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Why is my dog limping?

May 20, 2020

There are several reasons why a dog may limp. Some of the most common causes are sprains, trauma, ligament disease, or osteoarthritis. A dog's bones and joints are vulnerable to breaks, dislocations, sprains, and strains just like their humans’. Any dog limping front or back leg is cause for concern. Dog owners should remember that even though lameness is painful, it is not a disease. It is a symptom of an injury or illness. As soon as you notice your dog is limping, it is time to be proactive and determine what is causing the limp. The first thing to do is examine your dog to determine if the situation is an emergency. Not all limping means that your dog needs to see a veterinarian immediately, it all depends on the severity of the limp.

Perform an Examination

Observe for a few minutes to see where the dog is licking and then gently examine that spot. Be aware of any cuts or bruises on the leg or foot, and then look for any swelling. Check the paw pads for a foreign object or a bleeding wound. Watch for signs of pain when a joint is forced to move. Clean any wound with soap and water and apply antiseptic. If limping continues or worsens when weight is applied, it could indicate something more serious. In this case, it is time to consult a veterinarian for a complete physical examination. A dog sprained leg is extremely painful, but probably will not show up on an X-ray. The veterinarian will pay careful attention to the dog limping front or back leg, perform blood tests and take X-rays.

Signs that Emergency Care is Needed

If your dog is displaying signs of possible trauma or is in severe pain, do not wait to see a veterinarian right away. Some signs that may indicate a major problem are:

  • A temperature over 103.5 F.
  • Sudden inability to get up or move.
  • Extreme pain accompanied by trembling or whining.
  • Obvious fracture or broken bone.
  • Paralyzed limbs.
  • Swelling or redness of joints.


Dog limping front or back leg is indicative of a possible sprain. A dog sprained leg is a common injury that causes limping and pain. If your dog is limping on a front paw or the ankle appears to be swollen, the issue may be a front leg injury. Front ankles are especially vulnerable to falls or other traumatic events. If limping comes on suddenly and is accompanied by limited mobility, a sprain may be to blame. Persistent limping may be a sign of something more serious. A veterinarian should examine your dog to rule out bone degeneration or other problems.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament

If your dog begins to limp suddenly or gradually over a short period, torn ligament, also known as Cranial Cruciate Ligament, may be to blame. Cranial Cruciate Ligament is the proper name for this canine disease; however, it is most commonly known as ACL as that is the name of the ligament in humans. Back leg lameness occurs in dogs when the ACL tears. Dogs that suffer from torn ligament limp because pain occurs when weight is placed on the leg. Years of stress may cause ACL tears in older dogs resulting in a limp.

Which Dogs are Most Vulnerable to ACL

Any dog can suffer from ACL tears, but certain ones are more susceptible than others are.

There are factors that make some dogs more vulnerable to this damage:

  • Older dogs over five years of age
  • Dogs who only get exercise periodically
  • Overweight dogs
  • Large dog breeds such as Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds

How is ACL Diagnosed?

A veterinarian can diagnose ACL tears through a variety of manipulations. Many use the tibial compression test to determine if there is a tear. It is almost certain that a tear has taken place if the tibia moves forward when the vet holds the foot while flexing the ankle. Taking X-rays of the knees and hips can eliminate other factors that might be causing the limping such as arthritis or a fracture. All of these health issues can cause pain that leads to limping. Once an ACL tear is confirmed, the veterinarian will decide how to proceed with treatment. There are several treatment options to consider.

Possible Courses of Treatment

Sometimes a ligament tear can heal itself with rest and confinement. Any dog suffering from a ligament tear should not exercise or jump up. Injured dogs should avoid stairs and be taken to the bathroom on a leash. Short walks are recommended to help speed healing. Some natural supplements can be used to help heal an ACL tear if crate rest and limiting exercise do not produce noticeable improvement in 24 to 48 hours. Natural supplements can be used to help relieve pain and build cartilage. Even though dog ACL surgery is not the answer for all dogs, it is proven to get dogs back to normal after a short healing period.

Do Dogs Need Surgery to Completely Recover from ACL?

According to most veterinarians, dog ACL surgery is encouraged for most animals with torn ACLs, as they know that several things happen when a ligament tear occurs. The pain is so severe that your dog avoids using that leg, which can lead to muscle atrophy. Because of inactivity, your dog tends to gain weight, which puts more pressure on the joints causing even more pain. Animal surgeons want pet parents to understand that surgery can fix an ACL tear.

It is critical for your dog's well-being to consider all options before deciding on the proper treatment for an ACL tear. The overall success rate for surgery is between 85-90 percent for most dogs. They usually recover completely after surgery and rehabilitation in about two to four months. Regardless of whether you decide on surgery or an alternate treatment, a dog will recover much faster with proper nutrition and physical therapy. All dogs can benefit from supplements that strengthen joints and help speed the healing process with or without surgery.


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