What Are The Possible Causes Of Lameness In Dogs

Lameness In Dogs

Here’s a breakdown of sudden limping in dogs, what to do, and when to immediately seek veterinary care:

Possible Causes of Limping

  • Injuries: Cuts, insect bites, sprains, torn nails, fractures.
  • Bone Diseases: Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD), panosteitis, osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), bone cancer.
  • Joint Problems: Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture, patella luxation, arthritis.
  • Infections: Lyme disease, Valley Fever.
  • Neurological Issues: Slipped discs, other spinal cord problems.

What To Do If Your Dog Starts Limping

  1. Inspect: Carefully examine the affected limb, looking for cuts, foreign objects, swelling, etc.
  2. Palpate: If no obvious injury, gently feel the limb for signs of pain. Caution: some dogs may react if experiencing pain.
  3. Treat Minor Injuries: Clean and disinfect minor cuts. Remove easily dislodged foreign objects (tweezers may help).
  4. Avoid Self-Medication: Never give human painkillers (paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc.) as these are toxic to dogs.
  5. Monitor or Consult Vet: If the cause is clear and seems minor, monitor for infection. In other cases, always seek veterinary advice.

When to See a Veterinarian Immediately

  • Obvious signs of fracture: swelling, deformity, bone protruding.
  • Severe pain.
  • Limping with no obvious cause.
  • Limping that persists or worsens.
  • Additional symptoms: fever, lethargy, loss of appetite.

Why Veterinary Diagnosis Matters

  • A limp can have multiple underlying causes, some serious.
  • X-rays, blood tests, and other diagnostics might be needed for accurate diagnosis.
  • Prompt treatment often improves outcomes and prevents the condition from worsening.

Key Takeaways

  • Sudden limping in dogs warrants attention. Don’t ignore it.
  • Minor injuries may be treatable at home, but hidden causes require a vet’s expertise.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment are key for a speedy recovery.

Remember, your vet is your best ally in keeping your dog healthy and pain-free. If in doubt, always seek their advice!

Possible Causes Of Lameness In Dogs:

A lameness in the dog reflects more or less intense pain in the limbs, which can have origins as diverse as a false movement, a fall, an illness, or even an insect bite.

Depending on its location that is to say on the front legs or the rear legs lameness can have several origins in the dog.

Note also that it can have different causes that affect dogs of all ages, the youngest as well as the oldest, from small, medium, large, or giant breeds.

Trauma or Injury:

This can happen to any type of dog on any of its legs and can include a cut, insect bite, foreign object, or torn nail. It can also be a sprain, or an injury to soft tissue, such as muscles or ligaments.

Dogs sprain muscles just like humans. They can result from a sudden movement during play. Sprains are especially common in working dog breeds.

Within 48 hours, the majority of mild sprains normally go away on their own and significantly improve. Nonetheless, you want to speak with the veterinarian if the dog seems uncomfortable or is obviously in pain.

He will identify the cause and prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to relieve the pain. Rest is the key to a faster recovery.

Another, more serious form of trauma is fracture. It is usually quite obvious: the paw does not support weight, it appears deformed or swollen, and sometimes even the bone can protrude from the skin.

The dog is in certain pain, it can also bleed following such an injury. There is no denying that the dog needs prompt veterinary care. On the road, the animal must be immobilized as far as possible.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy:

This bone disease occurs primarily on the front legs of large, growing breed puppies aged two to eight months.

This is inflammation of the growth plates (the cartilage at the end of a growing bone). Typically, palpation of the distal (lower) end of the long bone elicits a pain response in the dog. Joints may feel warm and appear swollen.

The dog will appear lame, almost as if he is walking on eggshells. He will also be lethargic, have a fever, and lose weight. There is no cure, only symptom management.

Hip Dysplasia:

This genetic condition only affects the hind legs and often begins when the dog is young. Due to structural defects, the ball of the hip does not fit properly in its socket.

The affected dog will have difficulty walking and in particular getting up after lying down, he will avoid putting weight on his hind legs or using his hips (you can see this by analyzing his gait which presents abnormalities, by your pet’s reluctance to run or climb stairs).

Symptoms can appear suddenly or gradually. There are several treatment options depending on your dog, the severity of their condition, and their age.


This disorder, which is brought on by inflammation of the bones, typically affects puppies between the ages of six and nine months,

however, it can also strike dogs as young as eighteen months. It is more common in medium or large breeds. Suddenly the dog begins to limp without further injury, he is still able to put weight on the affected leg, but he is in obvious pain. Lameness may occur sporadically and may move from one leg to the other.

Palpation of the limb by pressing or compressing the middle of the shaft of the long bone usually causes a pain response in the dog.

There is no cure, however, your veterinarian can advise you on how to manage the pain and modify the dog’s diet to ease the symptoms. Although this condition can last two to five months, the dog should make a full recovery after that.

Osteochondritis Dissecans:

This painful condition most often affects the dog’s shoulder, but it can affect other parts of the limb, such as the elbow, hocks, knee, or stifle. It is caused by a defect in the cartilaginous surface of the joint.

Cartilage may break away and float around the joint area. The main symptom is lameness, the severity of which varies from dog to dog.

The standard course of treatment entails either symptom management and rest, or surgery to replace the damaged cartilage.

Elbow Dysplasia:

Usually, only the front legs are affected by this condition, the onset of which can be sudden or gradual. The dog may also exhibit symptoms intermittently.

Other symptoms include mobility changes or irregularities in the affected limb. Your veterinarian can advise you on the need for surgery, a lifestyle change, or a combination of both.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rupture:

This injury affects the rear legs and usually occurs when the dog accidentally twists a leg. It is also possible that the ligament will gradually tear over time.

The affected dog often appears lame and holds its paw away from the ground; the knee may also swell. Diagnosing this condition requires the veterinarian to move the knee in a certain way (drawer test) and take X-rays under sedation.

This condition can be treated surgically with a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), depending on the size of your dog.

Lyme Disease:

This disease is transmitted by ticks. The stung dog usually develops an inexplicable lameness two to five months after being exposed.

Typically, the lameness is barely noticeable at first but then progresses until the dog is unable to walk. Accompanying symptoms may include fever, lethargy, swelling of the joints and lymph nodes, and loss of appetite. The disease is treated with antibiotics such as Doxycycline or Cephalexin.

Patella Luxation:

This condition only affects the hind legs, with pain evident in the stifle or patella region (between the femur or thigh bone and the two bones of the lower leg ).

Affected dogs may jump or hop when running. It usually affects small breeds such as Yorkshire, Jack Russell, Poodle, and Dachshund. It can be treated with surgery, but your veterinarian may also opt for non-surgical care.

Bone Cancer:

This cancer is more common in large-breed dogs, although it can be found in any dog. The animal becomes lame or develops fractures after even slight injuries.

Other symptoms include fatigue, tumors, and loss of appetite. Bone cancer is an aggressive and serious disease, consult your veterinarian immediately if you think your dog has it.

Neurological Disorders:

A slipped or displaced disc in the dog’s spine can put pressure on the nerves in the spinal cord, cutting off messages from the brain to the legs and then leading to lameness. Your dog’s veterinarian must perform a thorough examination to ascertain whether orthopedic or neurological issues are causing the lameness.


As in humans, this disease is more common in older dogs. Indeed, with age, continued rubbing of joints can cause inflammation and arthritis.

The dog will then refuse to jump out of the car or go up the stairs. He will also walk more slowly and have pain in the morning.

In addition, you can experience changes in mood or alertness, weight gain, deeper sleep, and less interest in games. Weight loss, symptom management (which may involve using anti-inflammatory drugs), and lifestyle modifications are all part of the treatment.

Valley Fever:

This is a fungal disease found in the southwest and primarily affects very young or very old dogs. Lameness is one symptom, others are fever, intense cough, lethargy, or depression. As a treatment, your dog will need to take antifungal medications over a period of several months.

What To Do If Your Dog Limps?

Here are some steps you can take to determine the cause of lameness in dogs and whether you should take your dog to the veterinarian immediately or if treatment can be delayed.

Inspect The Limb:

Examine the injured limb thoroughly first if your dog starts to limp. Remember to examine the pads, between the toes, and the claws! Seek out any indications of harm, such as:

  • A cut
  • A stinger left by an insect bite
  • A foreign object stuck between the toes
  • A torn toenail
  • A swollen or deformed paw

If you see a thorn or other foreign object stuck in the pad, you can get some tweezers, go to a well-lit area, and try to carefully remove it. If there is a cut, you can treat it and prevent it from becoming infected. In any case, put a muzzle on your dog for greater safety, because he may bite if he is in pain.

Avoid Any Self-Medication:

Even if your dog is in pain, avoid any form of self-medication, as you risk making the situation worse. Never give your dog paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, as these human medications are toxic to dogs.

If the pain is intense and of traumatic origin, you can possibly offer your dog Arnica 5ch, at a rate of 2 homeopathic granules every 15 minutes for the first hour then every 30 minutes.

Palpate The Limb:

Obviously, do not handle the limb if it shows obvious signs of fracture (swelling, hot, deformed limb, or protruding bone).

Otherwise, you should gently palpate the affected limb, while observing the dog for any indication of pain; this will help you find the source of the problem.

Each dog has its own way of showing pain: some may startle, turn around, others whine, and still others growl and even try to bite. Some dogs may not show pain explicitly, but in more subtle ways, for example, by dilating the pupils.

Monitor The Situation Or Seek The Advice Of A Veterinarian:

If you have been able to remove the foreign body or treat the cut, all you have to do is monitor the progress of the wound to check that it does not become infected.

In all other cases, whether you have been able to figure out what is happening or not, it is best to consult a veterinarian. Indeed, even a simple limp without associated symptoms can be caused by a disease affecting several limbs or the entire body.

The only way to know for sure what is causing a dog to limp is to have it examined by a veterinarian and possibly perform X-rays or other tests. Finally, never give your dog painkillers without the advice of a veterinarian.

When Should You Consult The Veterinarian?

As we mentioned earlier, it is imperative to consult the veterinarian as soon as you notice that your dog is limping. If it is a wound or foreign body, the practitioner will be able to administer appropriate care to the animal and monitor the area to avoid infection.

When the origin of the lameness is invisible, it is essential to carry out appropriate examinations. The veterinarian will start by observing the general condition of the dog and walking it in his office or a corridor in order to observe the doggie’s limp and gait. A precise location is necessary.

Depending on this first observation phase, the veterinarian will then be able to carry out several additional examinations based on his suspicions. X-rays, ultrasounds, arthroscopies, myelograms, and even blood tests can help to make a clear and precise diagnosis in order to implement appropriate treatment.


A dog can start limping suddenly or gradually, whether he is young or already old. The action to take depends on the severity of the situation, but it is important to never let such a symptom linger.

Aapt Dubey
Aapt Dubey

Aapt Dubey, a devoted canine enthusiast and experienced dog Owner, brings boundless passion to our team. With a heart full of love for our four-legged friends, Aapt is dedicated to sharing insights on dog care, behavior, and training to make every pup's life happier and healthier at ItsAboutDog.com.

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