How to Treat a Limping Dog at Home (& When to take to the vet)

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Have you noticed your dog hobbling around the house? Does the dog shy away from playing its favorite game of fetch or tug of war? Is it being hesitant around stairs? Or does it whimper in pain when you touch its leg?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the dog has hurt its leg. As putting weight on the affected leg results in pain, the dog will avoid doing so and walk funny.

Limping is a common symptom dogs show. Their legs comprise skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and nerves. An injury or trauma to any of these parts can cause the dog to limp.

Some causes of limping can be severe and would require immediate vet care. On the other hand, mild cases of limping can be treated at home. For example, you can follow first-aid practices like using cold or warm compresses depending on the cause or restricting movement to aid the healing process.

The article will look at the causes of limping in dogs, the examination process, how to treat a limping dog at home, and know when to take it to the vet.

What Causes a Dog to Limp?

What Causes a Dog to Limp
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There can be several reasons behind your dog’s limping. It could be an injury caused by a foreign object, infection, joint pain, or bone disease. Let us look at some common causes.

1. Injury

Injury
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The dog can hurt its paws if it steps on sharp objects like broken glass. Thorns or small sharp stones can lodge in the dog’s paw when hiking. The presence of these foreign objects can cause pain and discomfort while walking.

Walking on hot concrete floors can lead to paw burns. Similarly, walking on roads laden with ice salts can irritate, wound or burn your dog’s paws in winter.

Nail injuries can also be painful for dogs. For example, while trimming the dog’s nail, you may accidentally knick the quick of nail, which can lead to bleeding and pain.

Then, you have injuries to the muscles, tendons, and bones. For example, if your dog overextends its leg muscles while running or jumping, it can cause a sprain. Excessive physical activity can cause issues like:

  • Torn cranial cruciate ligament
  • Fractures
  • Dislocation
  • Meniscal tears
  • Joint injuries

2. Infections

Infections
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Skin infections can be inflamed, itchy, and may have discharge. For example, pyoderma is a skin infection that translates to ‘pus in the skin.’ You may notice red skin lesions, crusting, blister, and scabs if the dog has pyoderma. Any part of the dog’s body can be involved, but the area around the knees and toes is more prone.

Then some abscesses can develop under the skin. You may see movable swelling under the skin and a pus collection.

3. Joint Disease

Joint Disease
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Some joint diseases develop over time as a result of wear and tear. Other reasons could be genetic or issues during the initial growing period. Some joint conditions that can cause limping in dogs are:

  • Arthritis
  • Ligament disease
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Intervertebral disk disease
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Luxating patella

4. Bone Disease

Bone Disease
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Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is a condition that affects dogs during their early developmental period. Especially in large breed puppies around two months, the condition causes pain, limping, and swollen joints.

Then there are cancers like osteosarcoma that affect a dog’s bones presenting symptoms like swelling, limping, breathing issues, and neurological signs.

How to Know if a Limp is Serious?

How to Know if a Limp is Serious
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Abnormal gait is the first sign of limping that you will notice. Depending on the cause, the limp can be noticeable or challenging to differentiate. For example, if it is a mild case of limping, the dog may still use all its limbs but take shorter steps to avoid pain. Or the dog may wobble while walking if putting weight on the limb causes discomfort.

In more severe cases, the dog may drag the lame limb while walking or may not put the limb on the ground at all.

It would help if you also considered the timing and frequency of limping. For example, does your dog limp for a minute or two when it gets up from taking a nap on the floor? Or did you see a slight limp that has gradually worsened over time?

Limping usually does not require an emergency visit to the vet. But there can be exceptions if the dog is in too much pain, is bleeding, or there are signs of apparent fractures.

Even in cases of mild limping, you should not ignore the symptom. It would be best to get it checked by the vet at the earliest.

How to Examine a Limp?

How to Examine a Limp
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If your dog is in too much pain, do not attempt an examination. You may worsen the injury in cases of broken bones and improper handling.

The dog can also scratch, bite, or get aggressive towards you. Please know that the aggressive behavior is not intentional but rather a reaction to the pain.

So, if the dog is dragging its leg or not letting it touch the ground while walking, the examination is best left to the vet.

If you do attempt to examine the dog, ensure you have someone else restraining the dog. Once secured, you can start by looking at the dog’s paws. See if there are any foreign objects lodged in the paw or if there are burns or blisters due to heat or cold. Also, check the nails for any injuries.

Slowly work your way up the limb, applying gentle pressure. Flex the joints as well. In case of pain, the dog may flinch in response to the stress and flexing.

Note any swelling, skin irritation, wound, and pain areas. Relay this information to the vet, who can advise you on further steps.

How to Treat a Limping Dog at Home?

In case of significant injuries and joint and bone diseases, it is best to seek vet care. However, for other mild cases of limping, according to their causes, here are at-home treatments that can help.

1. Foreign Objects

Foreign Objects
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If the cause of limping is a foreign body in the paw, see if you can remove it safely. First, restrain the pet and then use a tweezer to remove the pain-causing object. Next, clean the area with antibacterial soap or solution and apply an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.

2. Nail Injuries

Nail Injuries
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Your dog could hurt its nails during grooming or if it has had an accident. If its nails are bleeding, you can use styptic powder to stop the bleeding. Baking powder works as well.

Read More: How To Sedate A Dog For Grooming?

3. Small Wounds

Small Wounds
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In case of minor wounds, clean the area with warm water, apply an ointment and bandage the paw. The bandage will prevent the dog from licking the wound and causing an infection. Use an E-collar if needed.

4. Sprains and Bruises

If the dog has sprained its leg while running or jumping, or if there is swelling or bruising, you can use cold compresses to soothe the infected area. The cold can help reduce inflammation, swelling, pain, and tenderness.

5. Muscle or Joint Pain

If the dog has been diagnosed with joint issues or is experiencing muscle and joint stiffness due to aging-related issues, then warm compresses can help. They can relieve muscle soreness and allow the dog to move around quickly.

6. Abscess

Ruptured abscesses will keep oozing pus. You cannot bandage the wound, so you will have to maintain sanitary conditions at all times and keep cleaning the pus. It would be best to treat abscesses at home only after consulting the vet.

If the abscess has not yet ruptured, applying warm compresses and gentle pressure can speed up the process. Once ruptured, the pus will start draining. In some cases, you may find pus collected in the center, which also needs to be cleaned.

You may use a sterile saline solution to clean the abscess wound. You will also need to apply a wound ointment multiple times a day.

You will still have to seek vet care, as the dog will have to be on a course of antibiotics.

What Not to Do When Your Dog is Limping?

What Not to Do When Your Dog is Limping?
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If a large foreign object is embedded into the dog’s leg, like a piece of broken glass, the wound will have to be handled by the vet. For deeper cuts, stitches might be necessary.

In case of dislocation, do not attempt to rearrange the bone alone. The condition can be painful for the pet. There could also be swelling that can be warm when touched.

If the dog is hurt too badly, it will whimper, cry or scream in pain. Watching your beloved pet in such a condition can be understandably difficult, but the best you can do is take the dog to the vet. Do not, in any situation, give your dog over-the-counter pain medications.

Regarding medication, it is best to follow what the vet recommends. You may prescribe aspirin or ibuprofen for pain relief, but do not give them to your pet. They can harm dogs, delay treatment, and even be toxic in some cases.

Also Read: Ultimate Guide To Dog Health

When Should You Take a Limping Dog to the Vet?

You have tried to treat your dog’s limp at home, but you do not see any progress. In such cases, you should wait 24 hours before reaching out to the vet.

Information such as when you noticed the limping, the affected leg, any skin irritation, and photos of the wound or blisters would be helpful. Depending on the signs, the vet can inform you if an emergency visit is necessary.

In cases where the dog shows additional symptoms along with limping, it is advisable to contact the vet as soon as possible. These symptoms can be:

  • Excessive swelling
  • Inability to move
  • Major wound or excessive bleeding
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

If you see the dog has given up on its hind legs and is simply dragging it around, it could be a sign of spinal issues which need immediate vet care.

How to Safely Transport a Limping Dog to the Vet?

How to Safely Transport a Limping Dog to the Vet
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It would be best if you were careful when transporting a dog in pain to the vet. You could worsen the situation by making mistakes like running to the car or not securing the pet. Moreover, the dog can get aggressive and bite you if you accidentally hurt it. This can be true even if your pet is the gentlest soul in the world.

Prepare the car seat where you will be laying the dog. First, cover it with a blanket and then with a sturdier material like cardboard. The seat will act as a stretcher and help you lay the pet down straight.

If the dog is small, you can carry it in your arms to the car. While laying the dog down, ensure it is not putting all its weight on the affected leg.

If larger dogs are not in much pain, support them while walking and help them get in the car. If the dog is in pain, use a sling, or two people can hold the opposite sides of a blanket and carry the dog in it.

If you are alone or unsure if you can transport the pet safely, please call the vet’s office for further steps.

What Can the Vet Do for a Limping Dog?

What Can the Vet Do for a Limping Dog
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The vet will ask you preliminary questions like when the limping started, the dog’s routine, diet, medical history, recent activity, and if it had an accident. The vet may then perform a physical examination to identify the affected leg and the potential cause of limping.

Tests like radiographs, blood tests, and ultrasounds may be performed to diagnose the cause.

If the cause is an injury to the leg, the wound will be cleaned and stitched up. In case of fractures, the dog’s portion will be splinted with plaster, or a cast may be used. In severe cases, the vet will opt for a surgical approach to fix the bones.

In case of joint dislocations, the vet may perform a closed reduction in which the joint will be replaced in its actual place. The joint will be supported with bandages and a sling to aid the healing process. If closed reduction is not possible, the vet will have to perform surgery to open the joint and replace it with its original position.

In case of infections, the dog must complete a course of antibiotics. In addition, you will have to apply ointments to the affected area multiple times a day.

For chronic conditions like arthritis, the vet will prescribe NSAIDs and other pain-relief medications to manage the clinical signs. Physical therapy would also be recommended so the pet can enjoy a decent quality of life.

How Long Can Limps Last in Dogs?

How Long Can Limps Last in Dogs
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The answer depends on the cause of limping. For example, if your dog’s limping is due to burns or cuts on its paws, the limping should stop once it receives treatment and its skin has healed.

In the case of broken bones, for puppies, the healing process can be around four weeks, but for adult dogs, it can take eight weeks. In case of dislocation, if it is a closed reduction, the recovery time will be quicker. However, if it is an open reduction, the dog will need long-term care and more time to heal.

You may have to make lifestyle changes for the pet’s sake for chronic joint and bone issues. For example, the vet can recommend lifelong supplement inclusion in the dog’s diet, like omega-3 or glucosamine.

Summary

How to treat a limping dog at home? This depends on what is causing the limp. Limping is a common concern that is seen in canines. It can result from an injury to the leg, burns, infections, foreign objects, fractures, dislocation, joint issues, and bone diseases.

For mild cases of limping, you can remove foreign objects like thorns and clean the area with an antibacterial solution. You can use cold compresses for sprain and bruises and warm compresses for joint stiffness and muscle soreness. Restricting the dog’s movement during the treatment duration can aid with healing.

If the dog is in too much pain or shows excessive swelling, bleeding, fever, vomiting, limb dragging, or inability to move, please contact the vet.

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