Why Is My Dog Limping? Causes And Treatments

Why Is My Dog Limping
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

It is not unusual for pets to start limping all of a sudden, however, sometimes such sudden lameness can go away within a week, but sometimes it can be a sign that something is seriously wrong with your dog’s health. That is why it is important to visit the vet as soon as possible and determine the cause for lameness. If your dog starts avoiding putting his weight on a limb or you notice that he is not moving as much as before, that means that it is probably because of the limping.

The reason for such lameness can be because of a paw injury which is the most common cause; however, it could even be because of a urinary incontinence or spinal cord injury. In any case, you should be prepared beforehand to notice the difference in behavior because some dogs tend to endure pain which can result in even worse condition later on. You know your dog’s habits and behavior the best and it is up to you to see and prevent any pain caused to your beloved furry friend.

Dog limping right front leg

This article will provide you with some basic guidance to some of the most common causes and treatments for a dog’s limping and lameness.

Determine the injured limb

The first thing that you need to do when you notice your dog limping is to determine how bad it is. That means that you should determine which limb is injured and whether the cause for limping is the injury or it is more serious. Firstly, after noticing something suspicious, watch your dog walk or move around. In that case a dog would put his weight on the healthy limb while avoiding standing on its injured limb.

You can also identify this by looking at your dog’s head – if his head and neck are more upward, it means that one of the front limbs is injured. But if it is one of the hind limbs, then his hips will drop when he moves and walks. After you determine the injured limb(s), you must examine it. Check out the toes and the paw. This kind of examination will tell you how the dog responds when applying pressure. Hip injury can be debilitating, so read our article on how to help your pooch with joint impairment to ease his pain.

Dog leg checking

Toes – First you must check the dog’s toenails, because the reason for pain could be a cracking or splitting. Just like with humans, if a nail is split, the exposed sensitive tissue and blood vessels can be very painful. These cracks or splits usually do not require a vet’s intervention, however, if a toe is broken or if the wound has got infected, then that means that you must go to the vet immediately. You should examine each toe individually and touch or squeeze it so you can see the dog’s reaction.

WebbingSecondly, you must examine the soft skin which connects each toe. That space between toes can stretch and it comes in handy when it comes to swimming, for example. But it can also get easily sliced up by various sharp objects on the surface such as rocks, thorns etc. A limp should resolve after removing these objects, however, if the cause for limping is some kind of mass, cyst or infection, then going to the vet is a must, because only the vet can inspect it properly.

Pads – Each dog has six protective pads on his front paws and five pads on his hind paws. They are usually thicker than the usual dog’s skin; however, they can be easily sliced up and injured, just like the webbing. Even though these pads are hardened and they consist of keratin, they can easily become too dry; develop warts, get irritated or too hard etc. This means that you should not skip checking them because they can be also a cause for limping.

JointsThere are many joints in a dog’s body, however, there are three major joints in the front limb (the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder). The ankle, knee and hip are in the hind legs. You can check each of these joints by applying a light pressure on them and watching for your dog’s reaction. Increase the pressure to make sure that the joint is okay. You can also examine the joint by lifting the limb and moving it slowly.

Healty joint

Bones – Your dog’s body consists of 321 bones. If your dog has got one of them bruised or fractures, that is enough for him to start limping. Look for any signs of swelling, bleeding or deformity. You can examine them in the same way as joints. If you notice anything suspicious, visiting the vet is a must!

If you have not found a cut, sprained ankle, injured paw or anything else that you can treat by yourself, then you are probably dealing with a more serious injury, disease or trauma. This is the point when taking your dog to the vet is a priority.

Other possible causes

If there is no sign of minor injuries such as the ones mentioned above, then the cause may be related to your dog’s age. It is not unusual for younger dogs (the ones of less than 18 months of age) to develop sudden lameness due to the congenital conditions. It is also important to make a distinction between an immediate and gradual lameness.

The immediate lameness happens suddenly, and it can range from very simple causes such as the ones mentioned above (cuts, splits, fractures, wounds, splinters etc) or they can happen due to dangerous conditions such as the decay of the discs in the spine. Other causes can be ticks, genetic diseases, allergy etc.

If your dog develops lameness gradually, that means that the cause is a progressive disease, which is the most dangerous condition. That includes arthritis and cancer. That means that you should react the very first moment you notice something wrong about your pet.

Injury causes

  • Sprains and strains: These kinds of injuries are the most common, especially when it comes to active dogs that run and move a lot. As we mentioned before, you can notice the change in behavior when you examine the joints and bones and the way your dog movies his head or hip. In that case you should apply a wild cloth to the injury, but carefully watch it, and if the dog keeps showing signs of pain, take him to the vet.
  • Paw injuries: These injuries, also called lacerations, can be very painful and you will know that it is this kind of injury if your dog keeps licking the wound. If it is not treated, it can become infected which will result in the wound becoming red, warm and tender. In severe cases you can notice even pus coming out from the wound. The pain in the paw and limb will worsen too.
  • Bone fractures: Your doggie can badly hurt his limbs if he gets into an accident, so you should always take care of him and walk him on leash in urban areas. Bone fractures are also very common causes in dog limping cases. A bone fracture should be treated only by the vet.
  • Dislocations: If your dog falls from somewhere or gets hit by a car, a dislocation can happen which results in severe pain that your pet will barely handle. He probably won’t put any weight on the injured limb and you can even notice a slight deformity caused by the injury. Just like with broken bones, only a vet can treat it, so take you dog immediately to the vet.
  • Ruptured ligament: A ruptured ligament in the stifle joint or a knee joint is also a common injury that results in a dog limping. This can often happen to young and very active and energetic dogs that jump and move a lot. A ruptured ligament usually heals after a couple of days of rest; however, it can come back if not treated properly or if the dog starts moving a lot without a rest. Just like humans, it can cause trouble later, so it should not be taken lightly.
  • Spinal cord injuries: Car accidents, falls or gunshot wounds are the most common causes for a dog limping. Your dog would probably suffer from a lot of pain in his neck and back, and he can even develop urinary problems. Taking your pet to the vet is a must in this case, because the severity of the injury can turn into something even worse. And you would not want your dog to become paralyzed.

Non-injury causes

When it comes to non-injury cases, the causes can be various diseases, and most of them are either genetic or too severe, so the treatments are needed. However, it is important to know that the sooner you find out the cause, it will be easier for your dog and you and there is always more hope.

  • Inherited bone and joint diseases: Young and middle-aged dogs are usually the ones affected by these diseased. They are accompanied by the swelling on the legs and some of the examples of inherited bone and joint diseases are hip dysplasia (which is a common cause of front leg lameness), elbow dysplasia (a common cause of front-leg lameness), and panosteitis («pano» or commonly called wandering lameness because the pain and lameness shift from one limb to another over the course of several weeks or months.)
  • Degenerative joint disease: is also called arthritis or osteoarthritis, and this type of joint diseases is common in older dogs. Nowadays there are special medications and drugs that can help dogs and relieve them of pain, but the limping usually gets worse when the dog improves or walks around. Arthritic pain is burdensome, so read our article on this agonizing illness to find out more.
  • Bone tumors: or osteosarcomas tends to occur more often in large-breed dogs. These tumors are accompanied by firm masses or swelling with or without signs of inflammation. If you press on them, they can cause varying degrees of pain. Depending on the condition, a surgery can save your dog’s life, but sometimes the chemotherapy and other treatments are needed. Our complete information on canine bone cancer can add more insight to this condition.
  • Hypothyroidism: This kind of condition can cause rather severe pain in joints. If your dog is limping, and is also showing some other symptoms typical in hypothyroidism (e.g. skin problems, hair loss, weight gain), ask your vet to check the dog’s thyroid hormone level.
  • Lyme disease: is transmitted through the bite of a tick infected by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and it can cause your dog to start limping. One or more joints can become swollen and become very painful to your touch. This kind of lameness may last for a few days. However, sometimes the limping will become chronic and will last for months. Some of the other symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, appetite loss, weight loss and lethargy. Our guide on Lyme disease can be an eye-opener for you, so take time to read it.


Depending on the severity of your dog’s injury or condition, you should first check for the cause, but if you are unsure or when you finally find out what is causing pain, take your pet immediately to the vet. If you are not sure what to do if your dog is limping even in mild cases, then you should know that you can apply a wet cloth to the joint to reduce the inflammation.

However, if the inflamed area does not go away, then you should switch to the warm cloth and take the dog to the vet. In other cases, if a dog is large, you should carry him to the car or cradle him while carrying him.

If the cause of the limping is an allergy or a bite by some animal or insect, you should also take your dog to the vet, because applying the medication on your own can worsen the symptoms. The same goes for ticks – you should not try to get them out by yourself, especially if you are not experienced. Flea control is key, so our article on tick and parasite prevention is a must read.

Treating dog limp

After you take the dog to the vet, he or she will then proceed with a diagnosis which can be determined by a simple physical examination, or in more complicated cases, by the use of X-rays, MRI or CT scans or surgery. Other tests include: taking a history (asking questions about the history of the limping), doing a dermatologic (check for the presence of lesions on the dog’s skin), musculoskeletal (test the muscle mass), neurologic (to test whether the nervous system is functioning properly) and laboratory tests (blood and urine tests).

When you finally leave the pet hospital, your vet will prescribe the medication for you to give to your dog so he can get better. That means that you need to pay more attention than before and make your dog stop chewing or scratching at the cast or bandages. This also includes monitoring your dog behavior – whether he eats, drinks, or whether there is anything suspicious in his behavior.

If you notice anything awkward, you should contact your vet immediately because that may be a sign that the medications do not work. You should also avoid stairs and slippers floors, and keep your pet on the leash when you take him out to relieve himself.

You should contact the vet immediately if you notice:

  • Any unusual swelling of the dog’s limb or surgical site;
  • Any skin rashes or sores caused by the pressure (blistered or raw areas);
  • Any unusual smells or leakages from the surgical site;

All of these are signs that something is really wrong so you should not ignore them.

Additionally, the vets usually recommend the so called “cage rest”. This means that you should keep your dog in an appropriately sized box or cage to restrict his activity so he would not injure himself more. This can be very difficult for both you and your pet; however, you should know that if the vet recommends it, then it is of utmost importance to do so. Otherwise, your dog can injure himself more and end up in a worse condition than before. Crate training your adult dog is possible by following some simple guidelines that we’ve listed down in previous article.

If you want to make this easier for him, then you should keep him occupied with the toys he likes and an occasional treat that he adores. You can also pamper your doggie by giving him daily grooming and cuddling and you should not forget to turn on the radio or TV when nobody is at home so he does not feel lonely. Putting his cage or box in a high-traffic area of the house/apartment so he can be part of the household’s activities is another option. Choosing the right toy to keep your dog busy is one of our popular articles that you must read.

Injured dog in crate

To sum up, it is never a good sign if your beloved furry friend is limping. However, you do not have to panic because the cause can be as simple as a cut or irritation, but you must always be careful and check your dog’s body carefully. This article provided you with a simple guide to the most common causes and diseases that can result in dog lameness. Some of them are not serious, but some of them are very severe and can result in your dog losing his life.  Keeping your pooch healthy is possible and you can do so by reading our past article on the subject.

That is why it is up to you, as your dog’s master and his closest friend, to always watch him and take care of him.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Amy Chase

    While we didn’t explicitly panic when our pooch began limping all of a sudden (a few months ago), we did become very worried once a week of treatment (anti-inflammatory), a couple of x-rays, and pampering went by and our pooch’s walk was still barely more than a limp. After a few more weeks of puzzlement and slowly escalating anxiety on our part, our vet came to the sound conclusion that our pooch has a torn ligament somewhere in his hips. This was what was causing our pooch’s mysterious limp and what did NOT come up on the x-ray. Lesson learned. After a few more weeks of discouraged strenuous activity, out dog was alright. Thankfully. Any advice for future situations?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Having a torn ligament is a common reason for a limping dog. What makes it an unsuspecting diagnosis is that limping is often associated with sprain or worse, broken bones. At the first sight of limping, have a quick consult with the vet.

  • Paul

    I had a dachshund a few years ago that starting limping as well. As it went on he became completely paralyzed. We were told that it is common with those kind of dogs, because of their backs. I now have a very fit and strong small dachshund — how to I prevent the same thing from happening to her?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Back problems in Dachshunds are fairly common, and the extent of the problem varies from mild to serious and requires surgical intervention. I don’t think there is a prevention for this, but early detection is possible by routine appointments with the veterinarian.

  • Benjamin

    I also heard that Dachshunds are especially susceptible to limping and back problems. So because I am a dachshund owner I have been checking my dog every day… Should I be worried if she limps after having slept for a while? It seems that she recovers shortly there after, but is this normal?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Dachschunds are prone to skeletal problems in general because of their anatomical structure. They have long horizontal bodies and short legs which is carrying the heavy bulk of their body. This is why the occurrence of back and leg problems are quite frequent.

  • Carol Newton

    My 11year old Schnauzer has developed a lime to her left front leg. As soon as she walks on firm ground,whether gravel or a less abrasive situation. She has no problem walking on Grass or carpeted areas. What should I do please.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      You can check for small injuries around its paws. As grassy and carpeted areas provide cushion unlike firm ground or rough gravel, it might be an injured leg which is causing the limping.

  • Ricardo Duckworth

    our pit/lab got scratched on her hind leg while playing with another dog that had a stick in its mouth at the beach its just a small abrasion she was fine in the Beginning only limping slightly now she wont put any pressure on it. we’ve checked her toes webbing paws and leg. we massaged her leg and she didn’t show any discomfort. could she just be afraid to put pressure on it because of the stinging pain you get when you have a scratch on your skin?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Yes, Ricardo. I believe your dog is still sensitive to apply pressure on the affected leg. It will eventually regain its composure and confidence to fully utilize the affected leg after a few weeks.

  • Andrew Furzer

    We have an eight year old working cocker spaniel who is very fit, lean and very active. He come running with me across country and most of the time he is off the lead.

    About 6 weeks ago he suddenly couldn’t walk properly on his back legs and couldn’t stand properly and we took him to the vets who thought he had hurt his back in the same way we can do, he gave him pain killers and sugested full rest.

    Within a few days he fully recovered and at his check up the vet was happy but keep an eye on it

    Over the last weekend and following a day of lots of walking (over rough ground and in the local stream) he was reluctant to put his front paw on the ground properly and kept licking between the pads.We checked the pad and saw nothing then we soaked the paw in salt water. He did have gentle walk and was let off the lead for a short time. He was as lively as normal but had a slight limp.

    The strange thing was that the following day the limp just dissappeared and he has been OK since.

    Is there a relationship between the back leg problem and the front left paw?

    Andrew Furzer

    • Wyatt Robinson

      This is an interesting case of an unidentified injury that took its course by itself, Andrew. The painkillers helped in a way that the undetermined swelling or strain was relieved. You have a very resilient dog I can say, and I am glad that he is okay now.

  • Jennifer Windisch-Novakovic

    my dog is a 2 year old pointer mix when he was 8 months old he bunny hopped in the snow and hurt his back left leg hip area took him to the doctor they said he had hurt his muscle and gave him antinflamatories it got better the following winter he hopped in the snow again and hurt the same leg again from over doing it they gave him antinflamatories and told me to put him on glucosamine and fish oil he got somewhat better .he is now 2 1/2 years old and as soon as he runs to much he aggravates that same leg .i took him to the vet they gave him antinflamatories and tramadol for pain hes still limping and gaurding hi s leg he walks tippy toed sometimes he puts the footdown .im trying to rest him as much as possibble.what could this be hes a very active dog and this comes and goes with him what do i do from this point we are so worried thank you any help would be apppreciated

    • Do you have the dog on a strong joint supplement and anti inflammatory herbs?

      • Jennifer Windisch-Novakovic

        We took our dog back to the veterinarian and they diagnosed him as having hip dysplasia in his left hip which is severe and osteoarthritis osteoarthritis in his left me his right hip has hip dysplasia and as well not as severe the vet placed him on deramax and tramadol and he’s also on Cosaquin and fish oil tablets . What type of inflammatory oils would’ you recommend he’s a young active dog he’s on 2 1/2 years old . We Are looking into cold laser therapy and possibly acupuncture and aquatic therapy any help you could give us would be appreciated thank you

        • I recommend a strong anti-inflammatory herb mix DC-Y made by MVP.. also a strong joint supplement (actiflex for horses-also called actiflex 4000). both that i recommend are made for horses but can be dosed for human and dogs. I highly recommend getting him on a homemade diet. Kibble is the biggest cause of joint issues, arthritis, cancer, seizures etc. Cosaquin is loaded with junk ingredients as i call them. sugar, preservatives, etc. Sugar is the body’s worst enemy. I also recommend a high quality fish oil. Iceland pure sardine and anchovy is great. Anything you buy in Walmart etc etc is all crap. most of those supplements don’t even contain half if any of what it says it does. In your case you want quality. NO GRAINS, No potatoes, etc. most of your pet foods contain either corn or potatoes. both are high in carbs ad break down into sugar. NO pet food is me. for a dog thats only 2 1/2 yrs already have serious issues…Sounds more like a German Shephard. he will also need Vit E (Dry E Succinate) three times a week with those fish oils. I highly recommend Hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic. Did your vet even mention Adequan? It is an RX. They are injections. i have two dogs myself and both are on Adequan as well. I give the injections at home to save on money. I order from Valley Vet which has the best prices. The one for horses is the same as the canine except the canine has a preservative in it for longer shelf life but the equine version is cheaper. When beginning Adequan…you will give twice a week which you will go thru quite a bit. The cost is alot the first month to maybe two months..after that..the cost drops dramatically. My vet is an ortho vet so he is the one that put my dogs on it. It saved one of my dogs life. She was in severe pain (Spondylosis) and now she is completely pain free…no meds. I do not like medications at all if i can keep from it and in most cases is possible or as needed. I have another dog with hip dysplasia, spondylosis, ACL tear and other back leg is unknown (bowed knee). I think she may have been an inbred dog. Her whole joints are a mess with possible ruptured disc or nerve damage in the spine. I did not do an MRI as it was $2500. Have you considered Hip replacement (THR)? There is also FHO or Femoral Head Ostectomy. FHO is much cheaper and seems to work pretty well. THR is very expensive and usually done by a surgeon that specializes in doing them. You can also read more on my website. Canine Arthritis and Joint. I work with more alternative methods and try to avoid medications, vaccines, heartworm preventatives, flea and tick topicals and chemicals within the home and yard. Even humans should be avoiding these. Toxic. there are at least 85,0000 chemicals out there that we are exposed too and our bodies are having to fight these daily. Can you imagine what smaller lower to the ground animals are getting? and they lick their paws. They don’t get daily baths or showers like us either. It takes work at getting healthy but…it’s worth it. Is anything thats good..ever easy? Anyway, i hope that helps you least a start. For dosing on those I’s on my website at the bottom of the page called safe recommended joint supplements.

        • ALSO, i ended up purchasing a soft brace for my dog with the ACL tear and at first i didn’t see much difference but then i started seeing a big difference. she walks much better with it. they do make them for hip dysplasia as well.

          • Jennifer Novakovic

            Thank you I will
            Look into the brace as well they said it looked like he tore or injured his acl but it healed what kind of inflammatory oils would you recommend ?

          • The fish oils I had mentioned above.

          • Jennifer Windisch-Novakovic

            Thank you I will get them for him today I cannot thank you enough for all the helpful advice we just want our boy to live a long healthy love for and keep his pain at a comfortable level

          • I totally understand and always here to help.

          • Jennifer Windisch-Novakovic

            I will definelty look into all the other supplements you mentioned he is on blue wilderness grain free diet since he was small I also cook for him chicken and sweet potatoes and beef we are going to try laser therapy and were also going to do acupuncture and we are contacting the hospital here Oradell hospital that specializes in aquatic therapy and the vet said he’s too young at this point for hip replacement they would recommend trying all these other options first and I’m deathly going to look into that shot are the Attaquin arm for him our vet had mentioned it so it can’t hurt him we want to just do everything we can to make him comfortable and make him have an a long productive and happy life he’s our baby and we love them a lot I can’t thank you enough for all the information you gave us it really does help I have lived on Paleo many years myself and I’m a firm believer in holistic medicine as well it’s saved my life I suffer from any autoimmune disorders and a diet change made a huge difference in my life so I believe all these natural supplements I will look into the fish oils and all the other recommendations you gave me and I deathly will get rid of the Xhosa Quinn if that’s not good for him I didn’t realize it had white sugars I did read about the white sugars being harmful to him but thank you for all the advice we really appreciate it so much and so does are loki boy

          • Yes my dogs have been on Adequan for 4 yrs now and it will be the life of them. They wouldnt make it without it. Give it time to work. People give up too soon. For example, my one took twice a week for two months before i finally started seeing it work. Although per manufacture, it says twice a week for 4 weeks then start to cut back. I think every dog is different and you have ot adjust it as it’s needed. Once we reached the point that i saw it working, i was then able to start the cutting once a week.. I did that for 3-4 weeks, then reduced it again to once every twice a week for a couple weeks then now we are holding at 3 weeks…winter time it can be 2 1/2 weeks. I let the dog tell me the times. Give injection, start your cutting back, then if the dog shows pain before the next recommended dosing, thats your limit. Give injection and try again on cutting back. Every dog is different and this is how you let them tell you how often they need it. Don’t give though more than twice a week like it recommends in the beginning. Adequan stays within the system for 3 days…then you need more. ONCE it gets built up in the system..thats when you can cut back..hence why you do it gradually. TIP: Remember, anytime a LIVING BEING is ill or injured, something in the body is going on. It is inflamed. It can be cancer, autoimmune etc..There is inflammation. You want to reduce that inflammation. The DC-Y I mentioned fights that inflammation. it has a great combination of herbs just for that. works great for us. I even put into capsules myself and take it. Again I recommend a homemade diet. No kibble. You can find an article on my website as to why. Good luck with your boy. I hope with you making a few changes you will see results very soon. Trial and error is what you will find most of the time.

          • Jennifer Windisch-Novakovic

            I cannot thank you enough for all you’re helpful advice he is
            Feeling better so far but I hope with the
            New treatments you’ve recommended he will be even better I will definelty look at you’re website what
            Type of homemade food do you make
            For you’re dog .