Like us, dogs can be wounded or develop painful injuries that lead to limping. However, unlike humans, dogs can't say what happened to them or how much the affected leg hurts. It's up to you as the dog owner to determine what's causing your dog's limp and discomfort so you can know how to help.
What could be causing my dog to limp?
Below are the top 3 most common conditions we see in dogs that lead to limping. If you believe that your dog could be suffering from any of these issues it's time to head to the vet:
Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tears
Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) ruptures and tears are the most common leg injuries in dogs and are typically caused by overexertion in exercises such as running and jumping. Certain dog breeds are at higher risk of this injury than others including German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, rottweilers, and Newfoundlands. Surgery is the primary treatment for cruciate injuries.
This injury is most common in small breed dogs such as Pomeranians, chihuahuas, and Yorkshire terriers, however, it's seen in dogs of all breeds. And it occurs when a dog's patella (kneecap) shifts out of alignment with the femur (thighbone). When this injury takes place in small dogs it generally occurs towards the inside of the limb or medially, it can also happen laterally but that is usually only seen in larger breeds.
Canine Carpal Hyperextension
This condition is most common in active larger-breed dogs, but it can still affect smaller breeds. It's seen in the forelimb just above the dog's paw and happens when a dog applies excessive force to the carpus joint making it collapse. Symptoms of this injury include favoring one leg over another, swelling in the forelimb, and joint instability.
Are there other causes of limping in dogs?
Your dog's limping could be caused by something minor like a small stone caught between their toes or it could be an indication of a serious health concern. As well as the 3 listed above, below we list other common conditions and injuries that could cause your dog to limp:
- Trauma, such as broken bones
- Strains or tears (ligaments, tendons, muscles)
- Something painful stuck in their paw
- Insect bite or sting
- Vascular conditions
- Inflammatory conditions
- Infectious diseases, such as Lyme
Do I need to head straight to the vet?
While it's not always necessary to visit the vet as soon as your dog starts limping, there are some situations where your pooch requires veterinary care. If any of the following apply to your dog it's time to contact your veterinarian or your nearest emergency animal clinic for care.
- Limping for more than 24 hours without improvement
- Limping in combination with a fever
- Limbs that feel hot to the touch
- A broken limb (will be at an irregular angle)
- Any moderate to severe swelling
- A dangling limb (this indicates dislocation)
How can I help my limping dog?
As soon as you see your dog limping, do your best to help them rest. You will have to limit their mobility because any additional strain can make the injury worse. You should also, hold off on exercising your dog until they have recovered, and keep them on a leash when you take them outside for bathroom breaks because they may try to run.
Examine your pup's foot for signs of injury, such as cuts. Call your vet if you notice something painful.
If you believe your dog's limp is being caused by inflammation, try alternating between heat and ice packs as a way to help reduce swelling and discomfort. Contact your vet for recommendations on which to apply and when.
Look for bleeding. This should give insight into whether your dog has experienced an injury, bite, or puncture.
Generally, if your dog's limp isn't severe, you can just monitor your pup's progress at home over 24-48 hours, watching for more symptoms or to see if the limp becomes more pronounced.
Most of the time it's best to err on the side of caution and schedule an appointment with your vet. Your veterinarian may be able to help both you and your pooch feel better. If the limp doesn't start resolving itself, is getting worse, or is accompanied by whining or yelping, it's time to call your vet or visit your nearest emergency pet hospital.
Your veterinarian has the training and knowledge needed to diagnose the cause and determine the severity of your pup's pain. A thorough examination may include blood work, tick testing, or X-rays. Your dog's breed, history, age, and general health will all be considered in the diagnosis, as well as the prescribed treatment plan.
Will cold laser therapy help soothe my dog's pain?
If your pup is suffering from a chronic condition that is causing them to limp, or an injury such as a muscle or tendon tear, cold laser therapy may be an effective way to help relieve inflammation and speed healing.
Cold laser therapy uses low-intensity laser or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to help relieve pain, stimulate and enhance cell function, and improve healing.
Several conditions have been shown to improve with the use of laser therapy including muscle and joint pain, arthritis symptoms, and muscle spasms.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.