Why is My Dog Limping?
If you notice that your dog is starting to limp, there are a number of reasons that may have caused this action. When a dog limps, it is usually due to the fact that either one or more of his limbs are hurting or his normal range of motion has been altered in some way. If your dog is limping, this could be a serious health issue or, if not treated, turn into one over time. It is extremely important to immediately address the issue as soon as you see any signs of limping. You will need to asses if the limp is bad enough that it prevents the dog from bearing any weight on the affected limb and then proceed with treatment from there.
Anatomy of a dog paw
Once you have determined that your dog is in fact limping, you will need to try to identify which limb is causing the limping and then locate exactly where the basis of the problem is. In order to determine which limb is giving your dog trouble, you should examine the way he walks for a period of time. Generally, a dog will use his healthier limb to place more of his weight down and will avoid putting too much pressure on the limb that is bothering him. Oddly enough, the easiest way to determine this is by watching your dog’s head while he walks. When the healthier limb is placed on the ground, the dog’s head will go down in the same motion. On the other hand, when the bothersome limb is placed on the ground, the dog’s head tends to come up into the air when the uncomfortable feeling strikes. Return to Top
Once you determine which leg is bothering your dog, you will want to examine it in great detail. Before examining the injured leg, it is good practice to first examine the healthy limb. Start at the toes and work your way up the leg toward the body, gently putting pressure on the leg as you go up. This will allow you to see how your dog responds to pressure he is not used to on his healthy leg. Then, once you have examined the healthy leg, move onto the bothersome leg and do the same exercises. That way, you can compare your dog’s response to pressure on both the healthy limb and unhealthy limb.
(Diagram to the left) An injury to the CCL (also known as the cranial cruciate ligament and sometimes called the ACL) can cause lameness in dogs, and is one of the most common causes of rear leg lameness. The function of the cruciate ligament in dogs is to stop the femur (large bone at the top of the leg, above knee) and tibia (smaller bone at bottom of leg, below knee) from rubbing against one another. When the cranial cruciate ligament is torn or ruptured the leg loses stability because these bones are now free to move back and forth on top of one another, causing friction, inflammation, possible meniscal injury and eventually arthritis. Return to Top
In order to examine your dog’s limb properly, you should take one section at a time starting with the toes. To check your dog’s toes correctly, first check each of the toenails for splitting or cracking. If a toenail is cracked or split, it will expose sensitive tissue and blood vessels beneath the surface, which can be extremely painful. A basic crack without any bleeding and a meek limp does not usually require veterinary attention. However, any crack that results in bleeding may entail thorough cleansing, trimming, sedation, and even possibly cauterization and bandaging. It is important to examine each toe individually, gently moving and squeezing them to check for potential injury. Bruised and fractured toes will easily cause a limp, yet do not always need veterinary care. However, if a toe remains painful even after multiple days of rest, X-rays may become necessary in order to evaluate deeper. Return to Top
The next area on your dog’s limb that you will want to examine is his webbing. Webbing is known as the spaces between a dog’s toes that are connected with soft skin that stretch and allow for a large surface area for swimming. Often times, because it is so fragile, this skin is sliced by sharp objects that your dog may walk on, like glass or metal. If you notice a slice like this is bleeding, antibiotics and stitches will most likely be needed. Also, things like gravel, thumbtacks, and tar can easily get wedged in between your dog’s toes, which can also cause a limp. This can usually be corrected by removing the items from the dog’s toes. However, you need to be careful with dog toes because a variety of cysts and infections can arise if not thoroughly examined on a regular basis.
The pads on a dog’s paws also need to be examined in depth to determine why limping is occurring. Dogs have six protective pads on their front paws and five on their back paws. These pads take on a leathery texture and are basically a thicker form of skin. However, even though these pads are thick, they can still be sliced open by sharp objects and bleed if a cut makes it through the outer layer. These pads are also known to develop warts and become sensitive if walking on a hot surface. Also, these pads can grow strangely hard, irritated, or dry if exposed to chemicals or if your dog has a dietary imbalance. Return to Top
The next area of your dog’s limb that you should examine is the joints. Dogs have multiple joints in their legs and any one of these joints can cause discomfort resulting in a limp. There are three major joints in each limb of a dog. A dog’s front limb consists of the carpus (wrist), the elbow, and the shoulder. The back limb includes the tarsus (ankle), the stifle (knee), and the hip. To check each individual joint, apply gentle pressure and then increase the pressure moderately. If that does not seem to phase your dog, try lightly lifting the limb and slowly moving it in its normal range of motion. If you support the whole limb, it allows you to examine each joint by itself and hopefully determine the source area of the limp.
The final part that needs to be examined on your dog is his bones. A dog has about 321 bones in his body. If he fractures or bruises them, this could easily cause enough pain to result in a limp. When checking your dog’s leg bones, start with a visual observation. Check for swelling, bleeding, or any other signs of asymmetry or injury. Much like examining the joints, examine the bones of the legs by placing gentle pressure along their full length. You will be able to identify any irregularities or abnormality pretty much immediately.
Once you have fully examined your dog’s limbs, you need to ask yourself a few questions. Has your dog suffered from any kind of trauma over the last few hours? He may have been involved in some kind of accident, fell from a high point off the ground, got into a fight with another animal, or may even stung by an insect. Link these to your examination to determine if something like this may have caused the limping. Another question to ask yourself is: how old is your dog? Age is a big clue in determining the source of limping. Young dogs tend to experience limb pain from developmental issues that older dogs usually do not have. On the other hand, older dogs are known to suffer from multiple health issues such as various cancers and arthritis that young puppies would be much less likely to have. All of these factors can contribute to limping. After the examination, ask yourself: Do you suspect a fracture? If you noticed substantial swelling and pain and your dog refuses to put any pressure on the affected limb, there is most likely a fracture. If this is the case, you should take your dog to the veterinarian immediately. This will surely cause limping, if not even more serious health problems. Return to Top
As you can see, there are a variety of factors that go into determining why your dog may be limping. If you notice that your dog is starting to limp, it is important to make sure you address the issue immediately. Make sure you do a thorough examination of both of your dog’s entire limbs. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, it very well could be the precise thing that caused your dog to limp in the first place. A thorough examination, along with thinking about those few specific questions, will almost always allow you to determine what caused your dog to limb. Once you have determined what caused it, you will be able to treat it appropriately and effectively. Return to Top
Preventing Joint injuries in dogs as well as avoiding joint problems that cause your dog to limp is simple. A dog arthritis supplement may be the best cure. You want to make sure to use a quality joint supplement such as K9 Joint Strength that provides your dogs with all essential nutrients to build strong and healthy joints. K9 joint strength is rich in glucosamine and chondroitin and contains a number of ingredients designed specifically for joint health. It is veterinarian designed and approved.