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Why is My Dog Limping?

As the weather warms and we become more “outdoorsy” again, our dogs are naturally going to want to accompany us on more walks, hikes, or other adventures.  Like us, many of our dogs are more sedentary during the colder months, so getting back into the swing of exercise can involve some aches and pains.  One of the more common presenting complaints we see at Evergreen Animal Hospital this time of year is limping, or other forms of apparent pain.  Let’s examine a few of the more common causes.

Some of the more common causes of sudden onset of lameness are:

  • Wounds to the pawpads or other parts of the feet, often from the pads being under-conditioned for the rough ground
  • Soft tissue injury, such as a strain, sprain, pulled muscle, or overuse injury (soreness).
  • Hyperextension injury, which can come from jumping off of higher places than normal
  • Nerve impingement, which occurs when the nerves leaving the spinal cord and travelling to the limbs are impacted by swelling or other conditions, causing a loss of function 

Smaller dogs such as toy and mini breeds are also prone to having medial patellar luxation, or kneecaps that slide out of place intermittently.  This can manifest itself as sudden onset of one-sided hindlimb lameness that is painful (yelping out) and usually results in the dog holding the limb out straight until they can work the kneecap back into position.  Mild cases often do fine with rest and possibly anti-inflammatory medication, however severe or worsening cases may require surgical repair.

Larger breeds, such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Staffordshire terriers and the like are prone to rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament.  This ligament works similarly to the anterior cruciate ligament (“ACL”) in humans and is a common injury in athletes.  Surgery is often the best route for stabilizing this injury, but other options can be discussed with your veterinarian.

Some of the less common causes also tend to produce more pronounced lameness (“toetouching” or “non-weightbearing” lameness) as they involve more serious injury.
  • Fractures are very painful and may also manifest as a visible deformity of the limb
  • Dislocations occur at specific joints, most commonly the hip, but we also see them in elbows and sometimes digits.
  • Tumors, such as bony tumors and tumors of other surrounding tissues, can also cause lameness due to pain or to interfering with the normal movement of the limb.  These tend to come on more gradually than the injury-based lamenesses mentioned above unless they involve fracture of a diseased bone.

If a mild lameness doesn’t resolve with rest, or in the case of ANY severe lameness, a visit to your veterinarian is a must.  Often a diagnosis can be made based on physical examination, but sometimes x-rays or other diagnostic tests are needed.  Either way, pain medication can be of great benefit.

A note on pain medications:  There are no safe over-the-counter pain medications for dogs.  Human products can cause severe stomach irritation and ulcers, kidney and liver disease, and death.  Always consult with your veterinarian regarding appropriate pain medication for your animals.

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