Why Is My Dog Limping?

Published: 19 Apr 2024
Kathy R. Conner
Kathy R. Conner
Kathy is a licensed veterinary surgeon and writer in Miami. With over 20 years of experience in deal with pets and small animal, she hopes to share her knowledge on what she learned throughout her life to all animal lover. On her free time, she likes to attend Yoga and Meditation classes.
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Our articles are meticulously composed and vetted by veterinary professionals, guaranteeing precision and pertinence by consulting credible sources, chiefly scientific journals and veterinary manuals. Prior to publication and major revisions, we thoroughly validate the factual correctness, providing well-researched content rooted in veterinary science.

Is your dog struggling to move around? Dogs, known for their high energy levels, often experience injuries that become noticeable when they start to limp, signaling they require care. Limping can stem from harm to any component of a dog’s leg, including bones, tendons, nerves, ligaments, or even the skin. 

While some limps aren’t serious and can be treated at home, others can lead to permanent lameness.Want to know more about dog limps and how you can help your dog overcome his pain and discomfort? Read on for an exhaustive guide on handling your dog when injured.

6 Reasons That Cause Your Dog To Limp

Dogs love to play and may attempt some near-impossible stunts just to impress you- after all, you’re his best friend. Below are the common causes of limps in dogs.

1. External Injury To The Paw Or Foot

It could be thorns that pricked your dog’s skin or stray glass that scratched his paw pads. There are several ways your dog can get injured. Sometimes, dogs can get hurt when walking, but on most occasions, it’ll be during play, aggressive activity, or behavior towards an outsider (even squirrels).

When you see your dog limping on the front paw, the first thing you should do is check for external wounds on his paws or foot. Some scratches might be too small to notice but check thoroughly on the distressing leg to determine the extent of the injury. If your dog is struggling too much, then do visit your local veterinary.

2. Joint Disorder

If not handled with the right level of care and early treatment, the joint disorder can lead to permanent lameness, and you don’t want that for your dog. The common joint disorder that affects most dog breeds is a degenerative joint disease (DJD), which leads to severe body pain that results in limping dogs.

DJD sets in gradually, especially as puppies grow older. As his articular cartilage deteriorates over time, your dog’s joints will start to swell, becoming brittle, thus leading to severe dog limping. 

With joint disorder, possible signs include seeing your dog struggle with walking, and as the pain becomes worse, he will start to limp. As pet owners, it is advisable to keep a close eye on dog walk behavior and provide physical therapy, especially if your dog has a history of bone complications or leg lameness.

3. Bone Fracture

After a serious jump or fight with another animal, you might see your dog limping. But you’ll know it’s a fracture when you spot a broken bone forcing its way through your pooch’s skin. Definitely painful for both him and you.

Treat dislocations seriously and it’s time to visit a veterinarian once you confirm a break or splint in your dog’s limbs. Downplaying the severity of limping in dogs will only aggravate the problem and cause permanent lameness. A proper diet will help to prevent potential bone ailments that might have been passed down to your dog by his parents and promote healing.

Symptoms and problem for pet cases of nerve damage

4. Bone Inflammation Or Disorder

Bone inflammation diseases are more often than not dependent on breed. These limb cases are usually caused by several factors such as nutrition, bone tumor, trauma, infections, and development complications. While some might be congenital, most will occur as the puppy continues to age, thus leading to limping in dogs that are fully grown.

For instance, Pugs, Basset hounds, Boston Terriers, and Dachshunds are commonly affected by bone disease and angular limb deformities, which lead to conditions such as wrist bends, carpus twists, and elbows joints displacement. Fast-growing large breed dogs are commonly affected by panosteitis, a kind of condition that leads to swelling of the bones. 

Other common complications include osteochondromatosis (multiple exostoses), osteoarthritis [1], hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, osteomyelitis (swelling of bones), and hypertrophic osteopathy (excessive thickening of bones). Diagnosis and treatment by a veterinarian will help to improve dog health and hopefully prevent the need for surgery.

5. Ruptured Cruciate Ligament

Dogs have two cruciate ligaments in their knee joints. These ligaments play an important role in connecting the thigh to the shin bones (also known as femur and tibia), which consequently stabilizes your dog’s knee joints. Two injuries can occur, a complete ligament rupture or partial tear. 

Complete cruciate tears are usually called CCL or ACL and can be painful and consequently lead to lameness in dogs. Always head for an examination if you suspect dislocation or an issue with your pet.

Keep in mind that to detect cruciate ligament disease or injuries, you’ll need to keep an eye for the tibia movement to see if it moves freely under the femur. Immediate lameness in your pup’s rear leg is also a sign of ACL injury. Always consult your veterinary doctor for medication and additional information if you see your dog limping as these injuries can lead to chronic lameness if not addressed in early stages.

6. Sprain Or Muscle Strain

Muscle strains, tissue damage, or sprains are common in dogs, especially when they stretch too much, too often or too far. You’ll notice that athletic big breed dogs tend to get strains more than their small breed counterparts, especially during exercise. But all dogs are susceptible to muscle strains when they fall, slop or jump during play, especially if they land hard on their hind legs.

The strains are usually common in thighs and hips and can be managed through gentle massage. But if the strains cause increased discomfort, it is advisable to consult a veterinary doctor as the muscle strains can lead to joint pain and damage. An appointment (or several) with veterinarians that have relative experience can play a pivotal role in minimizing dog abnormalities through rehabilitation.

Cause of emergency hypertrophic osteodystrophy

What Should You Do When Your Dog Limps?

If you spot your dog limping, take a deep breath (you need it both), and examine the wounded area. Bring him closer and pat him as you take a closer look at his limb. Before calling a pet doctor or deciding on any measures, pet owners should check for symptoms like swelling, bruises, tender spots, heat, and cut to determine the root cause.

You should also check his paw pad and keenly look between his toes for foreign objects that might be stuck. Gently manipulating his joints is recommended, more so since it’ll help you detect either stiffness or tenderness.

For minor wounds, you’ll need to disinfect it with lukewarm water and gentle, dog-friendly soap. While antiseptic ointment might help keep the wounded area infection-free, your dog might be tempted to lick it off- so apply it with caution. 

Although some antibiotics might come with side effects, consulting a veterinarian will ensure you get the best swelling and pain control medication you may need for your dog. We recommend calling an expert to handle major wounds, preferably an experienced vet.

Diagnosis and medications for hydrogen peroxide problems

When Should You Bring Your Dog To The Vet For Limping?

You can take your dog to the vet for both light and serious limping. Minor wounds can be home-treated, but when your dog’s mobility is severely compromised, and he’s in clear distress, then it’s time to reach out to a vet, and fast. Dogs are highly mobile, and the more he continues limping, the further he aggravates his wounds, which can lead to permanent lameness.

How Should You Transport An Injured Dog?

Transporting an injured dog depends on its size. Small breed dogs are easy to carry and can be easily placed into carriers for safe transport. Large limping dogs, however, need extra attention. It is advisable to use a stretcher or a firm flat object in case you do not have a stretcher on standby.

For a dog limping on front leg, always keep his head approximately 30% higher than the rear. But if you’re short on transporting options, call your veterinarian to seek alternative ways to move your dog depending on the wound. 

Reasons veterinarian give why paws are bleeding

Frequently Asked Questions

What will the vet do for a limping dog?

A vet will help a limping dog recover. Besides recovery, vets also help to prevent the development of further complications of aggravating the primary wound. Moreover, a vet will conduct professional tests and x rays to determine the extent of the injuries, which is vital when your dog is limping on back leg.

Will a dog’s sprained leg heal on its own?

Yes, a dog’s sprained leg can heal on its own without visiting a vet. However, you’ll need to help him out by providing vet-prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs, applying ice to soothe the area, and allowing ample rest. Sprained legs aren’t as severe as fractures, and your dog can easily overcome if you understand how to treat a limping dog at home.

Can I ease my dog’s pain at home?

Yes, you can ease your dog’s pain at home as long as you know the source and extent of the wound. Downplaying conditions such as joint disorders and arthritis can lead to fatal outcomes such as permanent disability. 

But for scratches and sprains, you can provide treatment without the assistance of any veterinary care. Carefully place a bandage or a clean cloth on bruising and other open injuries. The familiar home environment should help him heal faster to the treatments and overcome his illness.

Why is my dog limping on his back leg but not in pain?

A dog limping but without pain is often a sign of discomfort and can be indicative of an underlying condition that needs further attention. If the limping persists for more than a day or two, you should take him to the vet for a professional examination.


The sight of a limping dog is often scary, especially when he is in pain and distress. While this might lead to worry and panic, it’s important to put on a brave face and check on the cause or source of pain.

Remember, the longer you wait before taking action when your dog is limping, the higher the chances of permanent lameness. As such, you’ll need to examine the affected limb, check for cuts, tears, bruises, and even fractures to determine the extent of the injury.

For light wounds, you can provide home treatment provided you’re careful enough. Your pup will need a lot of rest to recover from the muscle strain. As part of your treatment plan, you’ll also need to rub ice on the injured part and give him veterinary medicine.

If the injury is serious and leading to significant discomfort, you’ll need to contact a vet to relieve your dog’s pain. And as you plan to transport your injured four-legged family member to the vet, remember to handle him with care lest you exacerbate his injury.

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