Dog Health & Wellness

Why is My Dog Limping? 6 Possible Causes.

Did your dog just come inside from playing in the yard and is now limping? Or maybe, she has woken up from a longer than usual nap and doesn’t want to put weight on a particular leg.

There are so many reasons why your dog may suddenly have started limping on one of its legs. Unlike humans however, dogs cannot tell us where it hurts or what happened.

This article will explain some of the common causes of limping in dogs and what you can do to help your dog quickly recover.

Causes of my dog limping

There are many reasons why your dog may be limping. As dog owners, it is up to us to identify odd behaviors so we can communicate that information with the veterinarians. In cases of limping, these are some of the most common reasons and what symptoms dog owners should look out for.  

#1 Broken Leg

A broken leg is probably one of the most obvious causes of limping in your dog.  Your dog may have been hit by a car or caught its leg in something in the back yard, causing its leg to fracture or break. In many cases, you will be able to see where the leg has broken, especially if the bone has penetrated through the skin.

Common signs seen when a dog has broken its leg are:

  • Swelling on and around the leg
  • Bruising 
  • Limping
  • Crying in pain

If you think that your dog has broken its leg, it is best to take them to your vet as soon as possible.  Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your dog and take x-rays of your dog's leg to confirm that it is broken. In some cases, your dog may have to have surgery to fix the break. This will all depend on where your dog's leg is broken and the severity of the break. If needed, your dog may need to wear a cast for a few weeks until the bones heal. It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s directions and keep the cast clean and dry; this will help decrease further issues from arising. 

#2 Torn ACL

A torn ACL is commonly seen in medium to large breed dogs. The ACL is a ligament in the knee that helps keep the leg stabilized when walking. A classic sign for a torn ACL is sudden limping shortly after exercise. Most dogs that are diagnosed with an ACL tear are typically very active dogs. These tears will happen while they are playing or running, and symptoms, such as limping, will be seen immediately. Many times, dogs with a torn ACL will not want to put weight on the affected leg at all.

If your dog is suddenly limping or not putting any weight on its leg, it is best to see your vet. Quite often, the only way to fix an ACL tear is with surgery. Your veterinarian can suggest options to help decrease pain or discomfort up until your dog’s surgery. 

#3 Something Stuck in their Paw

Another reason why your dog maybe limping is if they have something stuck in their paw.  He or she will hesitate to put weight on their paw causing them to limp.  Common things found stuck in a dog’s paws are rocks, thorns, or sticks.  You can closely examine your dog's paw and see if there is something stuck between their toes.  If you cannot find anything, take your dog to the veterinarian so they can help look for hidden thorns.

#4 Broken Toenail

A broken toenail can cause limping in dogs. For example, a dog will accidentally get a toenail caught in a blanket or rug causing a break when they go to move.  Many times, this break exposes the quick, the soft pick tissue in the center of the nail, causing the toe to bleed. Once the bleeding stops, your dog may limp for a few days because the toe is still tender and painful.  If your dog only partially broke their toenail, they may need to see a vet. The vet will trim the rest of the nail and apply a bandage, if necessary, to minimize further pain or bleeding. 

#5 Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is commonly seen in large breed dogs such as Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. Hip Dysplasia happens when a dog’s hip joints do not form correctly, causing the ball of the femur to not fit properly in the socket. The rubbing or grinding movement of the ball in socket causes increase bony growth leading to arthritis formation. If your dog develops arthritis, they may start to limp. Common signs of Hip Dysplasia are:

  • Pain and difficulty when trying to sit or stand
  • Limping
  • Painful when touching hips
  • Abnormal gait

If you notice any of these symptoms, see your veterinarian.  They can take x-rays of your dog's hips to see if he or she does, in fact, have hip Dysplasia and the severity of the condition.  Many times, vets will prescribe pain medication to help decrease the inflammation in the hip joints giving your pet relief.  Dog owners can help decrease the chance of hip dysplasia by asking breeders about the parent's medical background and picking a puppy from a litter with parents without hip dysplasia.  

#6 Arthritis

As your dog ages, they may start to develop arthritis.  This is a buildup of extra bone in and around the joints causing inflammation.  The joints most commonly affected are hips, knees, and elbows.  If your dog is limping on one of its legs you can carefully examine and move the different joints in that leg.  If they are developing arthritis, you will be able to feel the crepitus (grinding, crackling, and popping) as you move the joint.  There are many things you can do to help decrease the pain associated with arthritis.  Things such as Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), Glucosamine, or other joint supplements will help keep your dog from limping as much.   

When to seek Veterinary Care for my Limping dog?

If your dog has just started limping and you cannot find an obvious source of the limping, waiting a few days is okay.  If your dog has obvious trauma to its legs such as bruising, bleeding, or not able to walk at all, you need to see your vet as soon as possible—many causes for limping need to be addressed in the first 24 hours for a successful outcome.

If your dogs limping is progressively getting worse, you need to see your veterinarian.  Do not give any over the counter human pain medications as many of these are very toxic to dogs, even a small dosage.

Final Thoughts

If your dog is limping, there are many possibilities for the cause of this limping. Sometimes, the reasons may be extremely obvious as to why your dog is limping while others are not so obvious.  Your veterinarian can examine your dog and take x-rays to help determine why your dog is limping.  Depending on the cause, your veterinarian will prescribe pain medication, joint supplements, muscle relaxers, or physical therapy to help your dog return to their normal happy, and healthy life. Keep your pet physically healthy, but also check up on their emotional health. Here are ways to tell if your dog has anxiety and what to do about them as well. Always keep Odie happy.

To help take the financial pressure off, see how ODIE Pet Insurance can help you and your pet. Get all your questions answered about how it works and what is covered.

Author

Dr. Sara Ochoa is a practicing veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas. She specializes in small and exotic animals. When Dr. Ochoa isn't spending time with her schnoodle, Ruby, she also runs DogLab which lists the "best treats, gear, and gadgets for dogs".

...
Start with a free quote for your pet here
Get a quote