If your dog starts limping, don’t panic. Check for a clear sign of serious injury. But if you don’t think you need to immediately rush them to the emergency vet, keep reading to learn about the likely causes and what you should do next.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of reasons why your dog might be limping. They’re walking around with bare feet, and active dogs like to play hard. Older dogs and certain breeds can also start to suffer from joint diseases with no apparent origin.
The five most common causes behind a limp are:
Sometimes, narrowing down the cause of your dog’s limp can be next to impossible. In those circumstances, you often have to make a judgment call about how serious it is and if you should take them to the vet.
Looking up common causes of limps is a great first step. Now follow this quick guide so you can zero in on any potential injuries. Before you start, make sure your dog is as calm and comfortable as possible. Usually, injured dogs will lay down and worry at their paw when they know it hurts. They’ll also usually let you approach them as long as you’re careful while you check for injuries.
But puppies will often continue to move around and be upset. Try to get them to lay down, and look out for their little teeth; they don’t know better yet.
If your dog has suddenly developed a limp, check their paw first. A clear sign that something is wrong is if they continuously lick at their paw. Look for twigs, pebbles, and anything else that may have gotten stuck in between their toes. If your dog has a heavy coat, now may also be a good time to trim the fur under their paws. That fur can pick up a lot of debris or get uncomfortably matted.
Also look for cuts and stings. You can call your vet and ask for their opinion regarding any swelling or if a scratch is serious enough to warrant a visit. But if there’s glass or anything sharp embedded in their paws, bring them in.
Sometimes it’s not clear if your dog is injured or if they have a gradually developing limp. (Gradual limps are usually a sign of joint or bone disease rather than injury.) If your pet seems fine aside from an occasional stumble or hesitation, start taking notes. Mark down the date and time of every observation. Then you can monitor them to see if the limp gets worse or disappears over the course of the day or week.
Sometimes you can’t wait and watch. If your dog is clearly distressed, take them to see a vet. If the limp is severe or they have refused to put any weight on their paws for over fifteen minutes, they might be suffering from a serious injury.
While you don’t want to prompt your dog to do anything that increases their pain such as standing them up or bending the joint, there are a few signs of serious injuries. Look for:
Also, run your hand over their leg to feel for swelling, heat, or tenderness. Light dog paws might also show visible bruising depending on the injury.
Any of these signs mean it’s time to take your dog to the vet. Manifestations of joint and bone disease usually aren’t emergencies unless your dog is clearly in pain or won’t settle.
If it’s not serious, wait it out. But make sure you run through this list the next morning if nothing changed overnight. A second look might reveal worsening injuries. A limp that lasts more than a few hours might not be an emergency, but it’s something your vet needs to look into.
Injuries happen, and sometimes joint disease is unavoidable. But there are a few ways to make sure at-risk or active dogs stay safe from increased odds of stress or injuries.
An annual visit to the vet is the best way to ensure your dog’s long-term health. They can trim your dog’s nails, give them treatments that reduce exposure to Lyme disease, and check their joints.
Veterinarians also know the risks of bone and joint disease that different dog breeds face. They can also fill in a bit of your dog’s history if they’re mixed. With that knowledge, they can recommend the right food, bed, and activity levels for your dog.
If they start to take alternative routes around the yard or stop jumping from higher to lower ground, they’re probably accounting for weakening joints as much as they can. Bring it up the next time you see your vet so they can test for common diseases and conditions.
Extreme temperatures are hard on your dog’s feet. They may want to go on a long walk, but limit their exposure to concrete and asphalt surfaces. Also, try to minimize their time in high grasses or on gravel. High grass can hide a lot of insects or sharp trash, and gravel will scratch their paw pads.
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