With two additional legs, dogs are more prone to limping than people, and a multitude of problems can lead to lameness. By identifying the cause of your dog’s limp, you can successfully treat the injury or illness, through at-home nursing care or veterinary treatment.

Limping causes  in dogs

Limping causes in dogs may seem virtually endless, as a wide range of conditions can affect their paws, ligaments, tendons, joints, muscles, bones, and nerves and lead to lameness. The following list that can result in dog limping is not all-inclusive, but includes many common causes :

  • Foreign object stuck in a paw
  • Wound or laceration
  • Broken or torn nail
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Blistered pads from hot pavement
  • Pododermatitis
  • Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses
  • Muscle sprain or strain
  • Tendon injury
  • Ligament rupture (e.g., cranial cruciate ligament tear)
  • Bone fracture
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Panosteitis
  • Luxating patella
  • Arthritis
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Nerve sheath tumor
  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Developmental or anatomical abnormalities
  • Autoimmune disorders

Home care for a limping dog

If your dog’s lameness was caused by a minor injury, like a muscle sprain, they can recover at home with your nursing care. Keys to at-home care for a limping dog include:

  • Exercise restriction — The most important “treatment” that will help your limping dog recover is rest and exercise restriction. Keeping your dog from being active will prevent unnecessary strain on the injured limb and speed healing. Leash-walk your dog for quick bathroom breaks, do not let them jump on furniture, and avoid stairs if possible. You may need to confine your dog to a crate to allow them to heal.
  • Heat and ice therapy — Ice is most beneficial when applied for the first 72 hours following an injury, and then heat should be used. When using these therapies, protect your pet’s skin from extreme temperatures with a cloth placed between an ice or heat pack and their skin. Apply the pack for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day.
  • Massage — If the affected limb, muscle, or joint is not too sore to the touch, a gentle massage can help prevent stiffness.
  • Mobility aids — Helping your dog get around and bearing some of their weight can prevent further injury. Use a harness, sling, or sliding rugs to help your dog get around your home and out to the yard. 

Administer only medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or pain medication for lameness, that your veterinarian has prescribed. Never use your own over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to ease your dog’s discomfort, as many human formulations can be toxic for dogs. 

When limping is an emergency

While not every limping episode is a reason to rush to your veterinarian, certain situations require emergency care to prevent your pet’s suffering, and to begin treatment as soon as possible. 

Conditions for which your limping dog needs emergency veterinary care include:

  • Extreme pain (e.g., trembling, vocalizing, displaying fear or aggression when touched)
  • Bleeding profusely
  • Excessive swelling
  • Obvious fracture
  • Sudden inability to move or stand
  • Dragging one or more limbs because of paralysis

If your dog has a fever with a temperature higher than 102.5 degrees, is extremely lethargic, has severe vomiting or diarrhea, or shows any other serious illness signs, they need emergency care, no matter how minor their limp.

How to safely move your limping dog

If your dog is limping so significantly that they require assistance standing or walking, take care when you move them, as you can accidentally make their injuries worse or cause unnecessary pain. In addition, a dog may bite if their injured leg is jostled and they feel more pain. 

When moving your dog, you may need to muzzle them for your safety. Tie a strip of gauze lightly around their muzzle, looping it behind their ears to keep it from slipping. Next, slide a blanket under your dog, and then a board to act as a stretcher, which will reduce any jarring motion your dog may feel. With another person’s help, pick up the makeshift stretcher and move your dog to your vehicle. If possible, secure your dog so they don’t roll off the seat while you are driving.  

When you arrive at an emergency veterinary hospital or our Greenfield Veterinary Clinic, let the staff know, and ask for help carrying your dog inside.

An injured dog is always cause for concern, no matter how minor their limp may seem. If your four-legged friend suddenly hobbles on three legs, schedule an appointment with our Greenfield Veterinary Clinic team.