Why Is My Dog Limping?

Pet Care


September 16, 2021

Few sights are sadder as a pet owner than seeing your four-legged friend limp along. We like to imagine our pets to be carefree and joyous, so to see them limited by an injury like that is just heartbreaking.

The first time you notice and start to wonder, “why is my dog limping,” you may not know how many potential answers there are to that question. Thankfully, while there are many possible reasons why your dog may be limping, there are plenty of potential solutions as well.

Possibility #1: Breaks and Fractures

This is a pretty obvious cause of limping in dogs – after all, a broken foot or leg is enough to make anyone limp. The same goes if your dog has fractured a bone.

If your dog has suffered a broken bone, you’ll need to put a cast over the affected area and keep your dog from putting any weight on it. This may mean getting your dog a stroller or something else to keep your dog off its legs and feet. You may also need to crate your dog.

Possibility #2: Ligament and Joint Strains, Sprains, and Muscle Pains

As with the previous category, these often arise from dogs being so active. Maybe your dog was running and dislocated a joint, or took a bad step and pulled or strained a muscle in the process – or, even worse, tore or ruptured a ligament. Even more serious are joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis, patellar luxation, hip and elbow dysplasia, intervertebral disk disease, and osteochondritis dissecans.

Athletes stretch themselves out to try and avoid all manner of strains, sprains, pulls, and tears. Nevertheless, they still happen, and if they can happen to a top athlete, they can happen to your dog. That said, if you are going to train your dog for an athletic competition (for example, running and jumping for dog shows), you’ll want to find dog athletic stretches and exercises for your pooch to complete.

Possibility #3: Flesh Wounds

This is another obvious cause of dogs limping, and includes everything from torn nails to trauma to their paw pads (such as a torn or something similar being stuck in it) to bruising and beyond. Each kind of flesh wound is different and will require a different approach to heal.

At the same time, one constant you should take to heart is to always clean the wound and apply antibiotics and a bandage to it. The last thing you want to do is to leave the wound open and uncovered. Neglecting the wound can allow it to get worse, especially if it becomes infected. These can be bacterial or fungal in nature, plaguing their bones, joins, and soft tissue.

Possibility #4: Insect Bites and Stings

Ticks and mites to spiders, flies, and all manner of other six and eight-legged menaces can cause problems for your four-legged friend. Don’t think that just because arachnids and insects are small they can’t cause big problems for your dog. In addition to the pain of the bite itself, bites can lead to bugs transmitting Lyme disease and other diseases.

As such, you’ll definitely want to consider investing in insect repellent and flea collars. If you notice several red or inflamed bite marks on your dog’s body, you’ll want to take your dog to the vet.

Possibility #5: Serious Diseases

These can range from cancer to autoimmune diseases, and are obviously another case where your dog’s limping is secondary by a large margin to the main point of concern. Cancers that affect your dog’s soft tissue and muscles can be especially devastating. If there is any bone-based issue that’s worse for your dog than a break, it’s bone cancer.

Your dog may have suffered from a developmental disorder when it was growing up, or else inherited a genetic disorder that stunted or adversely affected your dog’s ability to walk properly. Another serious possibility is that your dog is suffering from a concussion or degenerative neurological condition.

Differentiating Between Sudden and Gradual Problems

While it can be hard for the untrained eye to spot differences in how or why your dog is limping, if you know what to look for, you can more easily make a diagnosis and thus get your dog treated that much more quickly.

For example, you’ll want to ascertain if your dog’s limping has been gradual, or if it just started one day. The latter can indicate a broken bone, ligament tear, or other sudden injury.

However, if the issue has developed gradually, there’s a better chance that it is a developmental issue or an injury, disease, or other problem that is starting to fester. If this is the case, you should take your dog to the vet immediately. Both sudden and gradual limps can be problematic, of course, but if a gradual one indicates a deeper problem, you want it treated as soon as possible.

Which Leg or Paw Is the Problem?

Another useful diagnostic tool is determining whether it’s the front or back paw or leg that’s giving your dog trouble.

If it’s your dog’s front paw or leg that’s the issue, it might be:

  • Problems with their shoulders (for example, shakiness, instability, supraspinatus tendinopathy)
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)
  • Biceps tenosynovitis (aka inflammation in their biceps)
  • Elbow dysplasia

If it’s your dog’s back paw or leg that’s at fault, possible problems include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Achilles tendon rupture
  • Lumbosacral disease
  • Iliopsoas strain

Treating Your Dog

We’ve already touched on how to treat broken bones and fractures. However, that may not be the end of the story. If the injury was severe enough, your dog may need to undergo physical therapy. Surgery may be another option if the damage is severe enough. Acupuncture, stem cell therapy, and other cutting edge treatments can also be used to heal your dog’s injuries.

Anti-inflammatories and antibiotics can be a quick way of bringing those common causes of dogs limping under control. On the other hand, one thing you never want to do is give your dog aspirin or any other type of over the counter pain medication, as these are not safe for dogs.

Above all, you need to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Even if you are able to identify what kind of problem your dog has, you are not likely to be able to treat it yourself.

If it is a structural injury, your dog needs to have the bone properly set or the ligament properly assessed. If it is an infection or more serious condition, a vet will need to prescribe medication, perform surgery, or take other action.

Either way, the sooner you take your dog to the vet, the sooner your dog can take its first step toward recovery.