Dog Limping After Cast Removal? (3 Unexpected Reasons)

Dog limping after cast removal
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After removing that pesky cast that’s rendered your pup immobile for the past month, you would think that all is finally well and good.

Not so. There’s a slight, yet unmistakable, limp as your dog tries to trot around the way it used to.

Having just barely gotten over the worry of the surgery for your dog’s broken leg, you wonder if there might be another problem already rearing its ugly head.

“Why is my dog limping after cast removal?”

There may be a few different factors behind the limp, and thankfully it usually isn’t anything too serious.

Although the cast has been removed, the dog can experience muscle weakness due to the long period of inactivity. Pain may also arise from an incomplete recovery.

Even if the injury has completely healed, your dog may have learnt to rely on other limbs instead and created a temporary body imbalance.

Treatment of limping after cast removal depends on the specific cause, and may include physiotherapy, medication, and more rest.

While the limping behavior may continue for a short period, your dog should soon be back to its old ways with appropriate treatment and monitoring by a qualified vet.

My Dog Just Got Its Cast Off… Is It Normal For A Dog To Be Limping After Splint Removal?

Yes! It is completely normal for your dog to limp after splint removal.

There are actually a few reasons why a dog may limp. This may continue not only for the next couple of days, but maybe even for multiple weeks.

A few explanations as to why your dog is limping after splint removal can include:

  • Muscle Atrophy
  • Pain
  • Learnt Behavior

It would definitely be a good idea to have your dog properly examined by a vet so that you can be certain of the exact reason for the limp. You will then also be able to determine whether any additional medical procedures will be needed.

Muscle Atrophy

Muscle atrophy, or muscle weakness, is the loss of muscle tissue that usually results from an absence of physical activity.

Physical inactivity triggers the body to break down and reduce the protein production in muscle in order to conserve valuable energy. Since the muscles are not being used, the body chooses to preserve resources and direct them towards areas of greater need.

During the recovery phase, a dog is generally advised not to move an injured region in order to prevent re-injury. This causes the muscles of that region to lose tissue, which then leads to muscle atrophy.

This means that after splint removal the injured region is likely to have less muscle than before, making it weaker than it originally was. This weakness may cause your dog to depend on their other legs to move around, resulting in the observed limping symptoms.

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Pain

Though not as likely, a dog may still feel pain in the affected area even after the splint is removed. This may be due to an incomplete recovery of the injured region.

Since the pain can be unbearable when weight is put on the affected leg, it can make your dog rely on other limbs and create a limp as a result.

Learnt Behaviour

After a proper, prescribed amount of recovery time, any injury is likely to have healed enough for your dog to be putting weight onto it.

However, previous pain felt from bearing weight can make a dog hesitant to put too much weight onto the healed limb.

Over time, your dog may have learnt that by limping they will not experience any pain from the injured region. This may result in a persistent limb that has no physical cause.

How Can I Treat My Dog’s Limping At Home After Cast Removal?

Shetland sheepdog paw being wrapped

The best treatment for limping after a cast has been removed is wholly dependent on the reason for said limp.

Even when the cast has been removed, recovery may still not be fully complete. It is not surprising to see complete recovery take a few months longer as it all depends on many factors, such as the severity of the initial injury, the dog’s age, and their health status.

It will take some time for a dog to stop limping as muscles still need to be rebuilt, residual pain needs to be given time to subside, and any learnt behavior needs to be overridden.

Recovery time, and subsequently the duration of the limping, is shorter in younger puppies than older dogs. For example, a fracture may take 4 weeks minimum to heal in puppies, while the same injury might take at least 8 weeks to heal in senior dogs.

To prevent re-injury following removal of the splint, your dog should not use stairs unsupervised or jump around. It also should not be allowed to run around for the first couple of weeks.

It is recommended to go a step further and confine your dog in a small area or crate to prevent your dog from over-working the injured region.

Though the limping will not miraculously go away immediately, you should see gradual signs of improvement as your dog is able to place more weight onto the affected limb.

If necessary, you can request a radiograph or X-ray to examine the state of the injury. A vet can also be consulted for any helpful supplements that may be available, such as collagen or Omega-3 fatty acids.

There are several ways of treating your dog’s limp more proactively. These include incremental exercises, therapy sessions, pain medication, distractions, and mobility support. However, you should always contact your vet first to confirm safety.

Incremental Exercise

To help with limping, the workload of affected muscles should be gradually increased by initially starting off with only a few minutes of exercise each day.

Over the next few weeks, slowly ramp up physical activity by increasing the length or frequency of walks and playtime.

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This will help to rebuild muscle tissues that were lost, and as a result decrease the amount of limping.

Cold Therapy

During the first few weeks after cast removal, cold packs or compresses can be applied to the region. Cooling the injured region will help to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. This will make your dog more relaxed and reduce the overall recovery period.

You can apply the cold pack by wrapping it in a towel and placing it on the site for around 15 minutes twice daily. If you see any signs of discomfort from your dog, or if the applied region is cold to the touch, remove the pack immediately.

While cold treatment is only a temporary solution, it will help with recovery and lessen the pain.

Massage Therapy

Dog relaxing on massage table

Once there are no more signs of pain, gentle massages can be provided around the injured area.

Massages will help to prevent the development of scar tissue that can prevent regular limb motion. It can also help with blood circulation, promoting the efficient delivery of nutrients to help with recovery.

Another benefit of massage is that it loosens the muscles, thereby allowing greater flexibility and limb movement. A vet or a dog physiotherapist should be consulted for a massage guide that you can follow on a daily basis for your dog.

Range of Motion Therapy

As soon as the cast has been removed, you can softly flex and extend the joint of the injured limb.

Flexing and extending the joint will help to maintain its integrity while the injury is still in recovery stages. As a result, once the injury has healed enough for bearing weight, the joint will be able to handle it more comfortably and help to reduce limping.

Initially, the aim is to flex and extend the limb without creating any pain. As the injury continues to recover, you can try to stretch the limb more so that the range of joint extension and joint flexion becomes more normal.

Range of motion therapy helps to reduce stiffness in joints, and as a result promotes normal walking behavior.

Pain Medication

Pain medication will initially help by reducing the sensation of pain, and allow your dog to place more weight on the previously casted area.

Your vet may provide non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioids to help remove or lessen the feeling of pain. Note that there can be side effects to these drugs, so ensure it is safe to do so before giving any to your dog.

For a more comprehensive overview of What You Can (And Can’t) Give Your Dog For Pain, read our article here!

Distractions

If it seems like your dog has recovered but is still limping for no clearly visible reason, it might be that they have learnt to rely on the use of other limbs so that they can avoid pain.

You can help your dog overcome this mental barrier by distracting them with toys or treats. Dogs generally have short attention spans, so it is relatively easy to divert their attention away from the recovered leg.

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Mobility Support

Slings and harnesses can help with a dog’s limping behavior as these tools distribute pressure across the body and reduce the strain on the injured limb.

You should consult with your vet or dog physiotherapist with regards to which mobility support tool to use, as some may put too much pressure on the injured region.

The downside to external mobility support is that it often requires the owner’s assistance whenever the dog wants to move around.

Why Is My Dog Licking Its Leg After Cast Removal?

basset hound puppy licking foot

It is normal for dogs to try lick its leg after cast removal. This is because the area that was covered by the cast usually becomes very itchy from the built-up sweat and heat.

You can ask your vet to provide suitable anti-itch cream or sprays that can be used on the irritating site. These can contain benzocaine, which will help to numb the itch and reduce your dog’s need to lick its leg.

A dog may also lick its leg because canines have developed an instinct that tells them that licking may help to heal an injury faster.

However, if there is still a wound after the cast has been removed, it is important that you stop your dog from licking the area as it can delay recovery. Licking of open wounds can very easily lead to infection.

Dog saliva contains a wide range of bacteria, some of which can be harmful. Combined with moisture, this can significantly slow down the healing process and increase the risk of re-injury.

To prevent your dog from licking its leg after cast removal, you can:

  • Provide a neck brace
  • Provide an E-collar or a Buster collar
  • Cover the wound with light dressing and something to wrap around the area such as a legwarmer
  • Use bitter apple spray– a non-toxic, canine-safe taste detergent that prevents a dog from licking its wound due to the bitter flavor
  • Use Aloe Gel with Lidocaine – a non-toxic, dog friendly gel that may deter your dog from licking the wound

In Summary

If you find your dog limping after cast removal, it may be doing so due to factors such as muscle atrophy, pain, learnt behaviour- or even a combination of all three.

It can take several weeks before the limping stops completely, but there are methods that can be used to treat and reduce the behavior.

These methods include incremental exercises, therapy, pain medication, distractions, and mobility support. How suitable each method is will of course depend on your dog’s specific situation.

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