Dogs, with their boisterous, playful nature, commonly injure their limbs. Like human athletes, your dog may simply overdo it and feel a little sore after a rowdy play session, but sometimes his limp may be a sign of a more serious injury that requires medical care. We know you want to provide the best care for your furry friend; however, knowing when medical attention is necessary can be difficult. 

What should I do if my dog is limping?

If your dog seems sore after a vigorous play session, you should monitor his progress at home. Encourage him to rest for the remainder of the day, and monitor for improvement over the next 24 hours. If limping persists for more than one day, your family veterinarian should evaluate your dog for a more serious problem. 

Any dog who becomes suddenly severely lame should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. Serious conditions, such as bone fractures, require prompt attention to prevent further damage and unnecessary pain. 

Never attempt to relieve your dog’s pain by administering over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen (e.g., Aleve), acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), or aspirin. Human anti-inflammatories can cause life-threatening toxicities in pets, and you should give your dog only veterinarian-prescribed medications. 

What conditions could cause my dog to limp?Treating Limps for Dogs

Your dog may limp due to a number of conditions, ranging from minor to urgent, which can be distinguished only through a thorough veterinary assessment. Some conditions include:

  • Muscle fatigue — Some dogs don’t know when to call it quits, and play longer than their muscles can tolerate. Lactic acid build-up can cause muscle soreness up to 48 hours after exertion, with only mild lameness that should improve over 24 to 48 hours. 
  • Arthritis — Chronic joint conditions, such as canine hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and angular limb deformities, can lead to arthritis that causes constant or intermittent limping. Your veterinarian can prescribe pet-safe anti-inflammatory medications, as well as alternative therapies, to manage chronic arthritis. 
  • Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury — Your dog’s CCL helps stabilize her knee joint, and a sudden injury or chronic degeneration can cause lameness that ranges from mild, chronic limping, to acute, non-weight-bearing lameness. Our surgical team routinely performs tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) surgery to treat this common injury.
  • Bone fracture — Fractures are a common result of traumatic injury, such as a car accident, or a fall from an elevated surface. Although most fractures cause severe lameness, minor fractures may cause only mild limping that does not seem serious, and only a veterinary evaluation can differentiate between a fracture and a less serious injury. Most fractures require surgical repair to heal properly and to prevent long-term complications. 
  • Patellar luxation — Patellar luxation, which typically affects small-breed dogs, is caused by faulty development of the groove where the patella (i.e., the kneecap) sits. A dog whose patella has deviated from its normal position limps, or holds up her leg. Patellar luxation treatment may involve surgically deepening the patellar groove to maintain normal position, along with other corrective procedures. 

How will the cause of my dog’s limping be diagnosed?

Your family veterinarian will begin with a thorough exam, which will include a gait evaluation to observe your dog’s limping, palpation to localize the pain source, and range of motion manipulations to evaluate joint function. Once she has localized your dog’s pain, X-rays will be taken to evaluate the bones, joints, and associated structures that may be involved. If more advanced imaging, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, is required for diagnosis, your veterinarian may refer you to our diagnostic imaging department. VetMED’s emergency, diagnostic imaging, and surgery departments will work with your family veterinarian to diagnose and treat your dog’s lameness so he is back on his feet again in no time. 

If you have questions about lameness when your family veterinarian is closed, or if you have been referred to VetMED for more advanced diagnostics or a surgical consult, contact us