Unresolved Lameness in a Dog: Why Is That Leg Still Not Happy? Cookie’s Leg Keeps Getting Sore

Regardless of the problem at hand, if your dog’s treatment isn’t working, there are two possible reasons. Either the diagnosis is wrong, or the approach to fixing it is.

Either way it means going back to the drawing board.

Unresolved Lameness in a Dog: Why Is That Leg Still Not Happy? Cookie's Leg Keeps Getting Sore
Sure, mom, I’ll be calm … as soon as I run my five hundred miles.

Cookie’s story

It all started when Cookie had a run-in with an electric horse fence. We thought her leg was sore from that. While we realized that it could have been a coincidence, it made perfect sense that the two would have been related.

The theory was that Cookie pulled a muscle. We did our best to rest it. With Cookie, it is not an easy task. She is a ball of fire and the longer you get her to take it easy, the more pent up energy is waiting to explode.

You might think you’re taking her for a slow walk on the leash but you find yourself walking a kite instead. You might think she’s just going to potty and she starts flying through the yard hunting imaginary critters. You might think she’ll come home and rest but instead, she starts playfully bouncing off the walls.

That is Cookie and the cold weather is NOT helping. Keeping her calm was much easier when it was hot. Cookie finds the cold exceptionally invigorating.

Some improvement followed by a setback

After a few days of getting her to take it easy some, the leg looked good. It was about time, she needed to drain some serious energy.

So we let her run and play with JD. And that night she was sore again. Too much too soon, we figured.

So back to limiting her activity. Meanwhile, in the attempt to speed up the healing, we took her to Jasmine’s physical therapist to see if he would laser the muscles to help them get happy faster. As thoroughly as he examined her, he couldn’t find a problem spot to laser. Hm …

Limiting activity

The recommendation was to seriously limit her activity for seven to ten days. Take her to potty seven times a day and have her rest otherwise. Really? Have you met the girl? Have you not ever have a puppy? Hubby’s idea was to duct-tape her to her bed. That would probably be the only way this could work. I mean, one has to remain realistic and this girl must be munching on rocket fuel at night.

We did our best, taking long leashed walks.

Leashed to curb her enthusiasm and long to drain at least some of the energy.

Cookie’s leg started to look quite good again; there were only tiny things I could notice every now and then, which could probably just be me seeing ghosts.

Veterinary visit

On Thursday Cookie had an appointment for the last vaccinations she needed to get and I asked the vet to also take a good look at the leg, while already there.

To our surprise, he found a lot more than I’d expect with the leg looking good.

He did find painful muscles at the rear end, including the infamous iliopsoas. He also measured the circumference and found asymmetry issues on the back legs. Huh.

We just wanted to potentially laser something and instead, we’re talking about taking x-rays because there could be a problem with the hip.

Her leg seemed to had been working fine by then. But it is a fact that the eye cannot see EVERYTHING.

All that said, she was literally climbing walls by Friday and while I had my concerns, we decided to take her to the farm so she can finally have some fun and get rid of some of the energy.

She had a lot of fun and was a very good girl.

Figuring it out

The whole day there was no indication of a problem. Until she came home and rested for a while. She was quite sore again.

Could it be the hip?

It is true that Rotties are one of the breeds with high prevalence if hip dysplasia. My gut wasn’t really feeling it. And if the hip was a source of pain, would she volunteer to lay on her back in the frog position and be comfortable? That is not a position you’d assume with a sore hip …

Could it be the knee?

Well, sure, everything is possible, but I’ve seen what the limp after cruciate tear looks like and this looked nothing like it. The way she was limping with the porcupine quill in her foot looked way more like a bad knee limp than this.

I wasn’t feeling it could be the hip and I wasn’t seeing how it would be the knee.

But our vet was concerned Crap. Having a bad hip which would be causing this much trouble already would really suck for her. Having a busted knee would suck less but still …

Crap.

Over the weekend we decided we want to get those x-rays as soon as possible so we know what the heck we’re dealing with.

X-rays

I fasted Cookie and Monday morning I called the vet to see whether he could get her in for the x-rays. He already has some surgeries lined up but he got her in any way, God bless him.

Cookie’s hips are fine! Her knees and her spine are fine too! Yay!

So glad the hips check out.

However …

The x-rays indicate some past trauma to the pelvis. Kudo’s to our chiropractor honing in on that just from the physical examination. Could it be that the pelvis was misaligned the whole time since whenever that injury has happened? Wow.

More importantly, the radiographs confirmed less muscle mass on the right leg and revealed that Cookie’s left leg is about 1/2″ longer than her right.

A unique case

When the vet walked in with the x-rays, he opened with “Cookie is quite a unique case.” Figures. So was Jasmine.

So the good news is that all the major joints are looking good. The bad news is that the difference in lengths might be behind the present problem and might also cause problems in the future.

The difference is enough to be troublesome but not enough to correct.

Deep inside, I’m still kind of thinking that this was either from getting zapped by the fence, or something else Cookie did that day, and it will go away and never be a problem again.

Looking closely or looking too closely?

Perhaps it’s like doing a full-body scan. You find all kinds of things, and it doesn’t mean they would have ever caused any trouble. Maybe it’s like that with these findings too. Just because it’s there, and just because it could be behind the issue, does it mean it is? The onset was quite acute. No problem we could see leading up to it.

Another thing the x-rays revealed is a previous trauma to left hook, which also happens to be swollen at the present time, which nobody noticed because she’s been limping on the right leg. We got a topical treatment for that.

The plan

Either way, the present plan is physiotherapy and an underwater treadmill to strengthen the muscles and attempt to teach Cookie to walk better.

And maybe I can finally get somebody to laser SOMETHING.

Doctor’s orders include long slow walks, so that part Cookie will be happy with. Well, the long part, anyway, not so sure about the slow. You wanna try to take Cookie for a slow walk? Be my guest.

The leg has been looking good last couple days (again).

Cookie also gets Tylenol for the time being, massages, and moist warm compresses after walks (as much as she stays put for one). She is SO ready to rumble; the long slow walks will have to be VERY long to take some edge off.

Physical therapy

As soon as we had a plan, we started working on getting Cookie’s leg back in business. The goal was to get whatever soft tissue injury was going on healed, and compensation for the shorter leg corrected.

Is Cookie's Leg Finally Getting Better?
For enough treats, Cookie will do anything.

We started an underwater treadmill twice a week. We included massages after each walk and physical therapy exercises at home. We tried to limit her craziness to our best ability. Keeping Cookie subdued is like trying to tame a tornado.

Mixed results

Every time it looked like the leg was doing fine, it got sore again.

The pattern was strange, though. From time to time we would let Cookie run and play with JD and the leg looked good after that. Then, being grounded for a day with the freezing rain and everything outside being straight ice, it was just a bit sore by the next day.

After that, we were quite limited with our selection of walk destinations and had no choice than keeping the guys on the leash. That is not to say that Cookie didn’t do her share of bouncing at the end of it. And the leg looked good.

Finally, when it became reasonably safe, she got to go to the farm and ended up quite sore yet again.

This all had been going on for about a month.

Unhappy Cookie

Between the weather and trying to get the leg healed, Cookie was not happy with all the limitations at all. I find it funny how both her vets ordered rest and slow leash walks. Her physical therapy vet knows better now, having seen what Cookie looks like after an intensive underwater treadmill session. For her, it’s just a warm-up.

“Was she tired last time?” he’d ask. Nope, she came home bouncing off the walls …

Cookie’s underwater treadmill session at Mitchell Animal Hospital

We decided that she needs to get out and have some fun, whether she’s going to be sore or not—for her and our own sanity’s sake. She spent the two days at the horse farm.

Positive turn

Cookie was restricted somewhat but was allowed to play and run and enjoy herself. She did not limp after!

I was so relieved! So maybe the leg is finally getting healed up. Hopefully.

Meanwhile, we continue on the other part of the plan, getting the muscles even out and get her to walk more evenly.

At-home physical therapy exercises

The physical exercises we’re doing at home include the following:

Cavaletti type of exercise

I sit on the ground and have Cookie walk over my legs. It’s not as fancy, but kind of practical because no equipment is needed, and I can adjust the distance and height on the fly.

Figure eights

That was easy enough because we were already doing weave between the legs as one of our canine freestyle moves. We were having great fun with that.

Walking backward

Figuring out how to get Cookie to do it was kind of challenging, but then I found some great videos.

Whatcha-call-it

I have no idea what it’s called, but Cookie’s chiropractor suggested it. It consists of front legs standing on a raised platform while the rear end is moving in a circle around it. It’s a sideways movement of the back end; I don’t know if you can picture it.

With this strategy, we did get Cookie’s legs happy. She was able to return to full activity without being sore later. The therapy worked.

Related articles:
Why Is My Dog Limping? Causes of Lameness in Dogs—Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog
Common Limping Misdiagnoses in Dogs

Further reading:
Lameness Exam: What Your Vet Might Be Missing?

Categories: ConditionsLimpingReal-life StoriesSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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