Limping is one of the most common reasons why dogs are brought into the vet. This could be caused by a foreign object stuck in their paw, a strain or tear to their ligaments or they could have been bitten or stung by insects. In serious cases, dogs limp due to broken bones, trauma, or vascular conditions. Since they are unable to tell us where their pain is coming from, it is our responsibility to be observant on their physical wellbeing and seek veterinary advice whenever necessary.
There are two types of limping: gradual and sudden onset. Differentiating between these two categories can help narrow down the cause of your dog’s limping and play a crucial part in determining your next course of action. If your dog has gradually begun limping, it could be caused by medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia or another underlying issue. If your dog starts to limp out of a sudden, this is likely to be caused by trauma or an injury.
Sudden onset of limping is likely caused by trauma or injury. Generally, these dogs do not have any underlying problems and simply experienced an injury that leads to sudden limping. Though still worrying, these are short term injuries that can be easily fixed with medical support and rest. Here are some reasons for sudden onset of limping.
Foreign object stuck in their paw
Dog’s paw pads are just like the sole of our feet. If we accidentally stepped on something sharp, it hurts! When going on walks, it is possible that they might accidentally step on thorns, sharp stones, and other painful things throughout their course of life. Usually these would only cause minor discomfort, but if the foreign object becomes lodged, this could lead to infection and further issues. Besides limping, you can identify this injury if your dog starts to excessively lick their paws. Burns, bruises, and broken toenails can also cause this kind of response.
Insect bite or sting
Any stinging or biting bug that causes painful reactions in humans can hurt our dogs the same way! These bites or stings can be difficult to discover because they are hidden underneath your dog’s fur. In some cases, dogs can also develop allergic reactions to insect bites/ stings with side effects such as facial swelling, hives, vomiting and lethargy. Contact your vet immediately when your dog starts displaying these symptoms!
Strain or tear
Accidents happen and dogs can injure their ligaments, tendons, or muscles just like people do. Some of these injuries are minor and requires a bit of rest, while others are more serious and could require surgery. These injuries hurt; thus, dogs tend to be unwilling to put pressure on the affected area. Your vet will be able to access the severity of these injuries and propose the necessary treatment.
Trauma or broken bone
Like humans, dogs can break or fracture their bones, tear ligaments, sprain and dislocate their joints or suffer from spinal injuries. In these cases, check whether they can put weight on the affected area. If they still appear to be in pain after approximately 15 minutes, take them to the vet. While these injuries can heal, they can also linger, similar to when humans experience traumatic injuries. Pay attention to their needs and help them on their journey to recovery.
Sometimes dog’s nails can get caught onto something and split or break near the base, where the sensitive quick is. If your dog ripped a nail off, they will experience sudden onset limping.
When it comes to gradual onset of limping, you will realise that your dog starts limping on and off. There will be days where it seems to be in more pain compared to other days. This could vary depending on the weather, activity level, or the life stage of your dog. Whenever possible, take a video of your dog limping and show them to your veterinarian. A journal of activities and circumstances that tend to aggravate your dog’s pain could also help your vet to determine the underlying cause better. Here are some reasons why your dog may have gradual onset of limping.
– Osteoarthritis in dogs (i.e. degenerative joint disease)
– Tumors in the bone or soft tissue
– Cruciate ligament disease (an acute CCL tear causes sudden limping, but gradual limping can be seen in dogs that have a partial CCL tear or a dog may be chronically lame from an untreated or undiagnosed prior CCL tear)
– Back injuries or spinal/neurologic abnormalities such as spondylosis in dogs
– Tick-borne disease in dogs (diseases transmitted through tick bites, such as Lyme disease, can cause severe lameness and other health issues)
– Soft tissue inflammation (generalized muscle soreness following strenuous activity or play)
– Hip dysplasia in dogs
When you notice your dog limping, the first step would be to check for any injuries, bleeding, or anything unusual. There could be a cut or something stuck in their paw pads. If you do not notice any physical injury, look out for swelling and inflammation. Your dog could also lick their lips in an attempt to self-soothe themselves when they are in pain. During this time, it is recommended to limit their movement as much as possible to prevent extra strain on the injury. You could wait to see if your dog recovers without veterinary interventions, however if your dog’s limp is not getting better, consult your vet as they will be able to determine the cause of their condition.
When taking your dog to the vet for treatment, be very careful when moving them as you could accidentally make their injuries worse or cause unnecessary pain. Carry them or put them in a crate to avoid putting further strain on their legs by walking. By providing your vet with as much information as possible to how your dog might have hurt itself, your vet will be able to provide a more accurate diagnosis and treat them more effectively.
How a vet treats your dog’s limping depends on their diagnosis. For minor injuries, they could just need a few days rest without weight-bearing on the affected area. Others might require surgery, or long-term medication. Although some mild cases of limping may improve with rest at home, it is better to consult your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog is seriously injured. Your vet can help determine the cause of limping and at the same time find ways to manage your dog’s pain.
Any views or opinions communicated on this page belong to the author and do not represent the views or opinions of any other organizations. This article is meant for us to share our own views and opinions in general. Kindly consult a professional if you would like to seek professional advice.
Adopted from sources
– My Dog’s Started Limping, What Should I Do? By Ella White, Front Of The Pack.
– Dog Lameness – Causes and Treatment of Limping in Dogs. By Jenna Stregowski, The Spruce Pets.
– Help! Why is My Dog Limping? By Dr Julie Buzby, ToeGrips.
– Images of dogs, ToeGrips and Pexels.