Saturday, December 14, 2013

Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: What Is That Limp?

Limping is a symptom that is hard to miss. Even the healthiest dogs might end up limping at some point of their lives.

It seems pretty straightforward too. He's limping because he's got a sore leg, right?

First, I'd like to emphasize, that if your dog is limping, there IS pain.

Too often people think that their dog is just limping but he's not in pain. When was the last time you limped for a reason other than pain? It is the same with your dog. He limps BECAUSE he hurts. This is important to  realize and address.

Depending on your past experiences, when you see your dog limping you might read different things into a limp. Don't fall into the assumption trap.

Experiences breed bias.

After Jasmine busted both knees, when I saw a limp on a hind leg, knee injury was the first thing that came to mind. But then, with no more cruciate ligaments to rupture, when she presented with a limp that looked exactly the same, I thought, “that but couldn't be, could it?”

Before you let your experience lead you down the wrong path, please realize that there are many different reasons why your dog might become lame.

Start by trying to figure out which leg has the problem. Trust me, this is not always all that easy. Observe your dog carefully. Whenever possible, dogs will try to reduce the amount of weight they put on a painful leg.

A rule of thumb, if your dog is not bearing any weight on the affected limb, and particularly if they're crying also, seek veterinary help right away. Ignoring a serious injury can lead to complications that could have been avoided.

In less serious cases, examine the affected leg thoroughly, starting from the toes and working your way upward.

Sometimes seemingly small things can cause a substantial lameness

A chunk of a porcupine quill in Cookie's foot resulted in complete lameness of her hind left leg. She wouldn't bear any weight on it at all. And it looked so much like a busted knee, I could have sworn that's what it was. No matter what you think might be going on, take a moment to examine your dog.

Jasmine's foot infection also caused her to favor the affected leg some.

A cracked or split nail can also be very painful and cause substantial lameness. Cracks that bleed might require sedation to be properly taken care of. Bruised or fractured toes, cut webbing or pads, foreign objects wedged between the toes, masses or cysts can all also cause your dog to limp.

Quite a list already and we didn't even get past the feet, huh?

If the feet check out, continue to examine along the leg. Look for any swelling, bleeding or asymmetry, and try to determine exactly where the pain in originating from.

A friend's dog started limping suddenly on his hind leg and they too assumed it was an injured knee. It turned out being a snake or spider bite. So always pay attention and be thorough. Depending on the type of snake or spider, their bite can be very dangerous.

Not bearing any weight on the affected leg could also mean a broken bone; obviously, these injuries are extremely painful.

Last but not least are the joints. Injuries, structural abnormalities or flare-ups of chronic conditions, such as arthritis, can all cause lameness. Joint problems that can result in a limp include cruciate ligament tears, hip dysplasia, luxating patella, elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissicans, arthritis and other conditions.

And while scaring you is not my intention, the most serious cause of pain and lameness is bone cancer.

Typically, in young dogs most common cause of lameness are strains, sprains or bruises, and in older dogs joint issues. But that does not always have to be the case.

Tip: if your dog's lameness is worst in the morning, you're likely looking at a joint problem, while lameness at the end of the day could point to a muscle problem.

It is important to recognize when simply resting your dog is appropriate and when you should seek veterinary attention.

If your dog is in extreme pain, has been limping for an extended period of time and rest isn't helping, if there is bleeding or suspicious lumps or swelling, please see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

To complicate matters further, there are situations when your dog's limping might have nothing to do with the limbs at all.

There was one time when Jasmine came home from the horse farm completely lame on her hind right leg. She wouldn't put any weight on it at all, even when lying down. It looked even worse than when she had torn her knee ligament.

We took her to her chiropractor/physical therapist.

There was a tweaked area in the spine, which was causing the lameness.

After one chiropractic adjustment, the limp was gone. When Jasmine started having problems with her neck, one of the ways it presented itself was also front leg lameness.

As you see, simple limping might not always be so simple and sometimes it can be a symptom of a serious problem.

While rest might often be all your dog needs, please be observant and diligent and take limping seriously.


Further reading:
Why Is My Pet Limping?
My Dog is Limping
Limping in Dogs
Lameness (Limping) in Dogs

Related articles:
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drinking
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor 
Symptoms to Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Coughing 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. Great post - it's so easy to dismiss lameness as you said, so this is a good reminder!

    1. Thank you. Yes, either dismiss or misinterpret. And most commonly not realize there is pain associated with that.

  2. I have a 9 year old golden, she has limped occasionally the last few years, in the last 3/4 months it is also the time, her leg also shakes when she is standing still, took her to vet x-rayed said it could be arthritis nothing broken or torn. What would cause the shaking/, tremors in lame leg?

    1. The biggest suspect would be pain. Glad nothing is broken or torn. But something is going on. I'd recommend a consultation with a good physical therapist, they might find things x-rays don't as well as provide a plan on making the leg feel and work better.

  3. My dog came back from her walk and was limping very bad and is not putting any weight on it and it's now been 4 hour's she also has a small bit of fur off her leg like a grase however if I run my hand down it or squeeze it she licks me in slight pain this is on her back right leg. What can I do and what could it be?

    1. Not putting any weight on a leg is reflective of a serious injury, including breaks. I would urge you to see a vet.

  4. I have a 4 year old mini pin/chihuahua and she's been limping today. She has a sore on the rear of her hind leg that appeared 2 days ago.

    1. An infected wound can definitely cause a limp. I recommend a vet visit, particularly since you don't know what is behind it. When JD banged his leg and it got infected, he too limped and required antibiotics.

      More importantly, there might be something more involved.

  5. My Boston terrier was playing with a lab on Saturday. He started limping that night. He hasn’t cried and has allowed us to touch squeeze his leg. He puts weight on it sometimes and it has not stopped him from running, jumping, and playing. It seems to be worse after he rests for a bit and the end of the day.

    1. How old? Which leg? Could, hopefully, just be a strained muscle; need to limit activity somewhat to allow to heal. If doesn't resolve, need to see a vet.