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Why is My Dog Limping? [Evaluation Guide]

Most pet owners feel sympathetic if they see a dog limping, especially if it’s their own dog. “Why is my dog limping?” becomes an immediate question. Dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong with them and they look up to us to make things better.


Sometimes a dog may injure its paw or limb while you are out in the wilderness or maybe the vet’s office is not open. What can you do immediately for your dog if it starts limping? Well, the reason why your dog is limping will determine what steps you could and should take.



Reasons Why Dogs Begin to Limp

Dogs limp for many of the same reasons humans do. Our joints, muscles, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments all work in a similar fashion.


So, as you can imagine, we both run into many of the same joint and mobility problems.



human vs canine anatomies



I’m sure you have experienced pain in one of your limbs at some point in your lifetime. If the pain is minor, it may not affect your range of mobility or gait. When the pain becomes intense, however, you may start moving differently to avoid sharp pain and further injury.


For example, if you twist your ankle you may start to limp as a result of the pain. Dogs are no different. When you see a dog limping, it’s usually to avoid the pain of bearing weight on the injured limb, or the limb is not functioning correctly.


Figuring out what initiated the injury and what level of pain your dog is experiencing can help you zero in on what’s causing the issue.



“What is Lameness”?

“Lameness” is another term commonly used in place of the word “limping”. The pain that causes lameness in dogs can range from mild to severe, and the catalyst can range from a splinter to bone disease or arthritis.


Here are some common reasons why your dog may start to limp:


  • Sprain, strain, or torn ligament/tendon
  • Cut foot or object stuck in the paw
  • Split or torn toenail
  • Animal or insect bite
  • Arthritis (joint inflammation)
  • Broken bone (fracture)
  • Joint dislocation, luxation, or subluxation
  • Patellar luxation (knee cap dislocation)
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Slipped or herniated disc
  • Panosteitis (puppy “growing pains”)
  • Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis
  • Tick-borne disease
  • Bone cancer
  • Slipped or herniated disc causing pressure on a nerve
  • Nerve damage


Injury to or disease of the spinal cord can also cause abnormal gait (walking) but is usually associated with dragging and scuffing of the limb rather than limping. In some instances, the source of the limp may remain unknown but only a veterinarian can determine this and advise you of treatment options.

You definitely need professional help with extreme cases but many times you can help your dog on your own. Although, before you can help you need to assess the situation to figure out what is causing the problem.



Assessing a Limping Dog

If your dog starts limping all of the sudden, don’t panic. Panicking can make the situation worse, you might startle your dog, agitate it, or scare it. Remember, your poor little buddy is in pain.


Your dog might respond to your panic by running off or it may even snap at you as a reaction to its pain or fear. If you see your dog limping the best thing to do is remain calm and help your dog if it allows you to.


Many times a limping dog will not require emergency services. A visit to the vet’s office will suffice in most instances and if you’re lucky you may be able to avoid a vet bill by helping your dog yourself.


Assessing the Situation

Depending on how severe the situation is will determine whether your dog needs medical attention or if it can wait. In some minor instances, the limp may resolve itself on its own. Either way, the first thing to do is to inspect the injured limb to see what’s wrong and determine the severity.


Do you need to rush your dog to the emergency animal hospital? Can your dog’s injury wait until you take it to the vet? Or, can you treat it yourself?



dog shaking hands with human



As a responsible pet owner, it is up to you to make these decisions. In most cases, it may be smart to take your dog to the vet, just to be safe. However, I’m sure many can agree that the vet can get pricey. Of course, you will do anything for your fur ball’s wellbeing, but why spend money at the vet if you could help your dog at home?

If the situation is severe, don’t hesitate to seek immediate medical attention. If your dog is limping, here are some symptoms that require immediate attention from a veterinarian or animal hospital if the vet is closed:


  • Unable to stand, bear weight on the affected limb or walk on its own
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Excessive inflammation or swelling
  • Obvious broken bone or fracture
  • Intense pain
  • Limp limb
  • Fever (above 103.5) or other signs of major illness


Injury to or disease of the spinal cord can also cause abnormal gait (walking) but is usually associated with dragging and scuffing of the limb rather than limping. If you notice your dog walking on the back surface of their paws, scuffing their nails with every step or crossing their limbs, this might be a sign of problems in their central nervous system and should trigger a visit to your vet.


If it seems serious or conditions seem to worsen, take your dog to the vet immediately. Besides severity, another signal to pay attention to is when the limping starts.

When Did Your Dog Start Limping?

There are many characteristics you can inspect if your dog begins to limp. With a little knowledge and careful observation, you should be able to figure out what’s causing your dog to limp.


Another important question you should ask yourself is when did your dog start limping? Lameness in dogs can be gradual, sudden, or intermittent.


Determining when the problem started can help determine what is causing the issue. For example, if your dog starts limping all of a sudden, it may signify a recent injury took place. However, if your dog’s limping gradually increases over time, and is clearly worse when then first start walking after a rest, it may point to arthritis or bone disease.


If you notice your dog’s lameness seems to come and go intermittently, it could be from a dislocated joint or ligament popping in and out of place.


Gradual and intermittent limping is often a sign of a chronic underlying condition. These types of situations usually require professional medical advice for the best plan of action. It may require surgery or rehabilitation for treatment.


As you can see figuring out when the problem initiated can be key. With pets, it pays to pay attention. The sooner you realize something is wrong and act upon it, the better chance you have towards a full recovery.






Locate the Injury

Remember to remain calm when approaching an injured dog. Many times dogs respond to our emotions or reactions. Talk calmly and use slow movements to avoid startling your dog any further. If your dog allows, inspect the wounded limb.


You want to perform a thorough examination and pay attention to signals. Licking may signify the affected area. Your dog may even yelp when you touch the affected area.


Gently handle the limb while you visually scan it for any cuts, bruises, abrasions, inflammation, heat, tenderness, discoloration, or other inconsistencies. For breeds with longer hair, you can lightly spread the dog’s fur to inspect the skin.


You also want to check to make sure the joints are operating correctly. Slowly bend each joint and manipulate it within the normal range to check for functionality, stiffness, or tenderness. If the range is limited, it may signify something internal like arthritis, a sprain, or a fracture.


Be careful not to force or apply too much pressure if the range is limited. You don’t want to worsen the injury. Carefully examine the paw, foot, toes, and toenails for damage or objects. Sometimes, the problem is more superficial.


Your dog may have just stepped on a thorn, piece of glass, or spine pod. Also, check for burrowing ticks. If anything is lodged in the skin, you can use tweezers to remove it and then address the wound.


A torn nail can be extremely painful and is easy to miss so check each toe carefully. 



How to Treat a Limping Dog at Home

If the problem is minor, your dog may not require a visit to the vet. Maybe you can’t get to the vet for a day or two and want to care for your dog until then. Here are some pointers to treat your limping dog at home.


Minor Wounds

If your dog has a deep wound, you should take it to the emergency animal hospital. Most minor cuts and scrapes can be handled at home. Always watch for infection, and if any begins to set in, then take your dog to the vet. Simply clean the wound with a soft washcloth by using some gentle soap and water.


The sting of alcohol can startle a dog. Therefore, if you want to disinfect it, consider using dilute hydrogen peroxide once during initial cleaning and no more. If you like, you can apply an antiseptic ointment, but don’t let your dog lick it off.


Animal or Insect Bites

If the injury is from the bite of another dog or animal, you should get immediate professional help. The teeth of animals can drive harmful bacteria and diseases deep into the tissue. Animal bites require antibiotics and possibly a rabies booster to warn off any possibilities of infection.


Most insect bites are not serious unless the insect is venomous or your dog has an allergic reaction. If a bee stings your dog, remove the stinger. For all minor bites, you can sooth the skin with a thick paste of baking soda and water or try an oatmeal bath. Monitor your dog for signs of any allergic reactions from the bite such as:


  • Extreme swelling
  • Extreme pain
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or disorientation
  • Seizures


If one or more of these signs are present, seek immediate medical help for your dog. Some of these symptoms can be life-threatening.

Swelling & Inflammation

You can wrap a bag of ice or an icepack in a towel and apply it to the wounded area for 15-minute intervals to reduce swelling.  After initial swelling goes down, you can use a heat pack to promote healing by boosting blood flow and nutrients to the affected area.


When performing either treatment, it is important not to make the underlying tissues too cold or hot – test the ice or heat pack on your own skin and make sure you can tolerate it. 

Dressing a Wound Properly

You may want to cover the wound to keep your dog from licking it or contaminating it. If you’re going to do this at home, make sure you do not wrap it too tight. Applying bandages too tightly can restrict blood flow, which slows down the healing process. In extreme cases, the wrap can completely cut off circulation to the limb!



wrapping dogs leg with elastic bandage



To dress the wound properly, after you clean it, start with a sterile dressing square over the wound. Next, apply 2 or 3 layers of cotton-gauze wrapping. The final layer should be some stretchy wrap like PetFlex.


Start by unrolling some to relieve tension and then gently wrap the limb. You want about 3 layers of the wrap over the cotton-gauze. Circulation should not be compromised whatsoever.


To make sure you didn’t wrap it too tight, make sure you can slide two fingers under the wrap at all edges. If you can’t, rewrap it again. Remember to change the dressing at least once a day for hygienic reasons. It is also important to make sure your dog doesn’t pull off and eat the wrap, often with catastrophic results!


Rest and Confinement

This is not as easy as it sounds. Dogs are usually active and getting them to be calm and relaxed can be quite difficult at times. However, if you want your dog to heal quickly and avoid further injury, rest and confinement are key. Try to limit your dog’s activity until the wound is healed. You might want to think of crate rest, especially if you leave home. If you don’t have a crate you can try confining your dog to a small area.



pug dog resting in a bed



One more alternative you might want to consider is using CBD oil to promote natural calmness and relaxation in your dog. If your dog is nervous, the CBD may help calm it down and give your dog the time it needs to rest and heal.


If your dog has to undergo surgery to correct the problem CBD, may help provide some natural comfort post-surgery. HolistaPet stress & anxiety relief dog treats will relax your dog naturally with calming ingredients like L-Theanine, Chamomile, which have been shown to promote relaxation and calmness.


CBD may help support mobility. If you suspect this to be the cause of your dog’s limping you may want to try a CBD regimen. In fact, there are CBD infused dog treats that contain joint improving ingredients like Turmeric root and Boswellia. Turmeric root and Boswellia are two natural ingredients known to increase joint strength and reduce joint inflammation. 


If you decide not to go to the vet right away, keep a close eye on your dog’s condition or progress. If the limping persists or gets worse after 24-48 hours, you should take your dog to the vet.


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet.

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