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Why is My Dog Limping?

Pet Health and Safety  •   AKC Pet Insurance  •   Oct 06, 2020

A number of conditions and injuries can make it difficult for our dogs to walk and exercise comfortably. Unfortunately, they can’t speak up about what’s bothering them or describe how symptoms may have started. As such, it’s up to observant dog owners to recognize warning signs and take the appropriate action whenever their dog limps or appears lame.   

Gradual Limping vs. Sudden Limping

Lots of genetic and external factors can cause lameness, but the condition itself fits into one of two categories: 

  • Gradual: This kind of limp gets worse over time and typically results from a chronic condition like osteoarthritis or hip and elbow dysplasia.
  • Sudden: A sudden limp may be more benign or more severe than a gradual limp depending on the cause. A dog who suddenly begins limping may be suffering from a painful, but minor, nuisance like a splinter or insect bite. Alternatively, sudden changes in gait could point to urgent situations like ligament tears. 

Four Potential Causes of Limping in Dogs

  • Paw Injuries: Both indoors and out, your pup’s paws are vulnerable to a number of risk factors. Insects, sticks, and broken glass are just a few of the everyday things that could leave your pet limping. Don’t just watch your dog’s gait for warning signs! Dogs with paw injuries will often lick or bite at the site of an injury. If you notice this behavior, see if you can safely get a closer look.
  • Bone and Joint Injuries: The most obvious cause of limping and lameness, bone and joint injuries can occur at any time. They’re not as easy to spot as broken bones though. Keep a close watch on your dog’s gait and behavior. If they resist putting weight on one or more of their paws for more than 15 minutes, you may need to seek out emergency care. 
  • Bone Diseases: Bone conditions that can cause limping include panosteitis (an inflammation of the long bones) and osteochondromatosis (bony growths on the long bones and vertebrae). The latter is treatable with surgery, whereas treatment for the former focuses mostly on pain management. 
  • Joint Diseases: Many conditions cause canine joints and skeletal systems to degenerate more quickly than is normal. Osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, and other diseases can leave dogs struggling to get around long before they’ve reached their senior years. Fortunately, the fact that these conditions are quite common means that pet parents have access to several trusted supplements.

When Should I Call My Vet?

Nearly any limping that lasts more than a few minutes should be cause for concern. A strange or labored gait does not, however, always constitute a medical emergency. For example, if you are certain that your dog has a minor injury to its paw, administering basic first aid may be sufficient. Do not administer over-the-counter pain medication or attempt to address severe injuries on your own. Policyholders can take advantage of access to the 24/7 Vet Helpline during situations such as these to determine how they can best help their pet.

Certain causes of both sudden and gradual limping require immediate medical attention. Visit your veterinarian or local emergency clinic immediately if your dog exhibits any of the following symptoms: 

  • Extreme pain 
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Obvious fractures or dislocations
  • Paralysis 
  • Profuse bleeding

Also, watch out for other symptoms you might associate with an illness. An injured dog may vomit, appear lethargic, or exhibit strange and repetitive behaviors. 

Transporting Injured Dogs

When transporting injured dogs, handle them gingerly to avoid exacerbating the situation. Carry small and mid-sized dogs and, if possible, consider fashioning a makeshift stretcher for larger ones. Remember that certain dogs may become aggressive and self-protective when they’re in extreme pain -- even dogs who’ve never lashed out before. Take care to protect your pet and yourself throughout this tense period. 

Visit the Vet

As they examine your dog, your veterinarian will ask questions including: 

  • Which of your dog’s legs are affected?
  • How long has the limping gone on? 
  • Have symptoms worsened or changed in any way? 
  • Could your dog have gotten injured? How? 
  • Do certain activities appear to make the limping worse? 

In addition to a thorough physical examination, they may recommend a host of tests including x-rays and MRIs. Be prepared to wait for test results and adhere to any guidelines provided by your vet. These will differ based on the nature of your dog’s condition. In dogs with chronic joint problems, for example, weight management may take on a new importance. Keeping dogs lean can reduce undue stress on their joints and make it easier to live comfortably with their ailments. Whatever the appropriate course of action, working as a team will ensure that your dog lives as happy and healthy a life as possible. 

Protect Your Pet

Don’t forget to discuss pet insurance with your veterinarian. A good pet insurance plan can help policyholders to limit the stress and financial strain of both everyday pet care and medical emergencies.

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