Just like humans, dogs can suffer from a variety of injuries and conditions that result in limping. Even though dogs have better backup than we do (since they have four legs, not just two), limping dogs need to be monitored. Your dog’s limp should be addressed as soon as possible by a medical professional. In fact, if your dog is limping and in visible pain, an immediate visit to the veterinarian is in order.
The most common causes for dog limping have to do with the paw, the leg, or the hip and shoulder. Start with the paw, as a dog can injure a paw easily, which results in a limp. Causes of paw injury include:
- A sprained toe
- Cuts and scrapes
- A puncture to the paw pad
- Pad burn from hot pavement
- Broken nail(s) or other nail injury
Canine limping could also be caused by a problem with your dog’s leg. These injuries are harder to diagnose upon visible inspection. A dog’s leg issues can include:
- Sprained muscle
- Bone fracture
- Torn cruciate ligament (usually larger breeds)
Other causes of canine musculoskeletal lameness are:
- Elbow or hip dysplasia
- Osteoarthritis (senior dogs in particular)
- Bone cancer
- Panosteitis (in growing puppies)
- Luxating patella, or dislocated kneecap (usually small breeds)
- Back (disc) injury or degeneration
As a longtime dog owner, I’ve dealt with pretty much all of these causes of dog limping over the years, and all of them require a veterinarian’s help for diagnosis and treatment, including appropriate pain relief (as giving OTC human pain medications to your dog is not recommended).
Sometimes it’s hard to tell not only the source of the pain—foot, leg, shoulder or hip/back—but which leg your dog is limping on! With movement, you can tell it’s in the front, but, if you’re like me, and the lameness isn’t acute, it’s sometimes not entirely clear which leg your dog favoring.
In more than one case over the years, it wasn’t until the dog was standing still, looking up at me in the kitchen waiting for his cookie, that I could see he wasn’t putting full weight on the affected leg.
You might notice toe touching, or if the pain is located the foot, the dog holding his paw up off the ground entirely. If you’re not sure what happened, and your dog will allow this, try the following.
- Run your hands gently down the dog’s leg
- Examine the paw, checking between the toes and on the pad underneath
With heavily-coated dogs whose paws are very furry, sometimes a prickly seed pod, blob of sap, or burr can get wound into the fur between the toes. With care, you can use a pair of scissors to cut the offending matter away to provide instant relief.
During snowy winter months, balls of snow can build up on the lower legs and between the toes. The easy fix is a few minutes in the bathtub pouring lukewarm water on your dog’s feet to melt the snow.
Pro tip: to help prevent these icy balls of snow from building up, use some cooking oil spray on his fur before he goes outside. Lightly spray his legs and between his toes to repel snow and ice.
If you don’t have cooking spray, a tiny amount of cooking oil works too. Simply rub it on the fur of the legs and toes.
With sudden onset injuries like sprains, fractures, punctures, and lacerations, you might see your dog not only limping but shaking as well. This is usually a sign of acute pain and/or fear), and getting your dog to a vet as soon as possible is key.
Fractures and punctures or lacerations (like bite wounds from another animal, a kick from a horse or cow, or wounds from running into thick underbrush) need immediate medical attention.
Sometimes dogs will favor a leg, usually a hind leg, holding it up and walking (or running!) on three legs, but don’t seem to be in any pain. This is most often noticed in small breeds like toy poodles and Chihuahuas.
One reason could simply be because her feet are cold (or, if you walk in the city, due to salted sidewalks during the winter months) and a set of dog boots could fix the problem.
If your dog is waking up with stiff legs, or limping for the first few steps after a nap, it could be osteoarthritis. Even though it’s an often inevitable sign that your pal is getting older, there are medications to help the pain.
Supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, among others, can help with joint mobility. A visit to the vet can help your old dog ease into his senior years more comfortably. Swimming can be a great way to keep him mobile and his muscles strong without putting undue pressure on those aging joints.
Feature image via Flickr/OakleyOriginals