Dog Limping: What You Need to Know

Is there anything worse than seeing your dog in pain? Maybe you’re outside. Fido is fine one minute, and the next, he’s hobbling around. When this occurs, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose the cause of a dog limping.

“There could be quite a few reasons why a dog is limping,” says Dr. Michelle Burch, DVM, from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance.

Burch went over many of the reasons why your dog may be limping and what to do about it.

Why Is My Dog Limping?

When you see your dog limping, it’s natural to want to get to the root of the problem and figure out why. Not all of the reasons are cause for much concern, at least at first, while others may be more serious. These are some common ones Burch has seen:

  • A foreign object. “It can be as simple as something is stuck in the paw, such as a little thorn or some sap, and they don’t like the feeling,” Burch says.
  • A small injury. “The majority of the time, it tends to be a soft-tissue injury, so a bit of a muscle strain or they twisted something,” Burch says. “It’s like when we humans have a twisted ankle. It hurts for a couple of days. Sometimes, you need a little pain control. Then, they get back to normal.”
  • A more severe injury, such as a broken bone or a tendon or ligament rupture.
  • An infection. Burch says these infections could be external, such as on the skin, or internal.
  • Tick bites. “They can cause inflammation,” Burch says.
  • Burch says bone or joint cancers, in particular, can cause dog limping.
  • Arthritis, which many dogs become prone to as they age.

What Should I Do If My Dog is Limping?

Not all instances of dog limping will lead to a vet visit. Burch says the first step is to see if you can identify the cause.

“Check the leg and in between the paws,” Burch says. “Look for any signs of tree sap.”

If you see thorns or sap, try to remove them. Burch also suggests looking for any signs of swelling, cuts and bruises. If you find that, call the vet.

“If you don’t find anything abnormal, you can try resting it for a day or two,” Burch says. “Be a couch potato.”

What does strict rest mean? “No running, jumping or roughhousing and only going outside on a leash to potty,” Burch says.

The leash part is important, Burch stresses. “I have seen dogs on activity restriction who go outside off-leash, see a squirrel, and cause more trauma,” she says.

Burch also recommends icing the leg the dog is limping on two or three times per day for five to 10 minutes to reduce swelling and pain.

“I don’t recommend giving any over-the-counter human pain medication without speaking to a vet,” Burch says, adding that some medications are toxic to dogs and others require precise dosing.

If the dog isn’t better in 24 to 48 hours, call the vet to schedule an exam.

“If it’s not clearing up on its own, you need to find out why.”

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