Why Is My Dog Limping?

For dog parents, dogs are like small kids in the house. However, unlike kids, dogs can't talk or scream when they are in pain, so it's on you to spot any changes in their behavior and seek immediate medical help.
Limping refers to the dog's abnormal walking on one or more limbs. It happens quite often in all dog breeds. If you are a dog parent, the question "Why is my dog limping?" must have crossed your mind at least once. If so, then this article will satisfy your curiosity.

Why Is My Dog Limping?

First of all, limping is not a disease. Instead, it’s a sign that your dog is in pain because of injuries, sprains, bone fractures, fighting with other pets, accidents, and many plausible reasons. Some of which might be minor, while others are life-threatening.
However, your dog's health, regardless of the cause, requires a visit to the veterinarian.

Types of Limping in Dogs

There are two types of limping that have been identified in dogs:

Gradual Onset Limping

As the name suggests, this type happens gradually over time and is frequently the result of chronic joint or bacterial diseases and joint cancer. The following are the most common conditions that cause this type of limping:
  • Arthritis: arthritis or osteoarthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, discomfort, and stiffness of the joints. It is one of the most common canine autoimmune disorders. In fact, by the time a dog reaches the age of eight, it has an 80% probability of developing arthritis.
  • Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a disorder that affects dogs during their growth phase. It forces the hip joint to loosen, leading to pain and malfunction. The cartilage and bone start to wear away as the dog grows. This leads to lameness and decreased mobility.
  • Cruciate Ligament Disease: The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is a band of fibrous tissue that connects the femur to the tibia, keeping the tibia from sliding forward. Degeneration of the CCL is the primary cause of hind limb lameness in dogs.
The exact cause of this condition is unknown. But it is thought to have some genetic basis as some breeds, such as Labradors, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, and Boxers, are more generally affected than others, including sighthounds.
  • Lyme Disease: Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that black-legged ticks can spread to humans, dogs, and other animals. The bacteria can spread throughout the body, causing symptoms such as general stiffness, edema, and lameness.
  • Osteosarcoma: Osteosarcoma is the most frequent bone tumor in dogs. Even though all dogs can suffer from it, it appears that large breeds are more likely than smaller breeds to develop this type of tumor.

Sudden Onset Limping

Unlike gradual limping, sudden limping develops instantaneously, usually due to one of the following reasons:
  • Superficial Injuries: These injuries are caused by stepping on sharp objects like glass or nails or running on a hot surface. Other causes could also include burns, infections, or toenail damage.
  • Deep Injuries: Dogs sometimes overestimate their physical abilities when jumping over a fence or running. This can lead to torn ligaments, broken bones, joint trauma, and sprains. Fights with other dogs or car accidents can also cause these injuries.

What to Do if Your Dog Is Limping?

If your dog begins to limp, make sure to give him as much rest as possible and avoid long walks and exercise, as any further pressure on the defected leg could result in more serious damage.

Examine Toes and Pads

Look for thorns, nails, or redness between them. Check the pads for cuts or wounds, then check each toenail for breaks. Apply mild pressure to each toe and notice your dog's response. You will notice that dogs tend to pull their legs back when you touch a hurting area.

Check for Swelling

Swelling is a sign of inflammation, so if your dog’s foot is swollen, try alternating heat and ice packs to reduce the inflammation.
Avoid giving your pet any medications unless your vet prescribed them, as they may not be appropriate for your dog’s overall health condition.

Look for Other Signs and Symptoms

If your dog shows other symptoms like fever, sudden unwillingness to walk, bleeding, or broken bones, then you should head immediately to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital.

Monitor Your Dog at Home

If you believe that your dog's condition isn’t severe, you can monitor him yourself for up to 48 hours. However, if the limping persists, it's time to pay a visit to your veterinarian.

A Good Vet Is All You Need

Your veterinarian is the perfect candidate to figure out what's causing your dog's pain and how severe it is. He might even ask for further diagnostic tests, for example, neurological tests, blood tests, or x-rays, depending on the results of the physical examination.

Treatment Options

The treatment suggested by your dog's veterinarian will differ depending on the primary cause of lameness, the severity of the disease, your dog's breed, age and medical history.
Some vets may recommend using nutritional supplements, pain relievers, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Carprofen or Meloxicam for mild cases.
The vet may suggest physical therapy, stem cell therapy, cold laser treatments, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, or even surgery for more severe conditions.


"Why is my dog limping?" has no specific answer. Limping is just a sign of a wide range of diseases. It can result from minor injuries like stepping on a sharp object or Joint-related diseases such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, and cruciate ligament ruptures. Bacterial infections, such as Lyme disease, can also cause limping.
Never use medications that are prescribed for humans on your dog. Some drugs, for example, naproxen and aspirin, are toxic to dogs, causing kidney failure and other serious complications.
Remember, a stitch in time saves nine. Seeking medical help for your dog as soon as you notice any lameness can help you and your dog avoid further complications, including long-term or costly treatment options.