Many dogs are extremely active and prone to orthopedic injuries that cause them to limp or favor a limb. While most injuries are minor and resolve within a few weeks, others may require corrective surgery or long-term treatment. A dog can also experience lameness as a result of a developmental disorder, infection, or cancer, which makes veterinary evaluation necessary. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team shares the most common reasons for a dog’s limp and what to do if your pooch is favoring a limb.

#1: Orthopedic injuries in dogs

Injuries involving a dog’s bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints are common. Athletic dogs are particularly prone to these injuries, which can occur during running, playing, or participating in a sport. An orthopedic injury can occur from a single event or as a result of long-term, cumulative damage and overuse. Depending on an injury’s severity, treatments may include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, rehabilitation exercises, or surgery.

#2: Intervertebral disc disease in dogs

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) has two variants. One type usually occurs in smaller, short-legged breeds. Another IVDD type usually occurs in large breeds. Either IVDD type can cause acute or chronic disc degeneration and back pain. Paralysis occurs in the worst-case IVDD scenario. When IVDD affects a dog’s neck, they may limp or favor their front limbs When IVDD affects a dog’s lower back, their pain may cause hind limb weight-bearing changes. IVDD treatments may include anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, physical therapy, or surgery.

#3: Foot or nail injuries in dogs

Your dog can injure their feet and toenails. Torn nails, lacerated paw pads, and foreign object penetration (e.g., thorns) are common foot injuries that can lead to dramatic limping and possibly bleeding. Depending on the severity of your dog’s wound, you may be able to treat such an injury at home by thoroughly cleaning the area, removing foreign debris, applying an antibiotic cream, and bandaging. If your dog’s wound appears severe, call our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team because we may have to suture the area and prescribe antibiotics to prevent your pooch from developing an infection.

#4: Joint dysplasias and other developmental disorders in dogs

Dogs born with abnormal hip or elbow joints (i.e., hip or elbow dysplasia) or loose kneecaps (i.e., patellar luxation) often develop chronic lameness in their affected limbs when they are young or middle age, because the joint mechanics lead to damage over time. These dogs may need surgery to help ensure they have a good quality of life. Medications, physical therapy, and alternative treatments (e.g., acupuncture) can help resolve milder joint issue cases.

#5: Osteoarthritis in dogs

Osteoarthritis is a common aging problem that affects nearly all senior dogs to some extent. Osteoarthritis is a self-perpetuating process that causes inflammation, pain, reduced mobility, and joint damage over time. This degenerative disease can affect any joint, but the hips, elbows, knees, and spine are common targets. Long-term management is necessary to slow the disease’s progression, and treatment includes medications, supplements, exercise, weight control, rehabilitation modalities, laser therapy, and alternative medicine.

#6: Autoimmune disease in dogs

Another arthritis type, immune-mediated polyarthritis (IMPA), can occur in any dog and is not associated with aging or normal wear-and-tear. This condition can occur after the body’s immune system fights an infection, or the disease may arise for no apparent reason (i.e., idiopathic), causing the immune system to attack and destroy normal, healthy joint tissue. Dogs with IMPA may be stiff, limp, and feverish, feeling generally unwell. Treatments focus on medications that suppress the immune system and relieve pain.

#7: Systemic and joint infections in dogs

Some infections that affect the whole body can also lead to joint pain and limping, including Lyme disease and systemic fungal infections. An individual joint can also develop an infection (i.e., septic arthritis). Signs depend on the infection type, but often include fever and swollen lymph nodes. Treatments, such as antibiotics or antifungals, aim to eliminate the infection and reduce pain. 

#8: Bone cancer in dogs

Osteosarcoma is a common canine bone cancer. Leg bone tumors are painful and result in severe limping. Unfortunately, osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that almost always spreads (i.e., metastasizes) before an affected dog begins limping or exhibiting other signs. To help relieve your dog’s pain and ensure they have a good quality of life, our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers at Waller team must make an accurate, early diagnosis. Therefore, if your canine companion has been limping for more than a few days, our team should evaluate your pooch’s condition. If your dog has osteosarcoma, they will likely have to undergo limb amputation and chemotherapy. However, keep in mind that most pets with such tumors do not live more than a few months or a year past their diagnosis.

A dog’s reason for limping is often a minor, self-limiting issue that requires only exercise restriction and anti-inflammatory treatments for a few days or weeks. However, lameness can also signal a serious problem. If your dog’s limp does not improve after a few days’ rest, schedule a visit with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team. To diagnose the underlying cause for your pooch’s limp or lameness, we will perform X-rays, advanced imaging, laboratory tests, and a thorough physical examination.

Some canine conditions warrant urgent veterinary evaluation. Contact our team, call our after-hours triage line, or head to your nearest urgent care or emergency veterinary center if your dog’s limping is sudden and severe, the injury occurred because of a traumatic event, your dog is crying out in pain or appears paralyzed, or other illness signs, such as lethargy, poor appetite, swollen lymph nodes, or warm, swollen joints, accompany your pooch’s condition.