Dogs are hyperactive bundles of joy, always hopping and bouncing around. Therefore, if your dog is limping and perceives moving and using its legs as a challenge rather than an enjoyable activity, you need to call your trusted veterinarian and schedule an appointment ASAP.

Dog limping is a distressing condition for both you and your dog. Considering the vast number of reasons that can lead to limping and their diversity in terms of severity, the limping problem is not a thing you should ignore.

The sooner you deal with it, the sooner your dog will be back to its old self – doing shenanigans on all four legs.

Symptoms of Dog Limping

Dog limping

First, it needs to be well-noted that limping or lameness is not a diagnosis per se. Limping (lameness) is a symptom that develops due to an underlying issue.

Lameness or limping indicates an abnormal walk or gait that develops when the dog cannot put its weight on all limbs. The dog favors one leg as a result of pain or loss of function.

The dog’s leg consists of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, joints, nerves, and blood vessels. Each of these structures can be damaged and act as a source of discomfort.

A limping dog can also exhibit other symptoms. Knowing them is beneficial in terms of determining the underlying cause. These are some of the symptoms frequently accompanied by limping:

  • Reluctance to play and exercise

  • Difficulty standing up or laying down

  • Difficulty jumping on/off couches/cars

  • Difficulty climbing up and down stairs

  •  Abnormal gait

  • Abnormal stance

  • Trouble maintaining balance

  • Weak or numb foot or leg

  • Swelling, wounds or bruises

  • Fever, vomiting, disorientation, lethargy, and trouble breathing (in emergency cases). 

Finally, based on what causes the limping, it can be subtle or intense and it can affect one or more limbs. 

Gradual Onset vs. Sudden Limping

When your dog is limping, the first thing your veterinarian will ask is whether the limp was sudden or gradual. 

This is something owners are unwilling to discuss when in panic, but it will help the veterinarian evaluate the overall situation better and tailor an individual treatment plan. 

Gradual Limp 

Gradual limp develops slowly and over a prolonged time frame. It can start with exercise hesitance and then gradually progress into more frequent limping. There are two possible scenarios for gradual limping in dogs – the limp goes away on its own, or the limp turns into a chronic condition.

Sudden Limp 

Sudden limp is the one that develops instantaneously, and it is always associated with traumatic events and injury. The severity of the trauma can vary from skin lacerations and wounds to visible open bone fractures and bleeding.

Common Causes of Dog Limping 

There are many causes of limping in dogs. As pet owners, you do not need to know all of them, but it is beneficial to know why your dog is limping. 

These are some of the most common causes of dog limping.

Superficial Paw Injuries

Superficial paw injuries

A superficial injury that damages the paw pads, is likely to result in limping. Frequent superficial injuries include frostbites, burns, stepping on a foreign body, paw pad lacerations, and broken toenails.

Sporting Injuries

Dog sports come with their fair share of risks. Sprains, strains, ligament tears, dislocations, and spinal damage are all possible causes of lameness in dogs. 

In cases of spinal damage, based on the affected area, the dog may limp with one or more limbs or be immobile.  

Joint Problems

Dog limping can be caused by trauma to the wrists or joints that result in joint subluxation, luxation, or complete dislocation. Joint issues occur when the trauma is significant enough to separate the bones that form the joint.

Bone fractures

Bones are solid, and it takes a great deal of force for them to break. A bone fracture can be classified as open (if there is an open wound on the leg and the bone is exposed) or closed (if the skin is not damaged to the extent that allows visualizing the fracture). Open bone fractures always require surgery. 

Elbow and Hip Dysplasia

Elbow and hip dysplasia are developmental abnormalities affecting the elbow and hip joints, respectively. Both issues are classified as chronic joint disease. Severe joint pain is more common among large and giant breed dogs.

Hip dysplasia results in hind legs lameness, and elbow dysplasia results in front legs lameness. 

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

OCD is a developmental bone disease occurring in large and giant breed dogs that manifests with dog limping. OCD develops when the cartilage in the shoulder's humeral head fails to form bone. 

The condition is usually diagnosed in the puppy stage. 

Cruciate Injury

The cruciate injury occurs when the knee joint ligaments tear, resulting in free movements of the tibia. The tibia freely moving under the femur can be painful which causes a severe limp on the affected leg. 

In the case of obese dogs (and dogs with extra weight), just like in people, cruciate injury is one the most common reasons for limping.

Spinal Issues

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and degenerative myelopathy can result in dog limping. IVDD is associated with disc ruptures and dislocations, and it has a traumatic nature.

IVDD can occur in all dogs regardless of age but is more common in certain dog breeds. On the other hand, degenerative myelopathy is age-related and more common in senior dogs.  

Infectious Diseases

Lyme disease (or popularly known as tick bite) can cause limping. The dog limping usually starts between two and six months of the tick bite. If your dog limps on different legs, Lyme disease is a possible diagnosis. 

In addition to lameness, Lyme disease can cause other health problems.  

Diagnosing the Cause of Limping

If your dog is limping, the vet will start by performing a full physical examination. Dr. Jennifer Coates indicates the veterinarian will ask questions like: 

  • When the limping started

  • How bad is the limp? 

  • Whether your dog limps during particular activities

  • Does it affect one leg? 

  • Whether it always limps with the same leg or shifts weight 

  • Is your dog showing other symptoms? 

Based on the initial findings, the doctor will order additional diagnostic procedures including blood analysis and x-ray images. 

When is Limping an Emergency?

Dog limping is considered an emergency when accompanied with potentially life threatening issues such as bleeding, open fractures, difficulty breathing, fever or obvious signs of general distress. 

When to See the Vet

Sudden limping in dogs is always a reason for visiting the nearest emergency clinic in your area. On the other hand, a dog with gradual onset limping can wait for a scheduled examination with its regular veterinarian.  

How to Move an Injured Dog

When transporting an injured dog, you need to consider two things - protecting yourself (pain makes dogs unusually snappy) and preventing further damage in terms of your dog’s injury.

If your dog is limping and in distress, you can give him a calming treat before going to see the vet. If the dog is severely injured, you might need to provide some first aid before moving it. 

Based on the situation, you may need to apply pressure on the wound or clean it with hydrogen peroxide. If the dog is immobile, it is good to have a stretcher for easy transportation. 

When moving a dog with spinal cord issues, proper immobilization is vital. In such a case, you can ask your veterinarian to send a member of his/her team to help with the transportation. 

Holistic Care Options for a Limping Dog 

Holistic care options

According to Dr. Jennifer Coates, every decision regarding your dog’s treatment plan should be discussed with your vet – even something as simple as giving an aspirin or over-the-counter pain relievers. Aspirin is good for humans but it is not formulated for dogs and can cause more damage. 

With the approval of your dr., you can start looking into holistic care options. Popular holistic care options for dogs include physical therapy (swimming, acupuncture, electrical stimulations, massages) and supplements like CBD oil, topical creams, and natural pain relievers.  

Keep in mind that holistic options are not suited for every limping situation. For example, they are not a substitute for surgery. However, when thoughtfully implemented, just like in humans, holistic options can provide many benefits for your pet.   

CBD for Dog Limping

Hemp CBD oil can help a limping dog on several levels because it regulates different processes including pain response, sleep, mood, and appetite. Here is a short list of the CBD oil’s positive effect on limping dogs:

  • Supports joint flexibility and mobility

  • Support bone and joints health

  • Provides adequate connective tissue support

  • Assists the immune system

  • Promotes a healthy inflammatory response

  • Maintains overall physical and mental wellbeing

Our Final Thoughts  

owner snuggling dog

If your dog is limping, suddenly or gradually, you need to consider many potential underlying conditions. Some are transient and self-limiting, while others require a strategically crafted treatment plan and maybe even surgery. 

Preserving dog health is a priority for pet owners. With that said, seeing the vet as soon as you notice your dog limping is vital. The vet will determine the underlying issue and recommend the ideal management strategy and treatment plan.

In some cases, your dog will be back on its jumping feet, while in others, it may take up to several weeks before the issue fully resolves. During the recovery period, you can do several things for your dog - provide the best holistic care, ensure a comfortable environment, and offer unconditional emotional support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my dog limping all of a sudden?

Dogs start limping all of a sudden as a result of pain which can be triggered by paw or leg injury, including fractures, strains, sprains, torn nails, foxtail infections between the toes, or chemical burns on the paws. 

Should I take my dog to the vet if he is limping?

Yes, limping definitely warrants a trip to see the vet. However, if your dog is in distress, bleeding, or has visible fractures, you need to make that trip urgently. If it is not an emergency, you can call your trusted veterinarian and schedule a regular appointment.

How can I help my limping dog?

The best thing you can do for your limping dog is to have him checked by a veterinarian in your area. Once the Dr. determines the underlying cause, you need to follow his/her instructions carefully – using pain medication ( anti-inflammatories or CBD oil), apply heating/pads or ice packs, practice cage rest, walking exclusively on a leash, or maybe going to physical therapy. 

Why is my dog limping but not in pain?

Usually, gradual limping is not associated with noticeable pain. Your pet can compensate with its other extremities and may not show any signs of distress. Plus, most dogs are very resistant and know how to deal with continuous but low-grade painful conditions.

Why does my dog limp with a different limb? 

There are many reasons why your pet may be shifting its weight and limping with a different limb. Reasons may include osteoarthritis, panosteitis, and Lyme disease.