Why Is My Dog Limping?

Have you ever seen your dog limping suddenly when on a walk? It's certainly a cause for alarm, and rightly so, even if they have been doing it for a while. Find out why here.
Why Is My Dog Limping?
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 27 September, 2022

When you see a dog limping, there could be many reasons, such as injuries, muscular problems, nervous disorders, arthritic problems, etc. Even so, there are ways to find out what is causing it when it’s pain-related, through different signs, such as when the pain started/starts or through a physical examination.

Gathering all this information will not only be useful for you, but will greatly help the veterinarian who treats your dog when they carry out a check-up. Read on, because every piece of information matters!

What is lameness?

Everyone has seen humans or animals limping. However, it’s important to define it, as it can sometimes be confused with other mobility problems such as gait incoordination.

Lameness is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of an underlying problem. The dog will avoid touching the ground with their paw when walking (or as little as possible), giving rise to a characteristic and easy-to-recognize gait. You’ll notice a kind of stumble every time they have to put weight on that paw due to pain.

Someone walking dogs.

Why is my dog limping?

What are the underlying causes of limping? Well, as mentioned at the beginning, there are many. Let’s classify them according to their appearance: sudden or chronic.

Sudden onset lameness

Limping that appears suddenly and visibly is called sudden onset lameness. This means that the dog suddenly limps or can’t put weight on its leg. This is a sudden occurrence and not a long-term process. Possible causes for this are as follows:

  • Foreign bodies lodged in the pad or between the toes: splinters, spikes, glass, etc.
  • A broken nail: In this case, you may also find blood.
  • Wounds in the pad or toes (without a foreign body).
  • Sprains: Sprains from falls, bad movements, etc.
  • Fractures (if they had an accident recently).
  • Dislocation of a bone.

The dog has been limping for some time and now it’s very evident

This is what is called a chronic condition, in the case of a disease or injury underlying the lameness. This may have been a very subtle symptom, but instead of disappearing, it has become more and more apparent. In these cases, the causes are different and more serious:

  • Muscle problems that have become chronic, such as untreated sprains.
  • Tendonitis.
  • Osteoarthritis or other degenerative joint diseases.
  • Bone conditions, such as panosteitis or osteoporosis.
  • Rupture of ligaments.
  • Elbow or hip dysplasia.
  • Arthritis.
  • Tumors (such as interdigital cysts or osteosarcoma).
  • Overgrown nails that dig into the skin or pad.

As you’ll understand, these problems require a more long-term solution and some have no remedy beyond palliative care. Moreover, this list contains only the most common chronic problems that usually cause lameness or limping, but many others are missing. What should we do if our dog starts limping then? Let’s take a look below.

What do I do if I see my dog limping?

It’s quite normal to be alarmed if your dog starts limping, whether it happens suddenly or if it has been getting worse for a while. In these cases, the steps to follow are simple:

  • Examine your dog: Check their paw to see if there’s anything stuck in it, and observe their gait to see if the angle of their stride is OK. If it has been going on for a while and has worsened, feel its joints, remember how long they have been like this, and try to see if they’re in pain.
  • See a veterinarian: This is the essential step. All of the above serves to gather relevant information to take to the vet so that they can treat your dog in the best possible way.

Depending on the characteristics of the limp, some tests, such as an X-ray, may be necessary. It will be up to the veterinarian to decide based on what they observe and what you tell them, so be sure to go as soon as possible.

Ways to prevent accidents that cause lameness

A terrier dog.

Finally, we all know that accidents are inevitable, but you can always try to prevent them. To do this, avoid areas with tall undergrowth where there might be spikes or thorns, as well as dangerous and steep places if you go on trips into nature. Never let your dog out of your sight if it’s loose.

At the slightest sign of limping, a visit to the veterinarian is a must. Sometimes you’ll be able to remove the object stuck in their paw yourself, but if this symptom persists for more than a day, you should go to the vet, whether it is mild or not.

Given the possibility of the problem turning chronic, the only thing that will guarantee the quality of life of your canine companion is promptness in starting treatment.

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