Dogs are very jovial and active animals, which makes them prone to several injuries and diseases in their lifetime. One of the common issues dogs face is limping. This can be a result of a muscle strain, broken bone or dislocation.
Limping is a clear sign of pain in dogs.
This shows that they don’t want to apply pressure to a leg because of the pain. While it is important to visit a veterinarian in such a case, it is still important to know the basic first aid to give to a limping dog. This can help ease his pain and make him comfortable while you transport him to the vet.
This article will guide you through what limping a dog entails, what can cause it, and what you can do to take care of your limping dog.
Let’s start by explaining Limping/lameness in dogs.
Limping in Dog: At a Glance
Limping or lameness in dogs is usually a sign of an underlying problem. This means that there is something wrong with your dog’s knee, foot, hips or bones. Though this is a common condition, it is not normal and needs immediate attention.
Even more often than humans, dogs get injuries or suffer illnesses that may cause them to limp. What does this look like? In some cases, the dog can still walk with all four, but one can observe a change in its gait or strides. In other cases, the dog raises the affected limb trying to avoid putting its weight on it or even dragging the injured limb as it moves around.
Once you notice these signs, you need to pay more attention to them. While not all limping cases are emergencies, you don’t want your lack of care to cause a more serious issue for your dog.
Why is Your Dog Limping?
Limping in dogs can be a result of a different cause. Sometimes these causes are obvious and other times you may need to visit the veterinarian to diagnose a cause. Some of the general causes of limping in dogs include:
- A broken bone or dislocated joint
- Nerve damage or spinal injury
- Insect bites and stings
- Paw pad trauma
- Developmental disorders
- Inflammatory conditions
- Embedded foreign object
- Bone disease or cancer
- Infectious diseases, such as Lyme and many others
These common causes can affect any part of the legs, however, there are certain causes restricted to the front or back limb. In other words, these special causes can only affect the front or back.
Causes of Limping on the Front Leg
When a dog suffers from lameness in the front limbs, its head raises when weight is put on the affected leg and relaxes when it is removed. Other times they arch their backs and take shorter strides.
Conditions that cause limping on the front leg include:
- Brachial plexus tumour (shoulder area)
- Elbow dysplasia
- Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) of the shoulder joint (a joint disease where cartilage does not develop into bone)
- Shoulder instability
- Biceps tenosynovitis (inflammation or injury in the biceps)
Causes of Limping on the Back Leg
It can be a bit difficult to notice limping in the hind legs. However, you may notice that it raises its tail when the injured leg touches the ground. Sometimes you can notice the hip that is not affected seems lower than the injured one.
The common condition that can cause limping on the back leg include:
- Achilles tendon tear
- Cranial cruciate ligament rupture
- Patellar luxation
- Hip dysplasia
- Iliopsoas strain
What To Do If You Notice Your Dog Limping?
Dog Limping is not usually an emergency. However, to be on the safe side, you need to assess the situation and find out if it is a serious case or a minor one. Ask yourself these questions:
- Can your dog stand or walk?
- How much pain do you think your dog is in?
- Does it show other symptoms of illness?
- Is there bleeding or swelling?
- Do you need to apply first aid?
After this, If you notice the following signs when you watch your dog walk, take your pet for veterinary attention.
- If your dog drags one or more of its limbs or shows signs of paralysis, you need to transport it to the vet as soon as possible. This could be a spinal injury that may become permanent if it is not treated early.
- If your dog shows other signs of illness like fever, weakness or severe vomiting.
- If there is any form of bleeding (place pressure on the injured limb while you take it to the vet.)
- If your dog shows signs of extreme pain either by whining or showing signs of aggression or fear.
- Signs of swelling or inflammation on one or more limbs
- If the limbs are too hot to touch.
- If the limping is one that occurred gradually and now seems severe.
All these could be signs of a serious underlying problem that needs immediate diagnosis.
If you are not sure of what to do when your dog limps and are not able to assess the situation, consult your regular vet as soon as you notice the limp. In such cases, a vet will carry out a thorough examination and give you a better diagnosis. When it comes to your dog’s health, it is always advisable to proceed carefully.
Treating Your Limping Dog at Home
In a situation where you have assessed your dog’s limping and see no signs of serious illness, it is an indication of mild limping. In such cases, you can easily diagnose your pet at home.
It is important to know what to do to help your limping dog and what’s even more important is to know what steps to avoid. Once you are sure that you are dealing with a mild limp, here are some steps you can take to treat your dog:
- First, you need to get a closer look at your dog’s leg.
- Notice the spot where your dog keeps licking and do physical examination.
- Make sure you handle the foot with care as you might be dealing with a sprain or broken bone.
- Try to find any wounds, cuts or swelling.
- Also, check the paws for foreign objects that might be stuck there.
There are special ways to treat certain leg injuries that cause limping. Here are some of those injuries and the best way to treat them at home:
If you notice a mild cut or injury, gently wipe the area with water and soap. Apply antiseptic ointment to the area and try to keep your dog from licking the area. Avoid applying alcohol or hydrogen peroxides to such wounds.
Even something as basic as going for a stroll or frequent paw licking might result in paw injury. In addition, if your pet steps on something sharp, it can cause a puncture, or abrasion in the paw.
If foreign bodies like thorns, needles, or splinters are stuck to the paw, carefully remove it using a tweezer. Make sure that you completely remove the object as leaving any part can cause the paw to be infected. Once removed, wash the paw with gentle soap and water and dry.
If there is any sign of swelling, soak the foot in warm water mixed with Epsom salts. Allow it to soak for a few minutes and then dry it with a clean towel and apply an antibiotic ointment.
Note: If you feel uncomfortable doing this, take your fur baby to the vet.
If you notice swelling on your dog’s leg, consult your vet for advice. The vet will probably ask you to apply ice packs to the sore spot for about 10-20 mins. Doing this promotes healing by reducing inflammation. However, if it persists for more than 24 hours, visit your vet.
Note: If you suspect that the swelling is a result of a snake bit, visit the vet immediately.
No External Injuries
Limping with no external injuries might be a result of a serious medical issue like joint problems, broken bones, chronic arthritis or paralysis and you might need to visit the vet immediately. However, in such a case where the limping is not severe, you need to put your dog to rest.
Give your pet time to recover and allow them to rest completely with no physical exercises. Avoid strenuous activities like running, jumping, or going up and down the stairs, as it can lead to severe pain and increase your dog’s limp. Keep him calm and if necessary crate him to avoid any further injury.
What Not To Do
Even though you want the best for your dog, you should not do any of these while trying to treat him:
- Do not give your dog any pain medication or joint supplements that have not been prescribed by your vet. Over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol, aspirin or ibuprofen should NOT be administered to your pet. Such OTC medications can cause ulcers, liver injury and kidney failure when given to pets.
- Unless absolutely necessary avoid applying bandages or splints to your dog’s foot. This requires a special technique and when wrongly done can cut off blood supply causing more injury. However, if there is an active bleeding, you can put bandages on the affected area to control the bleeding while you take your dog to the vet.
There are lots of ways to help your limping dog. These ways have been fully addressed and with the right caution, you should be able to reduce your dog’s pain.
Note that not all kinds of injuries can or should be treated at home. As recommended above, where there is a serious injury or you are not sure of the cause, take your pet to an emergency vet clinic.