Common Reasons Your Dog Might be Limping and When to See a Vet
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on August 12, 2018
Posted in Dog Injury
Limping is never a good sign, and it may be easy to feel worried or distressed when signs of limping begin to show in your beloved companion dog. While a veterinarian visit is most likely inevitable, you may want or need more information before making the decision to take your dog in for medical attention. The more you know about your dog’s limping, the easier the veterinarian’s job will be in order to start the process of diagnosis and treatment.
Recognizing a limp and taking action
It is important to know what to watch for when you see limping in your dog. Most of the time limping is due to an internal injury, but when you first notice limping it will behoove you to check for things like tics, barbs, or other external causes to the leg and/or foot. Once you have ruled out any sort of external injury, you can focus on what may be happening on the inside.
Your dog will most likely be shifting their weight unnaturally or spending an inordinate amount of time laying down. Your dog may even change their eating habits, eating less or losing interest in things that once brought them joy. These are all signs that something is wrong.
Sudden limping in dogs is almost exclusively caused by trauma, including breaks or tears of muscle tissue.
Dogs are an active species, often jumping, running and rolling around. Trauma can easily occur when dogs participate in any of these types of activities. Just like humans, the spectrum of trauma injuries is quite wide, including but not limited to breaks, sprains, strains, dislocations, fractures, back injuries, and muscle tears.
Some may be easier to spot, for example a broken bone that shows an unnatural angle in your dog’s leg. Most of these injuries require medical attention and some even require periods of recovery in the form of physical therapy.
Regardless of the age of your dog, if you notice gradual limping that gets worse over time, this could be a sign of some sort of degeneration of bone or muscle strength. Although it is more common in older dogs, arthritis, spinal degeneration and disease or infection can all be causes of limping in dogs. Disease and infection are harder to diagnose and treat, and may require x-rays or other more in-depth medical procedures.
There are some dog-specific medications that your veterinarian may be able to prescribe your pooch for any pain they may experience due to arthritis especially. Natural supplements for bone and joint health may also prove to be beneficial to your dog’s daily health.
Cold compresses can help lower a dog’s pain in some cases and could be a good idea. If, however, you administer a cold compress for a period longer than 24 hours with no signs of relief, switch to a hot compress and plan on taking your dog in to the vet.
Under no circumstances should you administer over-the-counter human medications to your dog without the supervision or advice of a veterinarian specialist, as this could result in severe side-effects that could harm the well-being of your furry friend.
Never exercise a limping dog
There is never a case where exercise will improve the limping of your dog. Be sure to let them sleep, rest and simply lie down when you notice a limp. If your dog is small enough, you can even carry them instead of having them walk around, which is great for when they need to relieve themselves, eat, drink or move positions.
This may be easier or harder depending on the age of your dog as well as size. If you have a puppy that has a limp, the puppy may be more brazen in its attempts to play instead of rest. Try confining your puppy to an enclosed space as much as possible to prevent further injury, at least until there are signs of improvement.
When to see a vet
The unfortunate part about knowing when to take your dog to the veterinarian is that dogs cannot tell you what hurts or how much it hurts. This leaves their humans guessing pain level and balancing that against both costs of a vet visit, as well as the well-being of their companion.
Here’s the thing—you know your dog best, and if your dog is in pain, it’s best to simply get them to someone who can diagnose and treat the injury, whether it be sudden or gradual onset. A vet will be able to qualify your pet’s pain and provide solutions that get them back on the road to a full recovery.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan