By Maneka Gandhi
Why do dogs start limping?
Overexertion during a fetch session, rough play, or a run in the park can cause overexertion. Muscle soreness affects them just like us. Dogs usually recover quickly.
Something stuck in the paw: If your dog is limping or putting up his paw, it could be due to a laceration or having something stuck in between his paw, such as a thorn, or even rock. In some long-haired dogs, even their own fur can get matted between their toes.
Toenail problems: There is a chance that an ingrown, or overgrown, toenail is digging into his or her skin. This can cause discomfort (limping) and, in severe cases, may need a veterinarian to help file the nail down. On the other hand, if your dog just came from the groomer and is limping, it’s also possible that their nail got cut too short.
Animal or Insect Bites: Venom from spiders can be poisonous and affect the neural system, and Lyme disease from ticks can cause the limbs to fail. Animal bites that are not infectious can also be dangerous because of the puncture wounds. If your dog has been bit by another dog on the leg, for example, this could injure the joints and cause limping.
Underlying Scar Tissue: If your dog has ever broken his leg, or had surgery, scar tissue may be the culprit. Even if the dog’s leg was properly splinted (and he got surgery if needed), there may still be scar tissue and/or the bone may have set in a position that is slightly different than before. This is especially true for cases where there are complex fractures.
Infection: An infected wound, incision, skin, or nail bed can cause pain and limping. Infections should be treated right away, as they can worsen and become harder to treat.
Injury (Pain): Dogs are active creatures, and with activity comes the possibility of sprains and strains. Leg injuries are one of the most common causes of limping in dogs. Injury should be suspected if the onset of the limping was sudden. Sometimes the limping subsides in a day or two, and sometimes it persists if the injury is more serious.
Panosteitis (Wandering Lameness): This condition tends to affect growing, large breed puppies (age 5-12 months). There is a tendency for pain and lameness to move from one limb to another, over the period of several weeks or months. Symptoms usually disappear by the time the dog is 20 months old.
Dislocated Knee: It occurs when a dog’s kneecap moves out of its natural position. The effect of this condition varies from complete unwillingness to bear weight on the limb (causing severe lameness), to mild to moderate instability without any accompanying pain. Certain toy breed dogs, are predisposed to it. The condition is also hereditary, so if your dog’s parent(s) had it, chances are your dog may too. Many small dogs live their entire life with it and it never results in arthritis or pain. In other cases, it can manifest into a more serious condition, which can require surgery or treatment. A dislocated knee can also be caused by an accident or other external trauma.
Dysplasia: Hip and Elbow Dysplasia are common conditions in dogs, which can cause limping, specially in German Shepherds. Dysplasia is a hereditary condition that causes the joint to become loose and dislocate.
Old Age / Osteoarthritis: As dogs get older, their musculo-skeletal system naturally becomes weaker. They are unable to run, jump, and play the way they used to. Their mind does not always want to listen to their body, so they may attempt to play beyond their abilities. Osteoarthritis can be effectively addressed with a preventive care regimen.
Fracture / Broken Leg: Fractures and broken bones are not always visible to the naked eye, and can happen due to trauma. When a dog is suffering from a fracture, it will be unable to bear weight on the affected limb.
Nerve Damage: This can cause the front leg to become paralyzed, causing lameness when walking. Usually the foot will drag on the ground. Nerve damage is often present in dogs that have diabetes mellitus.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): DM is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. Initial symptoms include weakness and lameness. The disease can eventually progress to paralysis.
Tumours / Cancer: You should always monitor your dog for any unusual lumps or growths. Most of the time, lumps are not harmful, but in some cases they can indicate cancer. Bone cancer, which is especially prevalent in larger breeds, can grow rapidly and cause limping, pain, and even death if left unchecked.