There are many possible causes for a limping dog, and they depend on a number of factors. Is your dog young or old? Did her pain seem to have appeared suddenly or gradually? Does it come and go, or is it consistent? If it comes and goes, is it worse during exercise, or when she’s still, such as when she wakes up in the morning? Is it always the same leg that seems to hurt? Is she mildly lame, able, and willing to use the limb somewhat, or does she refuse to use the leg at all? Does the limping hinder her ability to perform everyday tasks like eating or going outside?
Lameness can be caused by abnormality of the skeleton, the muscles, the ligaments and tendons, or the nervous system. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination, checking not only your dog’s leg, but all other parts of her body. He or she will observe your dog standing and walking and then carefully palpate the leg to search for specific areas of pain, swelling, or warmth. The veterinarian will also test to determine whether the nervous system is functioning properly. Depending on the results of the physical examination, X-rays may also be taken to find the source of the lameness.
The age of your dog provides a significant clue to the cause of her lameness. Dogs younger than twelve months are susceptible to a number of disorders associated with the growth and development of the bones of the legs. They are more likely to have limb problems caused by nutritional problems than adult dogs. They’re also less likely to have cancer, although bone cancer affects puppies in rare instances. Mature dogs, those older than twelve months of age, are more likely to suffer from deterioration of the joints, torn ligaments and tendons, and cancer. Most cases of limping in dogs are caused by mild trauma to a bone, ligament, tendon, or joint, and heal after a few days of rest. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to ease the pain while healing progresses. Broken bones are usually, but not always, obvious to the veterinarian. Dogs can suffer from other orthopedic disorders so it’s important to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to determine the exact cause of your dog’s lameness.
Excerpt from “Ask the Vet About Dogs: Easy Answers to Commonly Asked Questions.”