Why does my dog limp?

Dog relaxing on a blanket in house

Just like humans, dogs can start limping for a variety of reasons. Your dog may be suffering from a chronic condition that’s causing them pain. Or perhaps your pup was running or jumping too enthusiastically and now they’ve injured themselves? In order to help your dog heal and return to full health, first it’s important to understand the root cause of the limping.

Is your dog limping all of a sudden? Or did it happen gradually?

Knowing the answer to this question will really help your vet know how to approach the problem. If the limping developed gradually, your dog may be suffering from a chronic issue, like osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia. Over time, these degenerative conditions can lead to your dog limping - as their joint health slowly deteriorates and your dog starts to feel pain, they begin to adjust the way they walk to compensate.

However, if the limping appeared suddenly, it’s more likely to be an acute injury of some kind, like a strain, sprain or fracture. Dogs are curious and mischievous, they love to run and jump - sometimes all it takes is one wrong step or a collision, and suddenly they’ve injured themselves.

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Common reasons why your dog is limping, and how to help them recover

  • Arthritis: Similar to humans, arthritis can affect dogs as they get older, causing joint pain and stiffness. You can help your dog feel more comfortable by keeping their weight under control, giving them joint supplements and helping them exercise appropriately.
  • Cancer: Some breeds are more predisposed to bone cancer (or osteosarcoma). It is worth knowing if your breed is more likely to be at risk of this disease, and checking with your vet if you see them limping for a prolonged amount of time.
  • Corns: Some breeds, like Greyhounds, are prone to corns which grow on the pads and make walking uncomfortable or painful. Iif you see anything unusual it is worth checking with your vet to make sure they get the right treatment.
  • Injuries: Dogs can strain or sprain themselves through overexertion, or sudden trauma can lead to bruises or fractures. Inspect your dog carefully to see if they’re feeling tender, swollen or in pain. If the injury appears mild, they may simply need to rest and take it easy. More severe cases will require a vet visit, just in case your pet needs surgery or medications.
  • Infections: Limping can be caused by infections, particularly those affecting the joints or paws. Check your dog for swelling, discharge or redness. The sooner infections are treated, the better, so be sure to contact your vet.
  • Foreign objects: Check your dog’s paws carefully to make sure they haven’t stepped on a foreign object, like a splinter or a shard of broken glass. You may need help from your vet to remove the object safely.
  • Ticks: Ticks carry diseases with them, like Lyme disease, which can cause joint pain and limping in dogs. Make sure your dog is checked regularly for ticks and if you live in an area where ticks are common, make sure your dog is protected with a preventative treatment. Tick bites can be very serious for dogs, so contact your vet if you think your dog has been bitten.

Should I try to examine my limping dog myself?

If your dog is limping, it’s natural to want to take a closer look yourself. Be sure to approach with caution. If your dog will allow you, gently examine your dog’s legs, joints and paws. Look for any signs of injury, swelling or tenderness. Try not to move the limb too much, just in case you cause further injury.

If your dog is distressed, or if their limping looks severe, contact your vet so your dog can be examined thoroughly.

When should I be worried about my dog limping?

While a mild strain or a bit of discomfort isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, there are some symptoms that require a trip to the vet.

  • Your dog is limping persistently: If the limping continues for more than 2 days, it’s important to visit your vet, so you can rule out or correctly treat any underlying health issues.
  • Your dog is behaving differently: If your dog is moody, lethargic or unwilling to move, they may be in pain. It’s essential to visit your vet to identify the underlying cause.
  • Your dog has a sudden, severe limp: If your pup is unable to put any weight on their limb, or they’re in pain, they may have a serious injury, like a fracture. It’s essential that they’re seen by a vet to avoid further complications.
  • Your dog’s limb looks visibly swollen or deformed: This could be a sign of a serious injury, like a dislocation or a fracture. Your vet will ensure the injury is treated properly and that your pet is given pain relief and potentially surgery.

How should I help my limping dog recover?

Once you know what’s causing your dog to limp, you can come up with a recovery plan to help get your dog back to full mobility. This plan may involve any or all of these steps:

  • Rest and restricted movement: If your pet has a mild sprain or injury, they may just need to rest for a day or so, and let nature take its course. Keep them confined to a small area so they can’t do themselves further damage.
  • Contact your vet: If your dog is still limping, or if they seem to be getting worse, visit your vet. They’ll be able to examine them thoroughly, which may involve diagnostic tests or x-rays.
  • Medication: If your dog is in pain or if there’s swelling, they may need pain relief and anti-inflammatories to keep them comfortable.
  • Surgery: Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition, they may need surgery to repair a fracture, remove a foreign object or address problems in the joints.
  • Physical therapy: Your dog may need physical therapy to help with their mobility, or to help them recover from surgery.

Find a vet near you

If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

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