8 Top Reasons for Limping in Dogs


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A happy dog keeps you happy, and a sad dog makes you anxious. Limping is one of the problems your dog can face often. Sudden injuries or traumas lead your friend to cry in pain, or he might even not walk properly.

What Is Lameness in Dogs?

Lameness in dogs is the malfunctioning of the dog’s leg. It is not a disease in itself but is an indication of the preclinical disease in the pet. Dog limping indicates that the dog’s musculoskeletal system is not working well or there is some kind of damage to it. A limping dog cannot walk properly, or it causes pain to him while walking.

Not only the musculoskeletal defect can lead to limping in dogs, but the damage to neuromuscular tissues can also do it. The damage to neuromuscular tissue or malfunctioning of nerves give rise to muscle atrophy and, in turn, limping.

What Causes Lameness?

Dog’s limping is a multi-factorial problem. A broken bone, joint pain, dislocated joint, muscle infection, joint disease, or trauma injuries can be the major causes of limping in the dog. In addition, a weak immune system leads to severe limping. As a result, the dog feels tired and does not walk properly. Finally, weak nerve signals to the muscles of the leg also play a significant role in a dog’s lameness.

Broken Leg

A broken leg is a very common and obvious cause of dog limping. When your dog is playing in the backyard, he might hit a hard object which brings damage to the leg and his leg bone broken. Also, sudden accidents while running fast leads to broken bone. These broken bones ache when the pup tries to walk.

Broken bones usually penetrate the skin, and you can easily examine the broken bone of your pet by thoroughly examining his leg’s skin. You can also get to know about the affected leg of your pup if you notice any symptoms such as redness, bruising, swelling, inflammation, and pain in the dog while walking.

Keep an eye on the dog while he plays in the yard and remove all the unnecessary hard objects from the yard to avoid accidental injuries to your pup.

Broken Toenail

Sudden hitting of the paw to any hard object breaks your pet’s toenail. It can be severe when the broken toenail takes a scraping of soft tissues of the toe with it. This sudden removal of toenail and soft tissue injury keeps your dog limp for a few days.

This can be painful also when the dog walks. Cover the scraped area of the toe with a sterile bandage so it will help heal properly and prevent bacterial entrance.

Something Stuck in their Paw

While walking on the ground, something might stuck in the paw of the dog. It also leads to limping in the dog. It can be a thorn, rock, sticks, etc. You can get an idea of something stuck in the paw by viewing the dog. Is he licking the paw again and again? Is reluctant to put his weight on a specific leg? Is he putting the whole weight on a single leg? Is he feeling difficulty while walking? If your dog is showing any of the above behaviors, check his paw quickly. Remove the thorn if there is any. Also, check if there is anything stuck in between the toes too.

Keep the walking track and ground thorns and rocks free. Keep the dog’s paw pad during and after the dog walk clean.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is another cause of a dog’s limp. It is a starting point for arthritis, leading to limping in dogs. Hip dysplasia happens in large dogs due to damage and de-shaping of the dog’s hip joints. Lack of or improper fitting of femur ball into the socket of hip joint cause hip dysplasia. This then leads to friction in the joint while moving and cause inflammation. It ultimately makes your dog limp. A sudden fall is the cause of dislocated joints. The dog feels unnecessary pain while walking, moving, and running.

Torn ACL

ACL tear is very common in active dogs. ACL is a ligament between the two bones present in the knee. A swift dog who jumps, walks, and runs actively might get his ACL torn. This tear to the ACL is immediately followed by a dog limping. The dog then does not put his weight on that leg. If you see your dog limping just after an active running or jumping and wonder how an active dog can limp, then assure yourself of tearing his ACL.

Torn ACL is generally fixed through surgery. The vet prescribes pain-relieving medications initially.


Arthritis is an advancing age problem. Just like humans, when the dog ages, he gets arthritis. It is a natural process. In arthritis, major joints start aching due to friction. This friction is due to the rubbing of bones at the joint and the depression of lubricant levels in the joints. This usually happens with the hip joints, knee joints, and elbow joints.

Arthritis cannot be completely removed, but impacts on the dog’s joints and joint health can be lessened by using non-steroid drugs.

Gradual Onset vs. Sudden Limping

  • The gradual onset of limping is somehow a natural process. The pet’s healthy bones weaken with the advancing age, and several factors lead to limping. The problems like osteoarthritis are the leading cause of the gradual onset of limping in pet dogs. This kind of limping is common in older dogs. In rare cases, this gradual onset of lameness happens when a tumor develops in the bone resulting in inflammation.
  • Sudden limping happens caused by sudden accidents, traumas, and injuries. For example, an injured leg is painful, and hence the dog limps. Also, the injuries to leg muscles are the causes of limping. In such conditions, immediate care is necessary to prevent further bone problems.

When Did the Injury Occur?

Before going to the vet, gather the possible information about the limping in your dog. It is very important to note the time of limping or when it has begun. Does the dog previously has mild lameness, but it has become worse now? Does the lameness in dogs appear after a fall? When does the dog fall? How severe is the injury? Has the dog put weight on the injured leg or not? You need to tell all this to the vet so he can easily estimate the severity of limping in the dog.

There are two types of lameness in dogs. Your dog might be facing any of the two.

  • Acute lameness: The lameness that is not happening for long falls in the category of acute lameness. This happens due to sudden trauma and is not dependent on age. It lasts for less than 2 days. Accidents, bone injuries, and joint injuries cause acute lameness in dogs. This can be dealt with by giving timely treatment.
  • Chronic lameness: Long-term lameness comes in the category of chronic lameness if it lasts for more than 2 days, even months or years. This is generally due to the aging of the dog. Inflammation in the joints and bones is the major cause of advancing age chronic lameness.

How Serious Is a Limp?

It depends on the injury, area of injury, and severity of the limp, and how serious it can become. Some limps are more serious and painful, and your that dog screams at it. He does not put weight on the leg if the injury is severe. Some injuries are minor, and dogs become normal after limping for two or three days.

Should I Try to Examine the Leg?

If the dog is not in severe pain, then you can examine his leg. For example, you can check if any thorn is stuck under his paw, making him limp. You can also examine whether his toenail is broken so you can cover it with a bandage unless the soft tissues are not affected.

But if your dog is shouting in pain, then do not ever try to examine his leg. He may bite you or become aggressive too. Instead, get emergency clinic access and consult with a vet. He can better handle the injured dog while he is in pain.

What Should I Do for Non-emergency Limps?

When you see your dog is limping but not screaming, you need to give him first aid. For non-emergency limping, it is better not to go to the vet but try to handle it with care and caution at home by yourself.

  1. If you come to know that something is stuck under the paw of the dog, gently take his paw and remove either it is a thorn or rock. This gives sudden but minor relief to your dog. Then wash his paw with warm water. Next, Epsom salts in water and dips his feet in it to reduce the redness and swelling use. After washing, apply an antibacterial ointment to the swelling.
  2. If you see a torn toenail along with bleeding, then wash it first underwater. Then, gently press the skin at the bleeding site in order to reduce the bleeding. Next, apply an antibacterial ointment and then cover the wound with a sterile bandage.
  3. If the swelling of the paw is not vanishing, then use ice packs. Apply icepacks twice a day for 15 minutes on the swollen area of the paw.

If the swelling and pain do not vanish, then seek medical attention.

What Can I Expect From My Veterinarian?

Depending on the type of lameness, you can expect a better cure from your vet for your dog. For minor lameness due to minor injuries, he will prescribe you pain-alleviating medications that reduce the timely pain of your dog, and the inflammation vanishes in a day or two.

For severe injuries like broken bones, the vet will first perform tests like an x-ray. After examining the report, he will suggest surgery depending on the severity of the bone injury.

Related Content:

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Dog Skeleton Facts
Osteochondritis Dissecans in Dogs


Limping is a traumatic effect generally that weakens the dog. Some of the lameness in dogs is due to advancing age, or some are due to sudden accidents, falls, injuries, and nerve malfunction. Do not ignore minor lameness to prevent your dog from being damaged later in life.