Limping Along: Decoding your Limping Dog

Help, Beverly Hills Veterinary Associates! My dog is limping!

As much as we want to help you when your pet is in pain, this is not something we can assess easily over the phone. While a visibly broken bone or torn toenail can certainly be the culprit, the vast majority of limping dogs have problems that cannot be seen outwardly and require an exam and sometimes further testing for a proper diagnosis. 

What You Can’t See

If you think about reasons you have limped throughout your life, you might start to understand how many different causes for limping in dogs there are.

Outward causes of lameness in dogs such as a cut paw pad, broken nail, or matted fur can be easily seen. Many limping dogs have problems that we can’t see, though. These can include:

  • Broken bones
  • Torn or sprained ligaments and tendons
  • Joint infections or inflammation 
  • Arthritis of joints
  • Nerve problems
  • Joint deformities like hip dysplasia
  • Problems of the spinal cord

Lamess can come on suddenly or over time. Noting these differences can help us to figure out what is happening to your pet. If your dog is limping, it is usually best to give us a call sooner than later, especially if the limping is very noticeable or your pet is showing other signs of pain

Diagnosing and Treating Limping Dogs

When we see a limping dog, the first thing that our doctors want to do is to watch it move. This can tell us what leg or legs are affected, how severe the lameness is, and sometimes can give us valuable information about possible causes.

Next, an orthopedic examination is in order. We will feel your pet’s limbs and joints, noting areas of swelling, heat, pain, or other abnormalities. We will often perform specific techniques to assess the integrity and status of specific joints, tendons, and ligaments. For instance, we can often determine an injury of the cranial cruciate ligament in the knee by assessing for cranial drawer.

Many times further testing will also be recommended based on these findings. Swollen joints and a fever might lead us to recommend blood testing for tick borne disease like Lyme disease. Positive cranial drawer sign might lead us to want to take an x-ray to look at the knee closer. Signs of neurological deficits to a limb might lead us to recommend referral for something like an MRI. 

It isn’t always possible to diagnose limping in dogs just by looking. It is, however, ideal to have a specific diagnosis so that we can determine the best way to treat your pet and tell you what to expect. 

Life would be so much easier if all limping dogs came with a sign on them that told us what was happening. Unfortunately most causes of limping can’t be seen. Luckily for you, though, our expert team knows just where to start looking.