Limping 101

by Nancy Boland

Limping is the name given to any issue that causes a dog to avoid putting weight on one of their limbs, which is almost always related to pain. However, limping can be caused by a huge range of different things, ranging from the very mild to the potentially serious, and can be due to an impact, injury or accident, or an underlying condition of the limb.

Reasons for limping

There is almost a limitless range of reasons behind why your dog might start limping; here are some of the main reasons:

  • Foreign body in the paw, such as a thorn
  • Sprained tendons
  • Torn ligaments
  • Strained muscle
  • Broken bone
  • Dislocation
  • Slipped discs

limp 1
Knowing how to handle the problem can be challenging, especially when there is such a wide variety of causes and diagnosis.  Here is how to deal with sudden limping in the dog, while you decide what the next best step is.

For all cases
Keep your dog still so that you can assess the damage, and prevent them from hurting themselves further. Check for serious problems, such as broken bones or dislocations. If your dog is able or willing to put any weight at all on the limb, even just their toe on the ground, it is unlikely to be broken. However, even if your dog will not put their foot on the ground, this does not necessarily indicate a break. Dislocated limbs are usually very easy to spot, as the leg will be dangling freely and not be supported by the body.

Suspected breaks and dislocations require immediate veterinary attention, as do any injuries that are bleeding heavily or appear to be causing your dog a lot of pain. However, if your dog seems otherwise ok and is still using the leg that they are limping on, you can monitor your dog at home.

Pain and swelling

Even if you do not suspect a break or a dislocation, if your dog appears to be in a great deal of pain or their leg has swollen up, it is important to take them immediately to a vet.

If you are confident that your dog does not have a foreign body within their paw or leg, that the leg is not dislocated or broken and that there is no major swelling, it is possible to confine your dog at home and allow them to heal. You should review the limping on a daily basis to ensure that it is improving, as most minor lameness should resolve itself within a few days and show improvement each day.

Keep your dog quiet and discourage jumping, running or rowdy exercise, but do not administer home treatment without talking to your vet first.

Even after your dog appears to be comfortable to walk on their affected leg again, make sure that they take it easy for a little while longer, in order to avoid re-injuring the limb or undoing all of their previous healing. Gently exercise your dog at their own pace is required to ensure they make a full recovery.

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