Limping in dogs

Limping or lameness in dogs is a common sign of pain and is never normal. It may be caused by a variety of reasons, some more serious than others. 

Dogs are active creatures and can be susceptible to a wide range of injuries. Limping may be due to muscle and ligament strain, arthritis, spine problems, trauma, broken bones, paw problems and more. In all cases of lameness, limit activity until you can speak with a vet.


What to do

What to do if your dog starts limping

Check your dog 

  • Can you see any wounds or scabs?
  • Is there any bleeding?
  • Check the paws and between the toes.
  • Check the nails.
  • Check for swelling or hot spots on both legs using your two hands at the same time.
  • Press along their limping leg and look for any pain or sensitivity (yelping, pulling away, turning towards you or going very still). Care! The sweetest-natured dog may also try to bite if you find the sore spot.

Gather information

Did you notice what happened? Were they off-lead? Was it after a day of more exercise than normal? Is it an ongoing issue with a flare-up?


Note on the appointment time scale:

  • Emergency appointment – see a vet now
  • As soon as possible appointment – in the next 12-24h
  • Regular appointment – within 2-5 days

Emergency cases

If your dog is showing signs of pain such as whimpering, aggression or won’t let you touch them – Contact your local vet for an emergency appointment.

Limping with no pain

If your dog is holding the leg up, but is not painful to touch. Or is limping but can still use the leg, we advise strict rest for 24-48h.

After the initial rest period:

  • If no significant improvement – Contact your local vet within the next 12-24h.
  • If improving, continue to rest them.
    • Keep the walks to a minimum and always on the lead.
    • Avoid stairs and jumping.
  • If not fully back to normal after a few days –  Contact your local vet for a regular appointment.

For other types of lameness – Contact your local vet for a regular appointment within 2-5 days.

Our Joii vets are available to help you assess the situation and give you advice on what to do.



Common causes of lameness in dogs

  • Muscle and ligament strain
  • Arthritis
  • Trauma (such as an infected wound)
  • Paw problems (such as toe cyst, broken nail or foreign bodies)
  • Broken bones
  • Dislocated joint
  • Joint problems (such as elbow and hip dysplasia, cruciate disease and patella luxation)
  • Spine and disc problems
  • Cancer


When to worry

When should you worry about your limping dog?

Contact your local vet practice now if your dog:

  • Has a clearly-broken leg or suffered a road traffic accident
  • Is not putting weight on the leg and is tender to touch
  • Has been limping mildly for more than 2 weeks
  • Is not improving despite treatment

Joii can help if your dog is:

  • Not putting weight on the leg, but is not painful to touch
  • Putting weight on the leg but visibly limping
  • Limping and was diagnosed with arthritis
  • Stiff
  • If you are unsure



How to prevent your dog from limping?

Care when off the lead

Dogs are most likely to injure themselves when off the lead. But it’s a balancing act, since most dogs are also happiest playing off the lead.

Always exercise your dog off lead in safe places, away from cars or aggressive dogs.

Jumping down from high places

Jumping from a height risks injury, especially for small breed dogs.

Intense exercise

Just like in humans, before a long and intense exercise session, you should warm up your dog by gently raising the exercise intensity.

Dogs with arthritis 

A dog with arthritis may experience worsening of their stiffness or lameness in certain situations.

For more information check the Home Remedies section in the arthritis article.

Your dog is limping but doesn’t seem to be in pain.

Limping is a sign of discomfort. Dogs express pain in different ways. The level of pain is excruciating when your dog yelps.

Not all limping or leg injuries are obvious. Some are more subtle than others.

Check for other signs of mobility problems:

  • Stiffness
  • Being wobbly, unsteady
  • Walking more slowly than usual
  • Struggling to get up or down stairs or sofa
  • Licking a particular area of the leg



How to diagnose the cause of lameness in dogs

To help determine why your dog is limping, a vet will:

  • Talk through the history of your dog’s recent events
  • Check your dog’s skin
  • Do an orthopaedic examination
  • Take radiographs (x-rays)

Additional tests to rule out other conditions might be recommended by your vet:

  • Sample a wound and send it for culture and sensitivity
  • Blood tests
  • Urine test
  • Joint aspirate and cytology
  • Occasionally MRI or a CT scan


Home treatment

Home remedies for your limping dog

Cold therapy

Use a cold pack of frozen peas, get a towel to protect your dog’s skin and apply it on the area affected for 5-10 min. Repeat this around three times a day during the first 24-48 hours, while also resting your dog.

If there is no improvement, please contact a vet.

Human medication?

For pain relief contact a vet.

Ibuprofen is toxic for dogs.

Paracetamol can lead to liver failure if used incorrectly.

  • Do not use human medication without consulting a vet. Dogs are not the same as humans!


Vet treatment

How to treat lameness in dogs

There are a variety of treatment options that can be prescribed by your vet, depending on the underlying condition.

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Pain relief
  • Joint supplements
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery



Are some dogs more at risk of lameness than others?

Dogs with underlying problems can have on-and-off lameness episodes. This is usually seen with:

  • Growth or genetic problems such as hip or elbow dysplasia.
  • Dogs with arthritis.
  • Dogs who exercise intensively, especially working dogs or agility dogs.

Other causes of lameness in dogs

Our worst fear is always cancer. Unfortunately in very particular cases or breeds, limping can be a sign of cancer, such as osteosarcoma.

Some breeds are more prone to this: Irish Wolfhounds, Rottweilers, Scottish Deerhounds, St Bernards, and Great Danes.

Call your vet if you are concerned about your limping dog.

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