Why is My Dog Limping?


While we may love our canine friends, sometimes there are things we cannot avoid, especially when we have an overly-energetic pup on our hands.

With all their jumping, crawling, and running around, even the most observant dog owners may find themselves asking, “Why is my dog limping?”

why do dogs limp

When we see our dogs in pain, or otherwise behaving in an unusual fashion, we may get into a panic. Not to worry! While you sometimes need to bring a limping dog to the vet, it isn’t a life-threatening condition.

Upon noticing your dog’s limp, it is good to determine the cause and kind of limp that your dog has, so as to provide the right kind of treatment for them.

Two Types of Limping

Why do dogs limp? Limping is a response to pain in your dog’s joints, mostly due to injury. It is separated into two categories, depending on the type of injury that caused it.

The first type of limping is called gradual onset. Like the name implies, gradual onset is a limp that occurs slowly over time. It may be small and subtle at first, without bothering your dog too much, but will slowly worsen into a more obvious limp.

Sudden onset limping is the opposite. One moment your dog is fine, and the next thing you know, they’re struggling to walk without that disturbing hop-skip motion.

These limps may be more concerning because of their suddenness but are generally easier to treat than gradual onset limping.

When bringing your dog to the vet, it is important to inform them whether this limp is gradual or sudden. Having this knowledge will help your vet determine the correct course of action for their treatment.

Why Does a Dog Limp?

Just like human beings, there are many possible causes for a limp in dogs. Sudden onset limps are caused by what often comes to mind: a nasty fall, a broken bone, or a sprained muscle.

On the other hand, gradual onset limps are caused by a condition that is often more complicated to treat.

These conditions include osteoarthritis, as well as some bone and joint diseases. Gradual onset limping may also appear in ageing dogs, due to complications.

why does a dog limp

What to Keep an Eye On

As with all types of injuries, it’s always a good idea to keep our eyes peeled for things related to our pet’s health.

This is especially true for younger, more boisterous dogs. Limps may not always be obvious, as there aren’t many external signs. Your dog may not even seem to be bothered by a limp at all.

It’s always a good idea to check for limping after an injury or physical trauma. Pets with limps often shift their weight onto one limb (or none at all), and even tap their paws in an attempt to shift weight.

With serious injuries, however, such as fractured or dislocated bones, you will need to take your dog to the vet immediately, so as to avoid further damage to the area.

Emergency cases also include swelling or pets dragging their limbs.

What to Do if Your Dog is Limping

As with all types of injuries, it is wise to administer first aid immediately. First aid in limping will be determined by the type your dog suffers from.

Sudden Onset Limping

The first step in treating sudden onset limping is to stop your dog from moving.

You may need to restrain them, as this helps you accomplish two things: determining if there are any other injuries, and securing your dog for treatment.

Second, check for injuries, especially for any broken or dislocated bones. Try not to touch your dog while doing this, and instead determine fractures and dislocations by sight.

See if there are any limbs that are at a weird angle. If you don’t notice any dislocations, you are free to gently move your dog. Note, however, that if your dog whines or makes pained noises, put them down gently and evaluate them again for any signs of a broken or dislocated bone.

why is my dog limping

Should you notice fractures and dislocations, it is important to create a splint for your dog. Splints can be made with a wooden plank and tied into place by a cloth; however, be sure to tie the cloth away from the broken area. If there is swelling involved, apply a cold compress to the site.

Remember not to administer any medications unless you have been instructed to do so by your veterinarian.

When to See the Vet

More often than not, limps heal on their own. However, in some cases, you will need to bring your dog to the vet.

If the limp persists for more than 24 hours, it is best to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. This is also true for swelling that does not go away after 24 hours (in these instances, it is best to switch to a hot compress.)

In instances where there are severe swelling and broken bones, emergency care is necessary.

When transporting limping dogs, it is best to carry them, if possible. Be sure to handle them gently, and support their abdomen when transporting.

Here’s a video showing more details on what to check for if your dog is limping.

How do you deal with a limping dog?

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