FAQs About Dog Limping

Dogs can limp for numerous reasons, some more serious than others, and owners get upset when they see their dog limping and painful. If your dog is favoring a limb, our Ambleside Animal Hospital team wants to help ensure they receive the care they need. Here are our answers to frequently asked questions about dog limping.

Question: How do I tell if my dog’s limp is an emergency?

Answer: Limping is not typically an emergency situation. A limping dog requires veterinary attention, but you don’t usually need to rush to a veterinary emergency hospital. Signs that indicate your limping dog needs emergency care include:

  • A sudden inability to move or use a limb
  • Dragging their hind end
  • Extreme pain exhibited by trembling, vocalization, aggression, or fear
  • Profuse bleeding
  • Obvious fracture
  • Excessive swelling in a limb
  • Fever, vomiting, and lethargy

Q: How do I tell which limb is causing my dog’s limp?

Answer: You may have difficulty determining the favored limb if your pet’s limp is subtle. Dogs in pain try to take the weight off the limb that hurts. The following guide should help you locate the affected limb:

  • Right front limb lameness — When the dog’s right front limb touches the ground, their head goes up, and they lower their head when their left front limb bears weight.
  • Left front limb lameness — When the dog’s left front limb touches the ground, their head goes up, and they lower their head when their right front limb bears weight.
  • Right hind limb lameness — When the dog’s right hind limb touches the ground, their tail and right hip rise. The dog may also lean forward to take weight off their hind end.
  • Left hind limb lameness — When the dog’s left hind limb touches the ground, their tail and left hip rise. The dog may also lean forward to take weight off their hind end.

Q: What are common causes of limping in dogs?

Answer: Many issues can cause your dog to limp. Some common causes include:

  • Broken nails — Dogs frequently break their nails, which is an extremely painful injury that may bleed a lot. If your dog has a broken nail, control the bleeding using a clean towel, and seek veterinary attention. Your dog will need the damaged tissue removed, the area protected to prevent infection, and possibly, pain medication.
  • Osteoarthritis (OA) — OA causes significant joint pain and decreased mobility, and may cause your dog to limp. OA is a progressive disease that causes degeneration in the protective cartilage in the joint. Other signs include exercise intolerance, stiffness after resting, difficulty navigating stairs, reluctance to jump on or off surfaces, and uncharacteristic irritability.
  • Ruptured cranial cruciate ligament — Cranial cruciate ligament injury is the most common cause of hind limb lameness in dogs. The ligament stabilizes the knee, and rupture leads to joint instability and pain. An acute twisting movement can cause a traumatic cranial cruciate ligament rupture, but the most common cause is chronic degeneration.
  • Hip dysplasia — Hip dysplasia occurs as a dog grows and their hip joint loosens, eventually resulting in arthritis. Many affected dogs run with a bunny hopping gait. Breeds at highest risk include German shepherds, golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers.
  • Elbow dysplasia — Elbow dysplasia is a complex disorder that involves multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow joint. Affected dogs typically have front limb lameness that worsens after exercise and never fully resolves when rested. The condition most commonly affects large- and giant-breed dogs.
  • Patellar luxation — Patellar luxation occurs when the kneecap is displaced from its normal location in the femoral groove. Traumatic injury can cause patellar luxation, but developmental skeletal abnormalities are usually the cause. The condition is most common in small-breed dogs.

Q: How can my veterinarian determine what is causing my dog’s limp?

Answer: Our team performs the following diagnostics to help determine what is causing your dog’s limp:

  • History — We gather a detailed history about how long your dog has been limping, what they were doing when they started limping, and if their condition has changed since the limp was first noticed.
  • Examination — We watch your dog move, and we palpate and manipulate the affected limb to determine the problem area.
  • Imaging — We may recommend X-raying or ultrasounding the affected area to determine the cause.
  • Blood work — We may run blood work to rule out systemic issues and evaluate your dog’s overall health.

Q: How is limping in dogs treated?

Answer: Treatment depends on what is causing your dog to limp. Potential treatment strategies include:

  • Pain management — We may prescribe pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, to treat your dog’s limp.
  • Rehabilitation exercises — Rehabilitation techniques can increase your dog’s joint and muscle function and mobility. These exercises can reduce pain and enhance recovery for many orthopedic conditions that cause dogs to limp.
  • Acupuncture — Acupuncture assists healing by stimulating nerves, increasing blood circulation, relieving muscle spasms, and releasing endorphins and cortisol.
  • Chiropractic — Chiropractic care can correct bone, disc, and soft-tissue disorders related to spinal misalignments.
  • Laser therapy — Laser therapy can effectively treat acute and chronic conditions, including arthritis, tendonitis, sprains, fractures, and degenerative joint disease.
  • Surgery — In some cases, surgery is necessary to remove damaged tissue, reduce fractures, or stabilize the limping dog’s joint.

If your dog is limping, contact our Ambleside Animal Hospital team, so we can identify the cause and devise an appropriate treatment strategy.