping dog.
- Confine any limping dog, so they don’t worsen their injuries. Try to keep them calm and off their feet. No running or jumping.
- Don’t try to move or massage the leg yourself, as this could cause further injury.
- If a foreign object is wedged in your dog’s paw, gently remove it and clean the wound. Antibacterial soap can help clean the wound, and an antibiotic ointment can be applied.
- If there’s a sprain, bruise, or other muscle issues, apply a cold compress or ice pack twice a day for around 15 mins.
- Insect stings can cause mild swellings. Apply a paste of baking soda and water and an ice pack for about 10mins. Some dogs can be allergic to stings and bites, so keep a close eye on your dog for signs of a reaction.
- DO NOT give your dog human medication like painkillers or anti-inflammatories.
When to take limping dog to the vet?
If your dog is limping, the best advice is to get to the vet as soon as you can to get it checked out. It’s always better to err on the side of caution than let things progress too far before seeking treatment.
Why is my dog limping all of a sudden?
If your dog is limping all of a sudden, your dog has likely sustained some injury or trauma. This could range from the superficial, as a foreign object stuck in their paw or an insect bite, to deeper injuries, like a broken bone or a sprain.
It’s always best to seek veterinary care sooner rather than later.
My dog is limping but not crying – what should I do?
A dog limping but not crying or showing other signs of pain should still be taken seriously. Dogs are tougher than you think, and just because your dog isn’t howling in pain doesn’t mean there isn’t any pain. It would be best if you still got your dog to a vet for a check-up.
Remember, weakness isn’t a good thing in the wild, so dogs are hardwired not to show weakness or vulnerability easily. So even if your dog is limping but doesn’t seem to be in pain, you should still get it checked out.
What does it mean if my dog is limping after sleep?
Is your dog limping after sleeping or resting? It’s likely that there is some osteoarthritis at play here. This is most common in older dogs and gets worse with age. There isn’t a cure for the condition, but the pain and symptoms can be managed to help your doggo live a good life.
I saw my dog limping and licking its paws – what does this mean?
A dog licking paws and limping is most likely in pain. Often this is due to a thorn, or other foreign object stuck in the foot but it can also indicate pain higher up the leg, too.
In such cases, inspect the paws for a wound or foreign object. If you don’t find anything, a trip to the vet is recommended.
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