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Dog Limping: Why is It Happening and How You Can Help?

A bond between an owner and dog is unlike any other. Both human and dog brains are flooded with oxytocin (the love hormone) when we look at each other. 

Dog health is something we are continually learning about as owners. Our dog families come to rely on us to care for them and help them in their time of need, which is why it's so unsettling when they're hurt, and we don't know what's wrong. They're looking to us for answers, yet unable to communicate exactly how they're feeling. 

Limping is one of the most common issues we see in dogs. It could be a sign of something simple, like a minor injury that will heal itself, or possibly an underlying health problem that requires some attention. 

How do you know why your dog is limping? And how can you help your dog get around a little easier when mobility is an issue? Let's walk through some common causes of dog limping and help you figure out how to treat a limping dog at home. 

Why is my dog limping?

So, you've noticed your dog avoiding the use of a leg. There are many reasons this may be happening. Here are a few of the most common culprits:

They want attention

If your dog is limping, he may actually be faking. Dogs often manufacture a limp to get extra sympathy and attention from their owners. Rule out any other possible injuries before you chalk up the limp to a fake-out. 

If you have a limping dog who does not show any signs of pain when touched, you may be dealing with this situation, but let's take a further look first.

An object stuck in paw

Sometimes a stone or burr gets stuck in between your dog's toepads after their latest adventure. It's likely that once removed that this issue will be resolved.

This one should be reasonably easy to spot. Get your dog to sit or lie down, flip up the foot, and inspect the injured paw. Use your fingers to feel in between the pads gently. If you find something stuck between the dog's toes, remove it.

Torn/cut pad

This one is a little more serious. Your dog may step on sharp objects while out and about that may cut a pad. 

If you find a cut on your dog's toe pad, remove any leftover debris with tweezers. If it's too difficult to remove yourself, you will need to visit a vet. Clean the dog cut with cold water and hold a towel on the cut with pressure to stop the bleeding. Apply a bandage, and change it daily to help keep the wound clean as it heals. 

Injured Toenail

Sometimes dogs' toenails can get caught on objects and tear, exposing the sensitive tissue inside of the nail. These tears can be uncomfortable for our furry buddies. Apply a bandage, and the nail should heal on its own as it grows out.

Arthritis

Joint health for dogs is incredibly important, especially as our dogs age. Arthritis is a common issue in older dogs. Large breeds start to show signs of arthritis at age 5 or 6, and a few years later in smaller breeds. If your dog limps, has trouble standing or sitting, tenderness in the joints, and struggles to jump onto a couch or bed, they're displaying the most common dog arthritis symptoms. In an old dog, back legs collapsing could be another sign of arthritic joints.

You'll want to feed your dog a joint-friendly diet full of healthy fats and look for limping in dogs that start small and progress over time.

Torn ACL/broken leg

Limping in dogs can often be a sign of real injury, but you'll know that things might be seriously wrong if your dog can't walk at all. If a dog can't walk, it can be a torn ACL (a stabilizing knee ligament) or a broken leg.

If your dog is in serious pain, take it to the vet for some professional attention immediately.

Should I take my dog to the vet?

If your dog has just started limping and there are no visible signs of serious injury, you can wait 2-3 days to see if the problem resolves itself before you need to worry about taking them to the vet.

Take your dog to the vet if you see any of the following:

  • a deep wound that won't stop bleeding
  • a limp that continues past 3 days
  • a limp that gets progressively worse
  • visible bruising or swelling
  • loss of ability to walk and stand

How can I help my limping dog?

If you've ruled out major health concerns that need professional attention, you may still wonder what to do while your dog is limping and recovering.

Injury-Related Limping

For dog limping related to a torn ligament, cartilage, or tendon, you can use prescription pain medication if your vet prescribes it until the initial pain has subsided. 

  • Do not ever give your dog any pain medication for humans, as they can be toxic to your pet.
  • Your dog may also have to undergo physical therapy to rehabilitate the leg. 
  • You can also apply ice to the injured area, especially in the case of swelling. Apply to the injury for 15 minutes, twice a day. 

Arthritis-Related Limping

For limping that is age-related and longer-lasting, we have some tips on helping a dog with arthritis at home. 

  • Apply heat to the affected area twice a day for 15 minutes or as needed.
  • Get your dog a massage. Yes, seriously! There are certified canine massage therapists all over America who can help your dog's joints stay loose and mobile.
  • Feed your pup some supplements. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and Omega-3 fatty acids have all been shown to help reduce inflammation for dogs.
  • Maintain a reasonable amount of exercise for your dog. Don't push your dog too hard, but keep them moving with some gentle walking and non-impact exercise like swimming as much as possible. Regular exercise keeps the dog's muscles and joints healthy.

General Limping Help

For any limping pup, you can set up your home space to make things a little easier for your furry friend. 

  • Give your dog a soft, well-padded bed that will relieve pressure on the affected joints. 
  • Place some non-skid pads on slippery floors to avoid falls and make getting around the house more comfortable. 
  • Place an adjustable dog ramp beside your bed or couch so that your dog can get up and down with ease. 

Final Word

We hope you can use these guidelines to help with your dog's initial diagnosis and determine whether you need to head over to the vet. No matter the issue, you can provide some comfort for your dog while they recover - be it just a few days or several weeks or months for more severe problems. 

Whenever you're in doubt, it's best to err on the side of caution and call your vet to determine the next steps. We wish your pup a speedy recovery!

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