What Should You Do If Your Dog Has A Limp?

Human wrapping paw of injured dog with gauze bandage; dog had a limp

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.

5 Reasons Why Your Dog Might Be Limping

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:

  1. Paw injuries: Bites, cuts, and even pebbles between their toes can make dogs limp. You won’t know if the injury is serious until you investigate.
  2. Leg injuries: Indoor dogs don’t suffer from many leg injuries that you won’t see happen unless they’re old or lose their footing jumping off the furniture. But outdoor dogs are both less supervised and face a greater risk of collisions, scratches, and fights.
  3. Joint disease: If you know what type of dog you have, check on their odds of joint disease before problems develop. Without that genetic predisposition, joint disease could be caused by anything from age to Lyme disease.
  4. Bone disease: Bone diseases are different from joint disease. They could have a nutritional deficiency weakening their bones or certain types of cancer. Large dogs also face more walking and bone-related problems.
  5. Poor environmental conditions: Sometimes the ground is just uncomfortable. Icy sidewalks and hot asphalt hurt dogs’ paws. Rough surfaces can also be hard for puppies to handle, and they might be just fine once they get to grass or carpet.

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.

What can you do once you notice a limp?

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.

Check their paws.

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.

Take notes.

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.

Decide if it’s an emergency.

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:

  • blood
  • open scratches that aren’t healing
  • dangling limbs or breaks
  • broken nails

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.

Take them to the vet the next day if nothing changes.

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.

3 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Injuries or Chronic Limping

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.

1. Take them to the vet every year.

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.

2. Watch for changed behavior as your dog gets older.

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.

3. Be careful where they walk.

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.

If you want a professional opinion on your dog’s limp, contact our team at Tipp City Veterinary Hospital or schedule an appointment. You can also keep reading for helpful pet care tips.

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