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Why is My Dog Limping? When to Worry
Published on Jul 5, 2023
Limping in dogs can be a cause for concern and an indication that something might be wrong with your furry friend. As pet parents, it’s essential to understand the significance of limping and recognize the various causes that could be behind it. We can ensure our dogs’ well-being and improve care by familiarizing ourselves with this issue. This article will explore the reasons why your dog might be limping and when you should seek out your veterinarian.
The Significance of Limping in Dogs
Limping is not a behavior to be taken lightly when it comes to our canine companions. It serves as a visible sign that your dog is experiencing discomfort or pain. Dogs may limp for various reasons, ranging from minor injuries to more serious underlying conditions. Understanding the significance of limping will help you determine the best course of action for your beloved pet.
Understanding the Various Causes of Limping
It’s important to be familiar with the possible causes of limping in order to provide the right care. Let’s learn about some of the common factors that can lead to limping in dogs.
Dogs are active creatures and can be prone to accidents and injuries. Sprains, strains, fractures, or dislocations can occur due to sudden twists, falls, or collisions. In these cases, limping is often a result of localized pain and inflammation.
Joint and Bone Conditions
Just like humans, dogs can develop joint and bone conditions that cause discomfort and limping. Arthritis, hip dysplasia, luxating patella, and osteochondritis dissecans are a few examples. These conditions can affect dogs of different ages and breeds, leading to chronic or intermittent limping.
Assessing the Severity of Limping
It’s important to gauge the severity of your dog’s limp to determine the urgency of veterinary attention. Understanding the signs and behaviors associated with mild versus severe limping will help you make informed decisions.
Differentiating Between Mild and Severe Limping
Mild limping is characterized by a slight alteration in your dog’s walk. They may put less weight on the affected leg or have a subtle limp that comes and goes. Severe limping, on the other hand, involves noticeable difficulty in walking or a complete refusal to put weight on the affected leg. Whimpering or yelping are some common signs of severe pain.
Observing Changes in Behavior and Mobility
Apart from the limp itself, it’s crucial to observe any accompanying changes in behavior and mobility. Is your dog hesitant to climb stairs or jump onto furniture? Are they reluctant to engage in their usual activities? These signs can indicate the level of discomfort your dog is experiencing and provide insights into the severity of the underlying issue.
Common Causes of Limping
Let’s delve deeper into the common causes of limping in dogs to better understand the potential issues your furry companion may be facing.
- Sprains and Strains: Sudden movements, twists, or overexertion can result in sprains and strains, leading to limping. Ligament tears or muscle pulls can cause pain and inflammation, requiring proper rest and care.
- Fractures and Dislocations: Traumatic incidents such as falls or accidents can cause bone fractures or joint dislocations. These injuries typically cause severe limping and require immediate veterinary attention.
Joint and Bone Conditions
- Arthritis: Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that commonly affects older dogs. It causes inflammation, stiffness, and pain, leading to limping and reduced mobility.
- Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly. This can lead to abnormal wear and tear, causing pain and limping.
- Luxating Patella: Luxating patella, or a dislocated kneecap, is often seen in smaller dog breeds. It can result in intermittent or persistent limping, along with discomfort.
- Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): OCD is a condition where cartilage and bone in a joint do not develop properly, leading to fragments and inflammation. This can cause limping and joint pain.
Examining the Limbs and Joints
When your dog is limping, a physical examination of the affected limb and joint is necessary to identify potential signs of inflammation or injury. By examining these areas, you can gather valuable information to share with your veterinarian.
Performing a Physical Examination of the Affected Limb
It’s important to be very careful when examining your dog for potential injuries. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, make sure to observe how your pet moves to determine the extent of the injury also noting how it affects their mobility. Does it affect one or multiple limbs? How it impacts your pet’s mobility depending on the activity? Typically, if a forelimb is injured, your pet may raise their head when putting weight on that limb and shorten their stride on the affected side. If a hindlimb is injured, they may drop their head when putting weight on that limb. While it’s recommended to leave the evaluation of dogs to a veterinarian, you can try to pinpoint where it hurts by starting with the toes and working your way up the limb. Look for areas of tenderness and swelling. If anything seems unusual, compare it to the other leg and then give your vet a call with your observations.
If limping persists for more than 24 hours, be sure to pursue veterinary care.
Identifying Signs of Inflammation or Injury
Check your dog’s joints for any signs of swelling, redness, or heat. Stiffness or limited range of motion in the joint may also indicate an issue. You should inform your vet if you notice any of these symptoms and they can further evaluate.
Home Care and First Aid
In some cases of mild limping, home care and first aid can provide temporary relief and aid in the healing process. Here are some immediate steps you can take if your dog is limping:
Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) Technique
The RICE technique is a common first aid approach for minor injuries in both humans and dogs. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Following these steps can aid in managing pain and promoting healing. Keep in mind that this technique is meant for minor limping. Consult your vet for any severe or persistent limping.
 Harari, Joseph. “Lameness in Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 14 Mar. 2018, www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders-of-dogs/lameness-in-dogs. Accessed 23 June 2023.