Limping is a pretty common condition among your furry friends. It could result from a gradual health condition or a sudden onset due to injury or trauma. The dog may even limp after performing a simple activity like laying down.
The reasons why a dog limps after sleeping could be as simple as its legs falling asleep. But if the limping is persistent, it could point to a serious health condition like arthritis, bone disease, or an infection. Depending on the cause, you can provide first aid to the dog at home, or it may have to be examined by a vet.
Let us look at different reasons why dogs limp, when the limp becomes a problem, and how you can best help your dog.
- Why is My Dog Limping After Laying Down?
- When Does Limping Become a Concern?
- How Can You Treat a Dog’s Limpness at Home?
- What Not to Do When a Dog is Limping?
Why is My Dog Limping After Laying Down?
Dogs usually stretch right after they get up from a nap or if they have been lazying around the couch for a long time. They stretch to activate their muscles, loosen up and get ready for the day.
Some dogs may limp and take some time to regain their natural gait. Here are reasons why dogs limp after laying down.
1. Leg Fallen Asleep
You may have surely come across the scenario wherein your legs have fallen asleep. For example, this can happen while you are sleeping or while you are sitting cross-legged on the couch for a long.
When your legs fall asleep, you may not be able to move them as usual. They feel numb. Any movement sends tingles down the leg. You may have to shake your legs or walk slowly before you regain control and movement in your leg.
Due to the constant pressure, while laying down, the nerves in your leg can compress for a short period. This causes a temporary disruption of the communication line between the brain and the nerves in the leg. Shaking or moving the leg restores the connection in a few seconds.
Similarly, your dog’s legs can also fall asleep if it has been putting pressure on the leg while laying down. We do not know if dogs feel the same type of tingles as humans do. But, the leg will wake up once the dog stretches and tries to walk.
And while it tries to walk, you will notice the dog is slightly limping. This is not a cause for concern. The dog should go back to its typical walking style in a minute or two. If that does not happen, then the limping could be pointing to some other health concern.
Arthritis is a chronic health condition that affects the joints in canines. Knees and hips are joints that are commonly affected. Arthritis affects over 25% of the canine population and is irreversible. Some breeds are more prone to this condition. They are:
- German Shepherds
Dogs can develop arthritis as they age, or it could result from an injury or tear in joints. Factors such as weight, gender, exercise, and nutrition also come into play.
Dogs with arthritis often have difficulty walking, running, or jumping. They may develop stiffness or lameness in their legs. It might get difficult for them to stand after sitting for a long time easily.
If the dog experiences pain, it may avoid putting weight on the arthritic leg, leading to a change in its posture and gait.
If the dog has been lying down, it will take its time to stand up and walk. Movement can reduce the stiffness, lubricate the joints, and the dog will go back to its usual walking style.
Arthritis is a condition that is diagnosed by the vet using tests like x-rays, blood work, imaging, and joint fluid analysis. The vet-approved treatment for the condition involves using supplements glucosamine or omega-3 fatty acids, steroids, and other medications to reduce pain and inflammation.
The vet might also prescribe diet and exercise changes. In addition, therapies such as swimming and massages help manage the symptoms of this condition.
3. Hip Dysplasia
This is a condition where the hip joint of the animal loosens, causing pain and dysfunction. It is a hereditary condition that often affects large dog breeds. For example, breeds like Labradors and Golden Retrievers are more prone to have hip dysplasia while growing up.
Some of the common symptoms of the condition are limping without any injury, difficulty standing up, popping sounds from joints, and difficulty climbing or getting down from elevated positions. So, if your dog has hip dysplasia, you will find it limping when it tries to walk after laying down for an extended period.
Once the vet diagnoses the dog with the condition, pain management, and therapy options are available. If the dog continues to limp minutes after it has gotten up, it could indicate pain. The vet can prescribe non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory medicines to manage pain and decrease inflammation.
There are prescription dog foods available that can boost joint health. You can also explore different types of physical therapies at home. For example, you can take the dog out for a short walking session. Let the dog set the pace. Avoid routes where the dog may have to jump.
There are surgical options available as well to treat hip dysplasia. Please consult with your vet to know which surgery will be best for your pet.
4. ACL Tear
The knees of the dog are held together by different ligaments. ACL is a tissue that crosses under the knees and connects the bones on the upper and lower side of the knee. The job of the ACL is to support the knee and provide it with stability.
If the dog tears its ACL, it will experience pain, start limping or develop lameness in its hind legs. If the tear is minor, the dog can be fine if you restrict its movement for a few days. But over time, the dog can develop scar tissues, leading to limited mobility.
If your dog does not get exercise, its joints can weaken. If your dog gets too much exercise in a short span, the ACL can tear. Obese dogs have a higher chance of tearing their ACL.
If you have a small dog and its weight is under 30 pounds, non-invasive treatments can be administered at home. For example, if the dog limps after sleeping, the vet can prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to manage pain. In addition, the dog may be given a brace to wear.
The vet may also recommend weight loss measures to relieve the joints of some pressure. So, you will have to stick to a diet and exercise routine.
You can try these non-invasive methods for medium to large-sized dogs as well. But they may not be as effective as they are on small dogs.
Surgery is an effective treatment for ACL tears. It also has a good success rate of 80% to 90%. However, if the dog is aging, over-weight, or is suffering from other health conditions, your vet may not suggest surgery.
5. Bone Disease
Large breed dogs can develop metabolic bone diseases such as Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD) and Panosteitis. Puppies around the age of 5 to 18 months can develop this condition. These diseases affect the long bones in the body, like the femur and tibia.
Dogs can suddenly start limping when they develop these diseases. Apart from the limping, the dog will otherwise appear healthy, eating and drinking as usual. If you see other symptoms like swelling, loss of appetite, and fever, it is best to consult the vet.
The treatment for HOD and Panosteitis revolves around managing symptoms. So, the vet will prescribe pain and NSAID medications. There is no particular treatment available for these conditions. Most dogs fully recover from the disease. But, it will need your support to get through the painful process.
6. Bone Cancer
Apart from bone diseases mentioned above, the dog can also develop bone cancer. When it comes to bone cancers in dogs, Osteosarcoma affects over 85% of the canines. In Osteosarcoma, it is the bones near the knee that get affected.
Mild limpness and pain are the initial symptoms that the dog might display. The dog’s leg might feel stiff; that is why it may limp after laying down.
If your dog feels otherwise fine, you may wait for a week or so to see if the limpness goes away. Then, if you see additional symptoms like swelling, unwillingness to walk or play, or loss of appetite, it is best to book an appointment with the vet.
Surgery or chemotherapy is used, sometimes together, to slow the growth rate of the bone tumor. However, bone cancer can quickly metastasize in dogs; thus, early detection is vital.
7. Other Injury
Your dog can injure its legs playing outside or inside the house, tripping from furniture or stairs. It can break its bones, get sprains, fracture, or dislocate joints.
Depending on the cause, the dog may limp slightly or may not be able to put any pressure on the injured leg. Restricting movement is one way you can help the dog heal from a minor injury.
If you see other symptoms like swelling, a dangling foot, bleeding, vomiting, and fever, it is best to get the pet examined by the vet as soon as possible.
When Does Limping Become a Concern?
As you have seen above, limping can occur for various reasons. So how to decide what type of limping needs the vet’s attention? The answer depends on three factors – time, severity, and other symptoms.
For example, how long has the pet been limping? Did you notice the dog limping a few days back, and now its condition has worsened? Or has the dog started limping out of the blue?
If the dog limps after sleeping and goes back to its usual self in a couple of minutes, there is nothing to worry about.
If the dog has been limping for a week or two without any improvement, it has developed chronic limping. The cause could be arthritis or an ACL tear. These conditions do not call for an emergency vet visit, but it would be best to book an appointment at your earliest convenience.
If limping is a sudden reaction displayed by the dog, it is acute limping. In this case, you need to consider the severity of the limp.
If the limping is mild, it could mean the dog may feel discomfort but can still use the leg fairly normally without putting its complete weight on it. In these cases, you can limit the dog’s movement, monitor its condition, and consult with the vet accordingly.
If the limp is severe, if the dog cannot even bear to place its leg on the ground, then its condition needs to be examined by the vet. Similarly, if the dog presents other symptoms like swelling, lethargy, trembling, limb dragging, high fever, or disorientation, it may warrant a trip to the emergency clinic.
How Can You Treat a Dog’s Limpness at Home?
You should attempt to treat a dog’s limpness at home only if it does not fall into the category of emergency limps, as explained above. For example, a broken leg, dislocated joints, or a fracture is best left to the vet’s care.
Here are a few ways to care for a limping dog at home.
1. Check for Foreign Objects
It could be possible your dog has hurt its paw while playing outside. It could be a sharp piece of wood, stone, or glass. If you see any such objects, carefully remove them. Make sure the object is completely removed. If a part is left behind, the dog will continue to limp. It could also lead to an infection.
Once the object is out, clean the wound site with anti-bacterial soap. You can apply antibiotic ointment to help with the healing process.
2. Restricting Movement
If the dog is limping mildly, limiting its movement can help keep the weight off the injured leg and give it a chance to heal. If you are confining the dog to a room or even a crate, ensure the environment is comfortable.
For example, ensure the dog has a good bed with ample support to rest and sleep. Place its food and water bowl nearby. Keep its toys nearby so it can be kept engaged. When the dog feels better, let it start with low-impact exercises.
3. Ice Packs
If the dog’s legs have swollen, you can use this technique to get the swelling down. In case of sprains or bruises, the tissues in the dog’s leg can be damaged. The cold from the ice pack can numb the area around the injury and reduce pain.
Apply the pack for 10-15 minutes, twice a day. If you do not see the swelling go down, consult with your vet.
4. Warm Compress
If the dog is suffering from a chronic condition, then warm compresses can reduce the stiffness in joints. In addition, it helps bring more blood to the area it is applied to.
Alternatively, you can soak the dog’s leg in warm water and Epsom salt. It is a good way to manage painful symptoms in dogs with arthritis, swollen joints, or other orthopedic instabilities.
You May Also Read: Dog Limping After Playing Fetch? Important Facts You Should Know
What Not to Do When a Dog is Limping?
If your dog is screaming or howling in pain, it is not a good idea to examine its legs on your own. You can unintentionally worsen the dog’s condition by pressing or lifting the foot incorrectly. Moreover, the dog can get aggressive and charge toward you.
If the dog is limping slightly and is otherwise healthy, you can check its paw for any injuries or gently press on the toes to examine if they hurt.
Never give your dog over-the-counter medicine without consulting the vet. Likewise, you should keep human medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen away from pets. Using medications without knowing the underlying condition could be toxic or even fatal.
Do not wait too long to contact the vet. For example, if you notice the dog has a limp that has not improved in two weeks, it is best to call the vet. Please do not wait for a month, using warm compresses, hoping the dog’s condition will improve on its own.
Are you wondering why your dog limps after sleeping? If it has been lying down, putting pressure on the side of its body, its legs may have fallen asleep too. A little stretch, shake and walk, and your dog will be back to its usual self.
If the dog is suffering from conditions like arthritis, hip dysplasia, or torn ACL, it will have trouble standing up and walking. Bone diseases can also cause limping.
If the limping is mild and your dog does not present any other symptoms, you can restrict its movement and monitor its condition for the next few days. In case of swelling, ice packs help.
If the limping worsens or is accompanied by symptoms like high fever, lethargy, or refusal to eat or play, it is best to contact the vet.
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.