Everything You Need to Know About Dog Limping

Limping can be a pain (get it?)

Jokes aside, it’s no fun to watch your dog limp, and even less so for your dog.

Dog limping may leave you wondering about the cause and, more importantly, what you can do to stop it.

But your dog can’t tell you what’s going on. So it’s up to you to do some sleuthing.

Whether your dog’s been limping for a few weeks or has suddenly started limping, you don’t want to ignore it.

Fortunately, we’re going to share some clues that will help you get to the bottom of this mystery.

via GIPHY

In this post, you’ll learn about the possible causes of dog limping, as well as how to treat them. And if you’re trying to be proactive, we’ve got a few preventative measures up our sleeve as well.

Ready to solve the mystery, detective?

Why is My Dog Limping?

It’s no surprise that dog limping can be caused by a variety of factors.

So vets like to consider several things when diagnosing your dog. One of these methods is identifying whether your dog’s limp is acute or chronic.

Has your pup been limping for less than two weeks? He’s got a case of acute limping.

More than two weeks? Your dog may still be “a-cute” pup, but your vet is going to consider his limping chronic.

Vets also consider whether limping is moderate or severe:

  • Moderate: your dog can bear some weight on his limb, and limping may occur off and on again.
  • Severe: your dog isn’t able to put any weight on his limb at all.

Keep in mind that some dogs will be more likely to limp even with just a minor injury. Others may try to hide their pain even if the cause is something more serious. You know your dog best, so it’s up to you to share all the details you can with your vet.

If your dog is displaying any obvious signs of an emergency, such as bleeding from a wound, take him to the vet immediately. 

Are you ready to learn about some of the specific causes of dog limping now? Let’s do it!

1. Broken Bone

dog broken bone

If you’ve ever seen a dog in a cast before, then you already know they can break bones. This is one of the more obvious causes of dog limping.

Broken bones require immediate attention, and as such, they are considered a medical emergency. If you notice the following signs of a broken bone, take your dog to the vet immediately:

  1. Dangling limb
  2. Limb at an unnatural angle
  3. Verbal signs of pain (whimpering)
  4. Swelling

Certain bone fractures are especially common with puppies due to their increased likelihood of jumping from too-high places.

There are different types of bone fractures. Closed fractures occur within a limb and often aren’t immediately apparent. In contrast, open fractures may result in blood and bones protruding from your dog’s skin.

Gross.

See blood? Don’t faint!

Instead, apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to try and slow bleeding while you wait for veterinary care.

And while you wait, don’t give your dog anything for pain. A safe dosage of medicine for humans can be toxic to your pup.

If your dog has broken a bone, your vet will reset it and place the bone in a cast or splint to prevent movement while your dog’s body heals.

But let’s be real here. You probably want to avoid your dog getting a broken bone in the first place, right?

The best way to do this is by keeping your dog in a safe environment. As much as you might want to let him run wild in the backyard, it’s always best to supervise your dog during play.

2. Arthritis

Bones grinding against bones: arthritis is not a pretty (or pain-free) condition.

But unfortunately, it’s a common cause of dog limping, with 20% of dogs over the age of one experiencing this condition.

Arthritis in dogs is a degenerative joint disease caused by the wearing away of cartilage in joints. Over time, this wear-and-tear causes inflammation and pain.

And it’s not just an old dog disease. Arthritis can occur in dogs at any age as they experience natural wear and tear on joints.

Some of the symptoms your dog may have arthritis are listed below:

  1. Limping after rest
  2. Slow to get up
  3. Lethargic
  4. Less active than previously

When it comes to preventing arthritis, the best defence is a good offence. Joint supplements that contain certain active ingredients work wonders to improve your dog’s joint health.

In particular, active ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin help rebuild lost cartilage and prevent further cartilage deterioration. The handy chart below outlines some of the benefits of other active ingredients.

Active IngredientBenefit
GlucosamineRebuilds lost cartilage
ChondroitinPrevents cartilage deterioration
MSMReduces joint pain
Hyaluronic acidImproves viscosity of synovial fluid (which lubricates joints)

We’re especially partial to TRI-ACTA for pets, as it contains all of the active ingredients above and zero fillers. That means that you can rest easy knowing each ingredient included in the supplements is slowing the onset of arthritis and helping keep your dog’s limp at bay.

3. Strains and Sprains

dog strains

Did your dog pump too much iron over the weekend while working on his beach bod?

Of course not.

But muscle strains can be another cause of dog limping.

Strains and sprains occur when your dog overexerts certain tendons and ligaments, just like what happens when humans work their bodies too hard. Your dog may also experience a strain or sprain if he lands wrong while running, jumping, or playing.

The symptoms of a strain or sprain are below:

  • Swelling
  • Limping
  • Heat
  • Avoiding the use of leg

A strain occurs when the tendons that link your dog’s bones to his muscles are injured. A sprain occurs when the ligaments that connect bone to bone get damaged.

The best way to prevent a strain or sprain is by ensuring your dog gets at least 30 minutes of regular exercise per day. Exercise helps maintain your pet’s muscle health, ligament health, and tendon health, all of which help prevent injuries.

Additionally, keeping your dog at a healthy weight can reduce his risk of suffering from a strain or sprain.

4. Luxating Patella

Looking for yet another cause of dog limping? You’ve found it: the luxating patella.

A luxating patella may sound fancy but it’s just the clinical term for a dislocated kneecap.

Just like with a strain or sprain, this condition can be caused by overexertion or by landing wrong on a leg during play. Some dog breeds, such as Yorkshire Terriers and Pomeranians, are more susceptible to developing luxating patella as a result of inbreeding.

Because this condition is painful, your dog will likely avoid placing weight on his affected limb.

And what does that lead to?

Limping, of course.

Over time, the friction from your dog’s dislocated kneecap can cause the cartilage underneath to deteriorate.

Let’s avoid that, shall we?

A joint supplement that contains glucosamine can help reduce the likelihood that your dog will suffer cartilage deterioration from a luxating patella. Additionally, ingredients like MSM act as anti-inflammatories, helping to reduce pain and inflammation as a result of this condition.

If your dog has a luxating patella, it may go away on its own but will often require surgery to get him completely back to normal.

5. Hip Dysplasia

Have you started noticing that your spry young pup has slowly started to limp more and more?

The gradual onset of limping can be caused by hip dysplasia. This condition exists from birth (and is not preventable) and occurs when the ball and socket joint in your dog’s hip doesn’t develop properly.

Hip dysplasia is especially prevalent in large dog breeds like German Shepherds and Bernese Mountain dogs, as well as purebreds, like bulldogs. In fact, around 72% of bulldogs will be diagnosed with hip dysplasia in their life.

Obesity can exacerbate this condition, so if your pup is limping due to hip dysplasia, putting him on a diet should be one of the first things in your treatment plan.

Unfortunately, many dogs who have hip dysplasia may also develop arthritis due to the friction this condition causes in your dog’s hip joints.

While this condition can’t be prevented, joint supplements can once again help manage the symptoms and secondary conditions (like arthritis) of hip dysplasia. Look for active ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM.

Dog Limping Preventative Measures

After reading about all the causes of limping, you’re probably looking for a bit of relief right about now.

Us too.

Some conditions, like hip dysplasia, aren’t going to be preventable.

But that doesn’t mean you should lose hope.

There are still things you can do to help minimize the chances if your dog is developing a limp.  Read on to learn about some of the preventative measures you can take to keep your dog fit, healthy, and limp-free.

1. Manage Weight

dog healthy weight

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: being overweight can exacerbate your dog’s limp.

That said, putting your dog on a weight management plan reduces the likelihood of him developing a limp from conditions like arthritis.

And with 50% to 60% of dogs being obese in Canada, you should heed this advice!

Measure your dog’s food every day, being sure to feed the recommended amount and no more. Additionally, limit treats. If your dog just won’t stop giving you puppy-dog eyes, opt for a low-calorie treat option.

Finally, aim to get your dog at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, and even more than that if you have an especially active or large dog.

And make exercising fun! Go for a walk or throw a tennis ball, and relish the time you can enjoy with your limp-free dog.

2. Incorporate Joint Supplements

Want a magic pill to prevent limping?

Okay, so that doesn’t exist.

But we want to tell you about something almost as good: joint supplements.

Joint supplements work wonders to promote the health of your dog’s joints. They can help delay or slow the progression of conditions like arthritis, and also manage the pain and inflammation caused by hip dysplasia and luxating patella.

What does that lead to?

Less limping.

In particular, active ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin improve the health of joints.

And they also benefit tendon and ligament health. This is because glucosamine is a building block for ligaments and tendons in the same way it is for cartilage.

There are two types of glucosamine that you should look out for when choosing a supplement:

  1. Glucosamine hydrochloride
  2. Glucosamine sulphate

Glucosamine hydrochloride is highly bioavailable, meaning it’s easy for your dog’s body to use. Glucosamine sulphate helps with the production of collagen, which is a vital component of cartilage.

TRI-ACTA for pets is a great preventative option because it contains all the active ingredients we discussed above, including two types of glucosamine.

TRI-ACTA

Integricare TRI-ACTA for Pets

3. Provide Regular Exercise

Nobody likes it.

But everyone’s got to do it… even your dog.

What is “it”? Exercise.

Exercise reduces the likelihood that your dog will develop a limp because it supports muscle, tendon, and ligament health. A healthy body means your dog is less likely to suffer injuries like broken bones and sprains and strains.

Additionally, exercise helps keep your dog at a healthy weight, which in turn reduces how much strain your dog’s body experiences going about his day.

Always remember to exercise your dog in a way that’s consistent with his stage of life. In other words, don’t go run a 10k with your senior dog, as this can lead to the exact injuries you’re trying to avoid!

Check out the table below for the types of exercise your dog will most benefit from at each stage of his life.

LifestageExercise Type
Puppy
  • Short walks with leash training
  • Tug-of-war
  • Playdates with other puppies (great for socializing them!)
  • Avoid jumping and jogging
Adult
  • Longer walks and hikes
  • Jogging
  • Fetch
  • Swimming
Senior
  • Shorter walks on level ground
  • Playdates (keeps them feeling young!)

4. Research Breed

dog breed

Some breeds are more susceptible to the conditions that cause a dog to limp, like hip dysplasia and luxating patella. For example, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are especially likely to develop hip dysplasia.

The reason? Inbreeding.

Genes that cause hip dysplasia and luxating patella get passed through generations when dogs are inbred, causing the trait to become more and more prevalent in younger generations.

There are two ways you can avoid this.

The first, and easiest, is to adopt from local animal shelters rather than seeking out a purebred dog. Genetic diversity means there’s less of a chance your dog will have certain health conditions that cause limping.

The other option?

Do your research! Before you adopt a dog from a breeder, try to learn more about the lineage of the dog you’re interested in adopting. If both his parents have had conditions that lead to dog limping, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere.

5. Observe Playtime

Just like toddlers, dogs tend to get themselves into trouble the second you look the other way. It pays dividends to watch closely when your dog is playing.

Having a frisbee tournament in a field? Make sure there aren’t any hidden obstacles, like ditches, that may lead your dog to trip and fall.

Similarly, when you’re out and about on walks, take care that your dog spends some time walking on softer surfaces, like grass. Hard surfaces like asphalt can be difficult on your dog’s joints, causing pain and possibly limping.

And if you’re playing inside, try to prevent your dog from jumping from high places, like couches, in a fit of the zoomies.

Creating a safe environment for your dog to play can be incredibly beneficial to ensuring your dog can play hard all while avoiding limping.

Treatment for Limping Dog

Before you can treat your dog’s limping, you’ll need to know the cause. Your vet may perform X-rays, conduct bloodwork, or run a CT scan (among other tests) to identify the best treatment plan for your dog’s limping. Below are a few of the things she might use to help your dog walk normally again.

1. NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatories)

Just like humans, dogs can benefit from the use of NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatories) to treat pain and inflammation.

In particular, your vet may prescribe an NSAID if your dog has broken a bone or is suffering from hip dysplasia or arthritis.

It’s important to note that you should never give your dog the same over-the-counter medicine you would give yourself. This can be incredibly dangerous for your pup. What’s safe for humans can be toxic to dogs.

Some examples of NSAIDs that your vet may prescribe are listed below:

  • Carprofen
  • Deracoxib
  • Robenacoxib
  • Meloxicam

Your dog may experience some side effects from NSAIDs, such as stomach upset, decreased appetite, and diarrhea.

2. Surgery

dog leg surgery

In certain situations, surgery may be required to fix your dog’s limp. If your dog’s limping is due to a broken bone or hip dysplasia, your vet will conduct a thorough exam and determine what steps are needed to get your dog walking normally again.

Be prepared for your dog to wear a cone post-surgery to prevent him from licking his wounds. If the surgery was needed due to a broken bone or sprain/strain, your vet may also use a splint or cast to keep your dog from moving his limb.

You may also need to confine your dog to one space in the house, such as a crate, to give him time to recover. Similarly, temporarily removing toys will reduce the temptation to play so he doesn’t accidentally hurt himself during recovery.

3. Environmental Modifications

One of the easiest ways to make your limping dog’s life a little less painful is by undertaking some environmental modifications in your home. These modifications can help reduce your dog’s limping whether he’s suffering from a chronic or acute condition.

Reduce the need for your dog to jump onto your bed or couch by purchasing a short ramp, and make sure he has everything he needs on the ground floor of your home to eliminate the need to walk upstairs.

Similarly, make sure your pup has plenty of cozy places to rest around the home and place his food and water bowl close to where he likes to hang out. This ensures he doesn’t need to move far to drink or eat.

4. Joint Supplements

Last, but certainly not least, joint supplements can help manage some of the conditions that lead to limping, like arthritis.

Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM are particularly important to maintaining joint health. In fact, a 2015 study found that glucosamine and chondroitin enhanced bone-to-tendon healing in rabbits.

Perfect for when your dog’s limping is caused by a strain.

One last ingredient that’s especially handy if your dog is limping? Hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid helps lubricate joints, which makes it a great addition to managing limping that’s caused by arthritis, luxating patella, or hip dysplasia.

TRI-ACTA H.A. for pets includes each one of these active ingredients. And since it comes in powdered form, it’s incredibly easy to add to your dog’s food.

FAQ on Dog Limping

dog limping after rest

“Why is my dog limping after rest?”

Limping after rest can be a sign of hip dysplasia or arthritis, especially if your dog is slow to get up from a sitting or sleeping position.

If you notice this symptom, it’s a good time to bring your dog to the vet for a check-up. 

“My dog is limping but doesn’t seem to be in pain.”

Hold up.

You didn’t think your dog was limping just for fun, did you? 

Limping is a sign of pain. Your dog is trying to avoid pain by minimizing how much weight he places on his limbs. Try to limit his activity and call your vet to assess whether you should bring your dog in for a check-up.

“Why is my dog limping on the front leg?”

There are a variety of reasons your dog may be limping on his front leg, including muscle injuries or injuries to his shoulder. Your dog may also have something stuck on his front paw, like a thorn, which would cause pain and limp. Call your vet if you notice a sudden onset of dog limping.

Conclusion

Limping can be caused by a variety of factors, from broken bones to arthritis to hip dysplasia. This can make getting a formal diagnosis a bit tricky.

You may need to do a little detective work to get to the bottom of your dog’s limping.

But now you know some of the top causes of dog limping, as well as preventative and treatment factors. 

Armed with these clues, you can surely get your dog on the path to recovery in no time.

Looking for even more information to help your pup? Read more about dog health on our blog.

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