When your dog suddenly becomes lame, I bet a sprain, strain, or an orthopedic injury are the first things that come to your mind.
If life with dogs taught me anything, it is that limping can have causes one would never think of.
If you conclude that your dog likely strained or sprained something, often you’ll be right. Particularly if your dog starts limping after a lot of running, play, or other high-level activity.
But things are not always what they seem.
The second day after bringing her home, Cookie went for a morning walk. She ran a played enthusiastically like she always does. At one point, Cookie yelped, stopped, and favored her leg for a little bit. But then she returned to have a good time.
We figured that something pricked her paw.
Because she paid no further attention to it, we thought that’s what happened.
After her walk, we were busy on a deck, and Cookie was resting. But, even though it was a hot day, I felt that she was resting too quietly after a while. Call it a gut feeling.
Surely enough, when Cookie did get up, she wasn’t putting any weight on her left hind leg.
We recalled the morning incident and checked her foot thoroughly. However, we could only find a tiny little red spot on Cookie’s foot. How would this explain why she was suddenly so lame? Was Cookie stung by a bee? The small wound didn’t look impressive at all.
The long and the short of it is that we concluded the small wound was just a coincidence. However, how Cookie carried her leg up toward her belly screamed cruciate injury.
Do you think that’s what it was? Nope.
All that lameness was caused by a fragment of a porcupine quill embedded in her foot, likely from her last encounter before we got her.
At the time, I would swear Cookie’s knee ligament was gone.
I was biased, and I was wrong. Which was a good thing because if we had to pay for another major surgery, we would have to move our stuff under a bridge somewhere.
Even though the veterinarians quickly figured that Cookie’s knee was fine, it took trial and error to figure out the problem.
What about Sam’s mysterious lameness?
Sam went for a walk and had a good time. He didn’t start limping until after he jumped out of a car. He yelped and wouldn’t put any weight on the leg. His parents checked the entire leg but didn’t find anything out of place. Did Sam jump on a sharp rock? Did he tweak something as he landed?
Because Sam’s parents didn’t find any visible evidence of an injury, they decided to see what happens by morning.
But Sam wasn’t using the leg the next day either.
Something more serious than a mild injury was going on. Sam’s parents took him to a vet. The vet examined Sam, flexed and extended his joints, palpated the entire leg … The only time Sam yelped and pulled his foot away was when the vet touched his foot. X-rays didn’t reveal anything. What gives?
While Sam was under sedation for his x-rays, it allowed for a more thorough foot examination. It took a long time before the veterinarian discovered the culprit. Hidden in Sam’s long fur, there was a tick.
Could a tiny tick be the reason for Sam’s mysterious lameness?
Ticks bites usually don’t hurt, and most of the time, a dog won’t even notice it. If there is a reaction, it happens after the tick drops off. But there are exceptions to everything, aren’t there? It might all come down to where the tick decides to grab her lunch.
Jasmine only had a few ticks through her lifetime, and mostly she wasn’t even aware of it.
Once, though, the tick got her ear. We found it right away because suddenly Jasmine started whimpering, carrying her head low and tilting it to one side. We immediately examined her, and that’s what we found–a tick stuck to her ear flap. Clearly, it was quite painful. And Jasmine was no fuss.
As it turned out, a tick was the culprit causing Sam’s limping too.
The area where the tick was attached was the bit that was extremely painful. While dogs usually don’t even notice having a tick, now and then, it just bites the wrong spot. Did the tick attach at a nerve ending? Did it introduce some infection-causing an aggressive immune reaction? Hard to say.