Your dog is limping? [4 Causes & Instant Solutions]

When your dog is lame and has a limp, it is a shock at first. What has happened and how bad is it? Do I need to go to the vet immediately or can I administer first aid myself? We answer these questions and more in this article. We have also sought advice for this article from veterinarian Emin Jasarevic for this article.

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Table of Contents

In this article I will show you what causes limping and how you should proceed. Thus, you can support your faithful friend more targeted and faster.

Step 1: The initial situation

If your dog drags his leg, walks very stiffly or sometimes finds it difficult to stand up, there is usually a reason for this. This also applies if he stops in front of a staircase, limps or no longer wants to jump into the car. 

The gait changes and possibly also the behavior patterns. Irritability or aggression are signs of this.

Other clues would be if he:

  • has problems performing with one paw
  • Suffers muscle cramps in the thigh or hind foot
  • His movement patterns are generally not as sweeping as before
  • When running particularly tightens one leg
  • One leg unloaded and walking on toes in front (three-legged walking)
  • One leg is no longer used in the gait and holds this in the air to the side of itself
  • Experienced a tragic event such as a fall down stairs or other accident
  • About shaky legs has
  • Swollen joints or muscles has
  • Suddenly has board hard muscles, just on the leg and abdomen
  • When sitting or lying down, does not pull one leg under the body, but extends it away from oneself

Some dogs are good at covering up or ignoring injuries. For example, he may only limp intermittently and hide it as soon as he realizes he is being watched.

As soon as you notice any of these irregularities and behaviors in your charge, it is important to determine the cause.

Step 2: Determine cause

There are several reasons why your pet is limping and lame. Therefore, the second step is to determine what caused this limp. In this way, it will be possible to determine which treatment is the right one.

1. age-related causes of lameness

Intermittent limping in the growth phase of a young dog is observed again and again. The reason for this is the growth spurts. 

Lameness can also be age-related in an older dog. An example of this would be degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). 

Generally, your furry nose becomes more susceptible to diseases and also to lameness in old age. Wear and tear of joints and cartilage as well as problems with the spine are the reason for this.

2. overexertion/ minor injuries

Another cause may be that your faithful companion is overtaxed by sport. This is especially true for young dogs. He may have suffered a slight strain or sore muscles. But bursitis or tendonitis is also possible.  

This can be caused, for example, by unaccustomed side walking on a long bike ride. 

Just like us humans, your pet can also fall over. If he steps into a hole or lands incorrectly when jumping over an obstacle. This can result in a sprain, dislocation or even a pulled tendon. Muscle strains and joint problems can also be caused by an overstretched, torn or ruptured cruciate ligament. 

During a walk in the city, your furry companion can get a foreign object in their paws. These can be small stones, glass splinters or insect bites in the paw pads. The paw must therefore be examined carefully. 

A small piece of glass in particular is difficult to detect and must be removed at all costs. An incorrect diagnosis can result in a limp for weeks.

3. more serious injuries as the cause

Serious accidents can of course also be the cause of lameness. Torn tendons and muscles, broken bones and problems with the spine. Caused by a fall or incorrect landing after a jump. 

But joint or bruising and also nerve damage can be consequences. Contusion (severe bruising caused by external force) can also be responsible. In this case, blood and tissue water get into the surrounding tissue.

4. overweight

To keep your pet healthy and full of life, it is important to pay attention to their diet. Being overweight can also have consequences for their movements and therefore their legs. Joint capsule injuries or joint problems, especially in the shoulder or elbow area, are the result of too much weight.

5. organ disorders or genetics

Organ disorders or genetic diseases can be other causes of lameness. These include malignant tumors, muscle atrophy or elbow dysplasia (growth disorders in a young dog).


Step 3: Determine the degree of lameness

The terms limping and limping are colloquial. Lameness, on the other hand, comes from veterinary medicine and is a scientifically defined term. It describes a disorder of the gait, which can be divided into individual degrees:

1st degree lameness: Your dog's gait is only slightly disturbed. The lameness is only just visible to an experienced examiner.

2nd degree lameness: Your dog's gait is visibly disturbed. It is a minor but always clearly recognizable lameness. However, the affected leg is still used for locomotion.

3rd degree lameness: Your dog's gait is clearly disturbed. The affected leg is partially no longer used for locomotion. It is a moderate, clearly recognizable lameness with compensatory movements from front to back and vice versa.

4th degree lameness: Your dog's gait is severely disturbed. It is a high-grade lameness with compensatory movements from front to back and vice versa (i.e. the dog shows strong movement of the head or croup). The affected leg can just about bear weight.

5th degree lameness: Your dog's gait is severely impaired. When walking or trotting, the limb is only loaded at the tip of the toe (i.e. claw) or not at all. The dog moves around hopping on 3 legs.

As soon as there is a disorder of one leg, other parts of the body are subjected to greater strain. Among them are other joints and also the spine. Especially with 4th or 5th degree lameness, consequential damage can occur.

Immediate action

If your pet has a slight strain or muscle soreness, these bruises will quickly be a thing of the past after the initial care. However, as soon as his gait pattern changes for a longer period of time, it becomes more serious. How you can recognize this, I have already provided at the beginning of this article.

1. take the wind out of your sails and go into overdrive.

As soon as you notice a change in the gait pattern, it is important to take it easy on your pet. That means first of all little movement and also no run. Only walk on a leash. 

If the damage is worse, a torn cruciate ligament, for example, can tear off completely. It is therefore important to avoid worse injuries.

2. touch it carefully

No one knows your pet better than you do. For this reason, you should also check whether your faithful companion has suffered any injuries. 

It is important to identify external injuries and treat them if necessary. Always watch out for pain reactions from your furry friend.

  • Check if he has kicked something between his paws or toes - no claw should be forgotten (also wolf claw!)
  • Search it closely for thorns and broken glass. These are often difficult to see and can be very deep in the paw pads
  • Check for tears or sores on the paw pads
  • Check for a tick bite or possibly even a snake bite (This is especially true if you are traveling with your pet exclusively in rural areas).
  • Palpate the joints and check if they are swollen 
  • This also applies to the muscles and, if necessary, the lymph nodes
  • If the restriction of movement has occurred due to athletic strain, carefully check whether a muscle massage will help
  • Move each of the joints individually - slowly and carefully, always watching for pain reactions 
  • Symptoms of paralysis and coordination problems, as well as an unsteady gait, may indicate an acute spinal problem.

3. further measures

Lameness or limping is not a disease. It is a symptom, by which a disturbance of the health becomes noticeable. For this reason, it is not the limp that must be combated, but the actual cause. 

So as soon as you come across a point that causes your four-legged friend pain, it's time to take a closer look. This also applies to body parts that are different than they should be. 

If your quadruped has problems with paw palpation, you should investigate further in this direction. This also applies to claw injuries. For example, if a claw is torn off or torn.

  • If possible, clean the paw and if foreign bodies have entered, remove them. 
  • Disinfect paw with disinfectant spray.
  • Shorten the fur if necessary
In case of a fall, a wild romp or a misstep into a hole, you should check whether there is a bone fracture. An X-ray is needed for a 100% diagnosis if the fracture is not clearly visible. If you suspect a fracture, you should take the following measures:
  • To prevent the injury from getting worse, keep your dog calm.
  • Immobilize and stabilize the broken limb.
  • Immediately contact or order a veterinarian.
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IMPORTANT: In case of an open fracture you should pay attention to the following!

  • Calm your pet so the injury doesn't get any worse.
  • An open fracture must not be splinted under any circumstances! 
  • Protect the wound from dirt with a sterile dressing and a light bandage.
  • Heavy bleeding must be treated at all costs! - If possible, stop the bleeding with a pressure bandage. To do this, cover the wound with a sterile fleece and apply pressure so that no more blood escapes. 
  • Last but not least, your dog needs to see a vet as soon as possible.
  • In addition to a bone fracture, there may be other damage that is not even visible from the outside. Therefore, a deterioration of the condition must be expected and the dog must always be monitored.

When should I go to the vet?

In case of doubt or after a serious accident you should always visit your vet! If the limping and limping two days after occurrence is not yet over, then of course. This also applies if the lameness occurs repeatedly.

What information is helpful to your veterinarian?

  1. When could you first notice the limp and limping?
  2. What could be the cause? What events or activities preceded it?
  3. Has your dog had problems with lameness in the past?
  4. How long are the phases of this restriction? (hours, days, weeks)
  5. Did your dog start limping right after the event or did this start later in the process?
  6. You should also have other data and information about your dog ready, such as:
    • Age
    • Injuries and illnesses in the past
    • Diagnoses and documents from previous examinations (if available)
    • Furthermore, it is advantageous to know whether your dog comes from the Mediterranean region or Southeastern Europe or has been there recently. For example, on vacation? - Suspicion of Mediterranean diseases

Frequently Asked Questions

Limping in a dog can have many causes. They can be harmless or serious. They range from minor bruises or sprains to bone fractures, inflammation or arthritis. 

Depending on the severity of your dog's limp, you must also react. If your dog limps barely noticeable and stops after a short time, you should only observe him more closely for the time being. If he is limping very badly and shows clear signs of pain, you should immobilize him and consult a veterinarian.

If your dog has an open fracture, be sure to calm him down, hold him still, and keep him from hurting himself more. Cover the fracture to protect it from contamination and apply a tourniquet if it is bleeding profusely. Then take your dog to the vet immediately.

If the limping doesn't stop after two days, gets worse, and is compounded by other symptoms like fever, you should take your dog to the vet immediately.

Observe your dog very closely. Examine his lame leg and paw for injuries or foreign objects. Gently and carefully palpate it. Also check his claws. If he is sensitive, you can locate the injured area.

Veterinarian’s Recommendation

Who loves and appreciates his dog, also knows him best. This means that any change, no matter how small, is detected immediately. 

This also applies to the movements during locomotion. So as soon as you notice that your protégé moves differently than usual or he feels pain when walking, you should examine him immediately. 

Which parts of the body are affected and are there any external injuries? Then determine what could be the cause of this behavior. How did this injury occur? 

If the limping does not subside after two days and your examination does not yield any results, you should consult a veterinarian. In case of doubt, you can do this immediately.

Veterinarian Emin Jasarevic
Veterinarian Emin Jasarevic

I am a veterinarian and writer on animal health topics. Animals are my passion, and it is my personal goal to create medically accurate articles and videos to educate pet owners as much as possible.

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