There is nothing more fulfilling than arriving home and having your furbaby run to affectionately greet you.

A loving pet brings joy into a person's life and can ease the stress and strain we sometimes face from day to day.

But occasionally, sickness, age, or disease can cripple the lively spirit of man and woman's best friend. 

If your dog has suddenly started limping, for instance, it can put a damper on your canine companion's usual zest and activity levels.

Dog limping is a particularly worrisome issue because there are many causes that can trigger it, and for this reason, pet parents should address their dog's limping in a timely manner. If left unchecked, the problem at hand can potentially escalate, but prompt intervention and care can ease your pup's discomfort and put him back on his paws sooner than later.

Symptoms of Dog Limping

Have you noticed that your dog has started walking strangely or holding up their paw?  

When walking becomes a task for your pup and they start exhibiting the above behaviors, this is referred to as "limping." One leg's use is favored over another and results in an awkward hop to quicken a step. This way, less pressure is placed on the affected limb.

Your dog's leg is made up of nerves, blood vessels, muscles, joints, and bones, any of which can be the cause of the pain. 

Several other symptoms can often accompany limping. Take note of these as it might help with an accurate diagnosis:

  • Weakness or numbness in the feet or legs

  • Obvious fracture or break 

  • Difficulty standing, running, or climbing stairs

  • Imbalance

  • Inability to move feet or knee correctly 

  • Reluctance to play or exercise

  • Hip pain

  • Bunny hopping gait

  • Yelping when touched

  • A narrow stance with the back legs closer together than the front ones

  • Swelling

By understanding and assessing your dog's limping, you can discern the correct plan of action moving forward.

Of course, you always want to consult your veterinarian when you're concerned about your pet's health so that you can develop the appropriate care plan that will best help your four-legged friend.

Gradual Onset vs. Sudden Limping

When speaking to your family vet, they will ask you whether your dog's limp was gradual or sudden.

These two types of limps will help your pup's vet determine whether or not the disability is a medical emergency. 

An injury or trauma will trigger a sudden limp. If you can see a break in the skin, signs of blood, a visible fracture in the bone, or sudden swelling, then your precious pooch might have been involved in an accident, and is now limping as a result. There are surface wounds that can cause your furbaby's limp as well, so a simple examination of the injured leg can help determine the cause.

A gradual limp, as the name suggests, is a limp that develops over time. It might begin with an occasional hesitance to exercise or play and then slowly progress from there. If your pet's limp and accompanying symptoms escalate, then this could be a sign of an underlying degenerative or chronic condition. A gradual limp might go away by itself if it's a sprain or ligament tear, but more serious conditions need to be seen to and treated sooner rather than later. 

Potential Causes of Dog Limping 

Several injuries or chronic illnesses can potentially be the reason behind your dog's mobility issues.

Superficial Injuries:

  • Random and accidental injury: Superficial and surface wounds can cause your dog to start limping. Stepping on a foreign body or a bite/sting could cause enough pain to result in a limp. Lacerations, broken toenails, burns, or frostbite that causes bruising or infection can also lead to dog limping. Consistent licking on the paw is often a sign that your dog may have something hurting him.

  • Bone breaks or fractures: Handle your dog delicately if they have exposed bone. Call emergency care immediately.

  • Sudden sporting injuries: Ligament tears, sprains, dislocations, and spinal injuries can all lead to severe limping. 

  • Dislocation, luxation, or subluxation of a joint: This is caused by the separation between the bones that generally form a joint. Traumatic injury is the most common cause of joint subluxation. 

Chronic Conditions or Diseases:

  • Hip Dysplasia: is an orthopedic disease that affects the hip joint. Canine elbow dysplasia (ED) is a condition involving multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow joint. Both are chronic and are common among large and giant dog breeds.

  • Osteoarthritis: is caused by general aging and wear and tear on the joints. When arthritis in dogs occurs, the synovial joint fluid and the spongey cartilage wear down. The break down causes inflammation and results in pain and stiffness.

  • Lyme Disease (Tick Bite): can cause lameness in dogs' legs 2 to 6 months after an infected tick bites the dog. Blood tests are the only way to confirm this illness.

  • Patellar luxation: is a dislocation of the kneecap.

  • Cruciate injury: is when the knee joint ligament tears. The tibia moves freely from under the femur, causing pain and lameness. Obese dogs are prone to this trauma. 

  • Intervertebral disc disease: is when a disc in the spine slips or herniates. This rupture damages the spinal cord, and the nerve cell loss can cause lameness and a limp in your pup.

  • Osteochondritis Dissecans: occurs in puppies when the immature cartilage fails to form bone in the humeral head of the shoulder.

  • Degenerative Myelopathy: a spinal cord disease that occurs in middle aged to senior dogs and causes progressive paralysis.

Diagnosing a Limping Dog

Getting to the bottom of any health issue can be stressful. Offer your pup some cuddles to ease their discomfort while you try and determine the reason for their limp.

Some superficial wounds can be treated at home, and you can keep your dog calm or support your pet's immune system with holistic options to help with any discomfort in the meanwhile.

The list of potential causes above should give you some clues as to why your pup is avoiding standing on their leg.

Of course, there may come a time when you need to seek professional care, as a home diagnosis can only go so far in assuring your pet's wellbeing. 

When To Call the Vet

If your dog's limping persists, you'll want to schedule an appointment with your vet before the problem worsens.

You'll need to know your dog's age, medical history, breed type, family history (if they're from a reputable breeder), current medication, and their vaccination history

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Is the limp sudden or gradual?

  • Do they have a history of joint pain?

  • Have they suffered an injury or trauma in the past?

  • Is the limp worse after any activity?

  • Which leg (or legs) are affected?

During a full medical exam, vitals (temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate) will be tested. The vet might want to see your furball walking too. You can also take a video of your pet moving, running, or climbing stairs in advance so that your vet can have a clear look at their mobility issues.  

Further tests could include X-rays and blood tests. Establishing the cause of your dog's limping might necessitate an image of the structure of the limb as well as lab results. 

How to Move an Injured Dog

It may prove challenging to transport your dog to the vet when he's in any kind of discomfort.

After all, a natural reaction to pain is to inflict it upon someone else. As much as your canine friend may love you, if they're hurting, it's natural for them to snap at or bite you if you touch a part of their body that's already bothering them. It's simply an instinctual defensive measure to prevent further pain.

For that reason, it's essential to use caution whenever you need to move your dog or put them in the car. Not only do you want to avoid a bite, but you also want to prevent injuring your dog any further.

You may consider giving your dog a calming treat before moving them. This can promote relaxation and help them better manage their stress during their commute. You can also provide a distraction by giving them a toy filled with calming peanut butter.

When it's time to travel, carefully lift your pet into the car. Even if they can walk, jumping into the car might exacerbate their injury.

With large breeds or with a completely immobile dog, you can create a DIY stretcher and lift them into the car.

Caring for a Limping Dog at Home

Once you and your vet have solved the mystery of your pet's limping problem, you will need to help your four-legged friend recover.

Follow any medical instruction when it comes to medication and rehabilitation.

There are other ways you can help your pup on his road to recovery too.

Mental stimulation

A halt in your dog's daily activities can be very frustrating for them. Your fluffy companion is bound to get bored if you can't take them for walks or throw the ball for them anymore, especially if they're an active breed.

Bored dogs can develop irritating habits such as howling, incessant barking, or they may even start damaging items in your home. Fortunately, there are many ideas out there to help keep your pet mentally stimulated. You can curb unwanted behavior by providing your doggo with fun activities. A snuffle mat, for instance, can provide stimulation at mealtime, or you can buy your pup an interactive puzzle toy

Post-surgery care

If your pet has had to undergo surgery to treat their limp, then you need to follow medical instructions for their post-operative care.

To ease your pet back into full movement, rehabilitation or physiotherapy can serve to strengthen the muscles surrounding weakened joints and bones safely, so be sure to stay consistent with ongoing appointments to help your pup regain his strength.

You may also choose to adjust your pet's diet to avoid weight gain due to their lack of physical activity (with professional advice, of course.)

Discomfort Management

Earlier in this article, we discussed some of the most common causes behind dog limping.

Once a vet examines your canine friend, they can advise you on next steps in terms of a care plan for your pup.

If it turns out that your dog is simply experiencing the typical joint stiffness and/or discomfort associated with normal aging or normal daily activity, helping them manage that discomfort will be essential in keeping them happy and healthy.

There are a number of great holistic options available these days when it comes to supporting bone and joint health in dogs and supporting normal mobility as well.

One of those options is CBD.

CBD for dogs is derived from the hemp variety of the cannabis plant. It can come in many forms such as CBD oil, CBD bites and chews, or even CBD-flavored peanut butter.

CBD works by interacting with your dog's endocannabinoid system, which regulates physiological processes such as sleep, appetite, mood, and pain response.

CBD can help with occasional discomfort and stiffness and can also help:

  • Support joint flexibility and mobility

  • Support a healthy inflammatory response

  • Support bone and joint health

  • Provide connective tissue support

  • Assist the immune system

  • Maintain physical and mental wellbeing

  • and more!

CBD Facts: Your Top 10 Questions Answered

Dog Limping: A Final Thought

No pet parent ever wants to see their dog in any kind of discomfort. It can be heartbreaking, therefore, when your dog develops a limp, whether it's sudden or gradual.

There are many potential causes for dog limping, so it's imperative to take note of the symptoms your dog is exhibiting and then visit your veterinarian for a comprehensive examination. The last thing you want is to leave the limping unchecked, which may only cause the problem to worsen.

Once you know the cause of your dog's limping, you can then develop the appropriate care plan that will get them back on their paws.

What's important is to keep your dog mentally stimulated and happy with interactive toys and play, to follow through with any physical therapy or diet changes that are recommended, and lastly, to ensure you're appropriately managing any discomfort your dog is experiencing, whether through holistic options or through recommendations from your vet.

Following these steps, you can help support your dog's mobility and potentially get them back to chasing squirrels and tennis balls in no time.

Dog Limping FAQs

Why is my dog limping?

When should I take my dog to the vet for limping?

How do I transport my injured dog?

How to treat a limping dog at home?