Its a difficult time for any dog parent to see their dog limp. Whenever you see your dog limp you should call a vet right away however if the limp is minor and the dog does not seem to be in pain then the vet might ask you to rest your dog and monitor the limping for 24 hours to see if the limping improves. If the limping is severe and your dog is in pain then the vet will call you immediately.

Common Causes of Limping in Dogs

Dog limping can happen for many different reasons. There are two main kinds of limping: gradual onset and sudden limping.

Dog limping can happen due to many reasons ranging from trauma or injury to chronic disease.

Broadly limping can be divided into 2 categories:

  1. Sudden Limping
  2. Gradual Onset of Limping

Sudden Limping is generally caused by trauma or injury.

Gradual Limping is generally caused by chronic diseases like osteoarthritis, dysplasia or lyme disease.

Major Causes of Limping in Dogs are:

Paw Injury

Generally, paw injury is caused by sharp objects lodged into dog’s paw like glass, nails, thorns etc. Insect bites, broken toenails, burns and bruising can be the reasons for paw injury. If a dog licks his paw vigorously then there may be some issue with his paw.

Joint Disease

Some diseases cause gradual wear and tear of joints and musculoskeletal system. Some conditions cause gradual wear and tear on joints and the musculoskeletal system. Following are the diseases which cause this condition:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Dysplasia
  • Ligament disease
  • intervertebral disk disease

Lyme disease also causes limping in dogs hence important to see a doctor for limping and if Lyme disease is found then the dog should be put on an effective tick treatment.

Bone Disease

Some diseases affect the bones in your dog’s legs, especially in young dogs of large breeds.

Following are the diseases which cause this condition:

  • Ertrophic osteodystrophy
  • Panosteitis

Injury or Trauma

Injury and trauma are the leading causes of dog limping. Injuries and trauma can happen to dogs while playing or by accident.

Reasons for limping after sports injury or accident are:

  • Broken bones
  • Fractures
  • Sprains
  • Ligament tears
  • Joint trauma
  • Spinal Injury

If your dog becomes acutely lame (especially if he’s a puppy), wait for about 15 minutes and try to keep your pup quiet and still. They are like children and will likely yelp and cry for about five minutes. You may find them acting perfectly normal after that time and save yourself a trip to the emergency room.

If, however, they are still lame or non-weight bearing after 15 minutes, you should have them be seen by their veterinarian.

Immediate Care for Limping

While all dog parents are supposed to contact vet if you find your limping but there are certain measures which dog parents can take before reaching out to vet.

In Trauma Case:

  1. Do not try to move the dog from the position it has been found in. Try to restrain it if required.
  2. Check for broken bones or unaligned shoulder or leg. As thumb rule, if the dog is unable to take weight on a leg but is trying to land it then its most probably not a fracture.
  3. If you can’t find a broken bone and the dog can limp and walk then no need to bandage the impacted leg.
  4. Monitor the dog for 24 hours and try to restrict its unnecessary movements.
  5. If the limping persists or you can see swelling, dragging of limb etc then you should consult a vet immediately.

In Case of Severe Pain or Swelling:

  • If the dog is large and can limp and walk then you should allow the dog to walk by himself to vet.
  • If the dog is suffering from back pain rather than a swollen limb, lift the dog and carry him to a vet.

In Case of Weight Bearing or Inconsistent Limping:

  • Apply a cold water cloth or ice on point of inflammation.
  • If the point of impact remains inflamed the use warm compress of cloth and take a vet appointment.
  • DO NOT give over the counter medicines like Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and aspirin can cause significant side effects.

When to Call the Vet?

Whenever you see a dog limp you should generally call a vet but if due to some reasons if visiting a vet immediately is not possible then you can do the following triage and check for the urgency of the matter:

Situations in which you can wait for 24 hours:

  • If there is a sudden limp or gradual limp which is not impacting the dog.
  • Dog is able to bear some load on the foot or occasionally keeps the foot on the floor, then most probably its not a fracture or dislocation.
  • Dog is going about his daily routine normally.

Situations in which you should visit vet immediately:

  • You see a dangling limb
  • You see a disjointed leg or broken bone
  • The Dog is not able to go about his daily routine and whining or crying aloud.
  • There is a bad injury in the foot that cannot be fixed by first aid.
  • Swelling in a limb or hot limb.

Diagnosing a Limping Dog

When you reach a vet, vet will firstly conduct a physical examination of the foot where he will check the impacted foot and check for:

  • Range of movement in the foot
  • Swelling in the foot
  • Dislocated or disjointed foot
  • Fractures etc
  • Injury in the foot or the paw

If none of the above reasons can be found then the vet might get following diagnostic tests conducted:

  • Complete Blood Count for Lyme disease or uric acid count
  • Radiographs(x-rays) to check minor fractures, joint disease or skeletal abnormality.
  • Biopsy of joint fluid for detection of joint diseases or cancer etc.

Basis the results of the tests, next course of action by the vet will be decided.

Treating a Limping Dog

The treatment for your dog limp will be decides post vet conducts physical test or if required diagnostic tests.

The result of above tests should define the next action of the vet.

Responsibility of the pet parent till the doctor diagnose the exact reason of the limp is to ensure that the dog does no deteriorate the situation by unnecessary movement or exertion.

Note: It is not advisable to give human over-the-counter medication — such as Ibuprofen — to dogs as this could cause other serious problems.