There are some key signs of a healthy, happy dog. A shiny coat, clean teeth and a good gait are to name a few. In fact, running, jumping or frolicking around is important doggie behavior. A limping dog, favoring one foot over the other, or trying to avoid walking at all, is a clear indicator that something is wrong. The causes could be transient, i.e short term or quick healing like a sprain. Or they could be a serious disorder or disease, which could affect the dog's health and even life. Injuries to a dog's legs should never be ignored, and below are some transient and severe causes of limping in dogs, to look out for.
Benign Causes of Limping
The following disorders cause short-term or temporary lameness in dogs.
Soft Tissue Trauma
Sprains, pulled muscles or strained ligaments are sudden and accidental causes of limping in dogs. Playing roughly, overexertion or jumping and falling incorrectly, can cause a ruptured ligament. A bone fracture can be caused by a car accident, where the dog is hit, or if the dog falls from a great height. Fractures can occur in the leg, elbow or hip and can be mild or severe. A few days of rest are needed in soft tissue trauma cases. But if the limping persists 48 hours after the accident, then an x-ray is needed to show the extent of damage, and then proper medication can be prescribed. Do not ignore this sort of limping, as an ignored mild fracture could lead to a chronic limping dog.
This is predominant among the toy dog breeds (Chihuahuas, Pomeranians) but occurs in large and medium-sized breeds to a lesser extent. The kneecap moves from its original position, to the inner side of the knee and the leg gets locked. Most of the time, the muscles in the hind legs should relax and stretch, for the kneecap to go back to its original location. So the dog limps, to allow stretching of the muscle to occur.
Cuts or Lacerations
Cuts on the paws can be caused by stepping on sharp objects, (glass pieces) or skidding on the sidewalk. If the cut is small, wash it out with warm water and apply an ointment. Wrap a gauze bandage around the area, as a dog will lick off the ointment if uncovered. The paws must remain dry until the cut has healed. If the cut is very deep or severe, please consult a veterinarian, as sutures or antibiotics may be needed.
A dog's paws should be checked for thorns and stickers. E.g. grass sandspurs are one of the common causes of limping, especially in canines residing in southern parts of America. Insect bites, seeds, burrs, dried mud and matted fur (especially in hairy breeds) are another common cause. Be careful while removing the object, do not pull hard, as the skin between your dog's toes might get torn. Once removed, the wound rarely gets infected.
Overgrown or large toenails can cause dog limping, as the nails can break and expose skin underneath. This is a fractured nail. Very active dogs can wear down their toenails from running around on hard surfaces like cement sidewalks. The trick is to be careful when you cut your dog's nails. Do not cut them too short, for an active dog can wear them out. Do not allow toenails to grow long, as this is a health risk for both you and the dog. If the toenails are very overgrown, take your dog to a veterinarian, as a mild surgical procedure is required.
Young dogs, between 5 - 14 months of age, are prone to this bone disease. It lasts between 2 - 5 months but in some cases, 18 months. Its main symptom is limping, either on the front or back leg. It is fairly common in large breeds, like German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and Dobermans. The cause of this disease is unknown. X-rays are used for diagnosis and mild exercise and painkillers are prescribed to help ease the pain. There is no additional treatment, as time passes, the limping eases and stops.
An inflammation between a dog's toes, caused by trauma, irritants, a foreign body or tick bites. It appears as a swelling or lump that could ooze pus or may need draining. Long-term antibiotics and medical attention is required to aid the healing process.
Serious Causes of Limping
The following diseases seriously affect a dog's health and their effects may be permanent. Some are genetic or breed-based and some are infections.
Lyme Disease (Borreliosis)
A tick-borne, bacterial disease, which is prevalent in both humans and dogs. Dogs in 48 states of the U.S.A have been diagnosed with Lyme disease, whose key symptom is recurrent limping in dogs, due to swollen joints.
Limping in dogs is a major symptom of abnormal growth or development of the hip area. With hip dysplasia, the "ball and socket" arrangement of the hip is irregular. Normally, the ball fits firmly into the socket, allowing for frictionless smooth motion. But with dysplasia, the socket is not deep enough and the ball fits loosely. This hinders the dog, while moving, sitting or standing and he compensates for the unsightly gait, by limping.
Leg bone tumors give rise to a bone cancer disease called osteosarcomas. Its exact cause is unknown but it is commonly observed in large breed dogs, so it could be linked to rapid early growth and large weight on the bones. It is the most common type of bone cancer and an estimated 8000 dogs are diagnosed with this cancer, each year. Melanocytic Tumors and Digital Squamous Cell Carcinoma are two other tumor causes of limping in dogs.
This is an orthopedic disease, prevalent among young, large-breed dogs, like Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers and Rottweilers. Osteochondrosis (OC) is a genetic defect, where an extra flap or loose piece of cartilage is developed instead of bone. Due to this, bone and cartilage fragments are created in the joints and extra regions of cartilage exist. A bone is more capable of handling stress and movement than cartilage, so this sort of replacement causes "wear and tear" in dogs. Its first and common symptom is limping, in either or both legs.
A thorough physical examination of a dog is carried out first, to determine the cause of limping. Blood and urine analysis are also conducted. Because there are a variety of causes, a veterinarian will try to narrow down the area of lameness, whether it is a skeletal, nervous or metabolic problem. Treatment options vary according to the cause. Owners of large sized breeds should be careful with genetic disorders. A very active and agile dog is more prone to leg injuries and hence, check for any changes in behavior and movement traits.