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Limping Dogs: How does it happen?

While routine care and vaccinations help to protect your dog against many serious conditions, accidents can happen at any time which can leave your dog with an injury. Here, our Crystal Lake vets discuss the causes of leg injuries and how your dog's limping may be treated.

Help! My Dog Suddenly Has a Limp!

Determining exactly why your dog is limping can be a challenge for pet parents. Similar to people, dogs can encounter various issues that can cause limping. However, unlike humans, dogs can't say what happened to them or how much their legs hurt. It's up to you as the dog owner to determine what's causing your dog's limp and discomfort so you can know how to help. 

Why is my dog limping?

Several injuries and diseases could result in your dog developing a limp. Those different conditions range in severity from easy to heal to in need of urgent medical interventions. Below we discuss some common conditions in dogs that can result in limping.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tears

Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) ruptures and tears are the most common leg injuries in dogs and are typically caused by overexertion in exercises such as running and jumping. Certain dog breeds are at higher risk of this injury than others including German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, rottweilers, and Newfoundlands.

Luxating Patella

This injury is most common in small breed dogs such as Pomeranians, chihuahuas, and Yorkshire terriers, however, it's seen in dogs of all breeds. And it occurs when a dog's patella (kneecap) shifts out of alignment with the femur (thighbone). When this injury takes place in small dogs it generally occurs towards the inside of the limb or medially (near the middle of the limb), it can also happen laterally (on the outer parts of the limb) but that is usually only seen in larger breeds. 

Canine Carpal Hyperextension

This condition is most common in active larger-breed dogs, but it can still affect smaller breeds. It's seen in the forelimb just above the dog's paw and happens when a dog applies excessive force to the carpus joint making it collapse. Symptoms of this injury include favoring one leg over another, swelling in the forelimb, and joint instability. 

If you believe your dog is experiencing any of these injuries call your vet immediately. 

Other Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Limping

Your dog's limping could be caused by something minor like a small stone caught between their toes or it could be an indication of a serious health concern. Some of the most common injuries that cause limping in dogs include:

  • Trauma, such as broken bones
  • Strains or tears (ligaments, tendons, muscles)
  • Something painful stuck in their paw
  • Insect bite or sting
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Vascular conditions
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Infectious diseases, such as Lyme

Signs That Your Dog Limping is an Emergency

While it's not always necessary to visit the vet when your dog is limping, there are some situations where your pooch requires veterinary care. If any of the following apply to your dog it's time to contact your veterinarian or your nearest emergency animal clinic for care.

  • Limping in combination with a fever
  • Limbs that feel hot to the touch
  • A broken limb (will be at an irregular angle)
  • Any moderate to severe swelling
  • A dangling limb (this indicates dislocation)

How can I help my limping dog?

The first thing you should do is confine your dog if you notice limping or any leg favoring. Restricting their movement will help prevent further injury. You should also, hold off on exercising your dog until they have recovered, and keep them on a leash when you take them outside for bathroom breaks because they may try to run. 

You should then sit with your dog and thoroughly examine their leg and paw for any obvious signs of trauma or pain. If you find anything noticeable then you should call your vet right away.

If you believe your dog's limp is being caused by inflammation, try alternating between heat and ice packs as a way to help reduce swelling and discomfort. Contact your vet for recommendations on which to apply and when.

Look for bleeding. This should give insight into whether your dog has experienced an injury, bite, or puncture.

Generally, if your dog's limp isn't severe, you can just monitor your pup's progress at home over 24-48 hours, watching for more symptoms or to see if the limp becomes more pronounced.

Most of the time it's best to err on the side of caution and schedule an appointment with your vet. Your veterinarian may be able to help both you and your pooch feel better. If the limp doesn't start resolving itself, is getting worse, or is accompanied by whining or yelping, it's time to call your vet or visit your nearest emergency pet hospital.

Your veterinarian has the training and knowledge needed to diagnose the cause and determine the severity of your pup's pain. A thorough examination may include blood work, tick testing, or X-rays. Your dog's breed, history, age, and general health will all be considered in the diagnosis. This will allow your limping dog to receive the appropriate treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you noticing that your dog is limping or generally carrying themselves differently? Contact our Crystal Lake vets today to book an examination for your pup.

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Companion Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital is accepting new patients! Our specialists and experienced emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to animal companions in Crystal Lake.

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