Limping is a symptom that is hard to miss. Even the healthiest dogs might end up limping at some point in their lives.
It seems pretty straightforward too. He’s limping because he’s got a sore leg, right?
First, I’d like to emphasize, that if your dog is limping, there IS pain.
Too often people think that their dog is just limping but he’s not in pain. When was the last time you limped for a reason other than pain? It is the same with your dog. He limps because he hurts. This is important to realize and address.
Depending on your past experiences, when you see your dog limping you might read different things into a limp. Don’t fall into the assumption trap.
Experiences breed bias.
After Jasmine busted both knees, when I saw a limp on a hind leg, a knee injury was the first thing that came to mind. But then, with no more cruciate ligaments to rupture, when she presented with a limp that looked exactly the same, I thought, “that but couldn’t be, could it?”
Before you let your experience lead you down the wrong path, please realize that there are many different reasons why your dog might become lame.
Start by trying to figure out which leg has the problem. Trust me, this is not always all that easy. Observe your dog carefully. Whenever possible, dogs will try to reduce the amount of weight they put on a painful leg.
A rule of thumb, if your dog is not bearing any weight on the affected limb, and particularly if they’re crying also, seek veterinary help right away. Ignoring a serious injury can lead to complications that could have been avoided.
In less serious cases, examine the affected leg thoroughly, starting from the toes and working your way upward.
Sometimes seemingly small things can cause a substantial lameness
A chunk of a porcupine quill in Cookie’s foot resulted in complete lameness of her hind left leg. She wouldn’t bear any weight on it at all. And it looked so much like a busted knee, I could have sworn that’s what it was. No matter what you think might be going on, take a moment to examine your dog.
Jasmine’s foot infection also caused her to favor the affected leg.
A cracked or split nail can also be very painful and cause substantial lameness. Cracks that bleed might require sedation to be properly taken care of. Bruised or fractured toes, cut webbing or pads, foreign objects wedged between the toes, masses or cysts can all also cause your dog to limp.
Quite a list already and we didn’t even get past the feet, huh?
If the feet check out, continue to examine along the leg. Look for any swelling, bleeding or asymmetry, and try to determine exactly where the pain is originating from.
A friend’s dog started limping suddenly on his hind leg and they too assumed it was an injured knee. It turned out being a snake or spider bite. So always pay attention and be thorough. Depending on the type of snake or spider, their bite can be very dangerous.
Not bearing any weight on the affected leg could also mean a broken bone; obviously, these injuries are extremely painful.
Last but not least are the joints. Injuries, structural abnormalities or flare-ups of chronic conditions, such as arthritis, can all cause lameness. Joint problems that can result in a limp include cruciate ligament tears, hip dysplasia, luxating patella, elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans, arthritis, and other conditions.
And while scaring you is not my intention, the most serious cause of pain and lameness is bone cancer.
Typically, in young dogs most common cause of lameness are strains, sprains or bruises, and in older dogs joint issues. But that does not always have to be the case.
Tip: if your dog’s lameness is worst in the morning, you’re likely looking at a joint problem, while lameness at the end of the day could point to a muscle problem.
It is important to recognize when simply resting your dog is appropriate and when you should seek veterinary attention.
If your dog is in extreme pain, has been limping for an extended period of time and rest isn’t helping, if there is bleeding or suspicious lumps or swelling, please see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
To complicate matters further, there are situations when your dog’s limping might have nothing to do with the limbs at all.
There was one time when Jasmine came home from the horse farm completely lame on her hind right leg. She wouldn’t put any weight on it at all, even when lying down. It looked even worse than when she had torn her knee ligament.
We took her to her chiropractor/physical therapist.
There was a tweaked area in the spine, which was causing the lameness.
After one chiropractic adjustment, the limp was gone. When Jasmine started having problems with her neck, one of the ways it presented itself was also front leg lameness.
As you see, simple limping might not always be so simple and sometimes it can be a symptom of a serious problem.
While rest might often be all your dog needs, please be observant and diligent and take limping seriously.