It can be alarming to see one’s dog limping after playing fetch. Limping, or “lameness,” means that the dog is walking strangely on one or more of its legs- whether it’s the left front or right hind.
The underlying cause of a dog’s limp can greatly vary.
A temporary limp can be caused by stepping on something sharp when playing fetch, or by discomfort due to torn toenails or paw pads. On the other hand, a dog that drags its back or front paw while walking is suggestive of a more severe illness or injury.
In any case, it is always a good idea to seek veterinary advice when you see mysterious signs of pain in your pup.
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Whether it is one leg or several, spotting a dog that has just started limping is reason enough for owners to investigate.
Just like humans, dogs may limp after excessive work or exercise. Crashing, tripping, or rolling over a paw can lead to a limp. Unlike humans, most dogs will hide the limp rather than complain about it.
How the limp looks depends on the individual dog and the nature of its injury. Experts explain that one telltale sign of a limping dog is when they avoid placing their paw on the ground. Dogs with a limp will avoid bearing weight on the affected leg.
If the limp extends to the dog’s two front legs, the dog will waddle when walking or running. This keeps pressure off of the affected leg/paw, leading to a “head bobbing” motion. Another behavior of a limping dog is licking the general area that is stiff or sore.
A limp can be caused by a great number of factors. Breed, weight, age, medical history, and overall health play a large role when deducing the cause of the injury.
- Bone Problems
- Joint Disease
- Strains and/or sprains
- Paw injury
All limps are not equal.
The one-year-old dog limping after playing fetch and the eight-year-old dog with an on-again-off-again limp do not share much in common.
The American Kennel Club explains that understanding the signs of gradual onset limping vs. sudden limping can help the vet deduce the underlying issue.
Gradual onset limps are characterized by their slow buildup over time. The causes of gradual limping can be traced to latent, chronic, or degenerative bone/joint diseases like osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia.
While gradual onset limping is not caused by a sudden injury or trauma, the AKC advises that owners tell the vet as soon as possible. Owners can effectively treat some bone cancers and degenerative diseases that lead to gradual onset limping if they are identified quickly.
Sudden limping in dogs is often a direct result of an injury, accident, or trauma.
Your dog could be suffering from an accidental retear of the ACL or re-injury of torn muscle.
The AKC suggests keeping an eye on the dog with a sudden limp. If they are back to normal after a few minutes, owners can probably sleep on it and check again in the morning. Anything more severe warrants a trip to the vet.
Dog owners can attest to the anxiety of knowing that something is off with their pet, yet not being able to identify what that something is. The following is a list of signs and situations where a trip to the emergency vet clinic is highly advised:
● Sudden inability or unwillingness to get up or move
● Signs of extreme pain (trembling, crying, fear, signs of aggression)
● Bleeding profusely
● Excessive swelling in one or more limbs
● Broken bones of any kind (casts or surgery may be required)
● Fever (temperature over 103.5 F)
● Lack of awareness, lethargy, and other signs of illness
If the dog continues to limp for more than a day or refuses to move on the leg, it’s time to go to schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible. According to Fetch by WebMD, some things to make a note of ahead of the vet appointment include:
● How is the dog behaving since the limp started?
● What caused the injury?
● In the aftermath of the injury, has the dog been lethargic? Does the dog hide its injured leg?
● Has the dog’s appetite or usual routine changed? These can be indicative of other issues.
Because of their high pain tolerance, combined with the stress of a trip to the vet, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to record the limp with a camera phone before the appointment.
Extra details can help the vet diagnose a dog’s limp as a strain, sprain, or something else during the physical examination.
Limping in dogs is “common but not normal.” A healthy dog with a limp is not always an emergency.
If the dog’s limp is not an emergency situation, most vets recommend that the owner take a closer look at the injury.
Handling the paw very gently can help owners figure out what the source of pain is. Is it hot to the touch? Swollen? A dog licking the underside of its paw may have stepped on glass or have a pebble in between its paw.
Depending on the dog’s temperament, removing a piece of glass from the paw might be dangerous without a vet’s help. If the owner can remove the piece of glass, cleaning it and using ointment is advised.
For minor wounds, it is recommended to clean the area with gentle soap and water. A simple antiseptic ointment can also help the area heal if the dog doesn’t lick it off.
Icing the dog’s swollen paw or leg with a cloth wrap for 15 minutes can help to relieve symptoms. If the swelling persists for more than 12-24 hours, a trip to the vet is advised.
If your dog is limping after playing fetch, confining them is the best route to healing a limp.
A few days off from walking, running, and jumping can do the trick to healing any minor limps or lameness.
It is imperative to keep the injured dog off of the stairs and away from furniture. This can be a difficult task, but most limping dogs recover in 24-48 hours.
If your dog is still limping after a few days, it may be a good idea to take it to the vet for a more thorough examination just to make sure it isn’t anything more serious.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.