When your leg is injured, you can easily tell friends, family, or medical personnel what happened, how the injury feels, how much pain you are in, and whether or not you need emergency assistance. However, when your dog's leg is injured, he can't really tell you much of anything other than showing signs of being in pain. That can be a problem because if you don't know what happened, it can be hard to take care of the problem yourself. Based on signs and symptoms, though, you can usually at least determine if your pup needs emergency medical attention or if a wait-and-see attitude might be preferable.
Evaluate the dog's injury
There are a lot of things that may result in your dog's leg being swollen. Snake bites, sprains, breaks, abscesses, cancer, and more can all result in swelling. That's why the first thing you need to do is evaluate the swelling. Has it been slowly swelling up over a few weeks? If so, you should probably take your pooch to the vet to discover the underlying cause, which could be an abscess, arthritis, or a tumor, among other things.
If the leg wasn't swollen one day and is the next, then you need to look at the leg to see if you can figure out what happened. See if there are any puncture marks or bloody wounds or if it seems like the bone isn't laying straight. If you notice anything drastic like this during your visual inspection, take your dog to the vet.
Next, manipulate the joints on the leg, starting with the toes and working all the way up to the hip joint. Use the dog's opposite, unswollen leg as a baseline to compare the normal range of movement against that of the injured leg. If you notice any loud pops or cracks, or if the dog seems to be in extreme pain, take her to the vet. If the leg seems a little stiff or doesn't have any movement problems, you may wait overnight to see if the swelling and pain goes down.
If the swollen area feels spongy and stays indented after you touch it, take your dog to a veterinary hospital immediately. This is called pitting edema, which can be a sign of life-threatening vascular or lymphatic disease, according to MedicineNet.
When dog leg injuries are particularly painful, especially if the pup won't let you closely examine her leg, take her to the vet. VCA Hospitals says that examining certain injuries yourself could result in further injury to your dog, even if she doesn't struggle. Your vet can offer pain medications or even sedate her in order to perform a thorough investigation of the injury, which may require diagnostic tools such as an X-ray.
Dog leg injuries you witness
Of course, if you saw the reason for the swelling, you have a head start because you likely already know the cause. Animal bites that result in swelling require a trip to the vet sooner rather than later, especially if it was a potentially rabid animal or a snake.
If he fell down while you were playing, the injury might be a sprained joint or broken bone. If he appears to be in a lot of pain, particularly if he yelps when he tries to put weight on it or when you try to examine it, a vet visit is in order. Otherwise, you may wait a day to see if the swelling goes down, which it will if your dog sprained his ankle. If it does not go down and the pain does not seem to be going away, take him to the vet.
Caring for the swelling
If you wait before taking your dog to the veterinarian, you will need to care for the swelling in the meantime. A cold compress can reduce swelling and help numb mild pain. PetMD also suggests soaking the injury in an Epsom salt bath. It is important to make your dog relax and move the injured leg as little as possible. Crating your dog can help with this. You can give your dog a pet-safe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, but call your vet first to make sure you give her one that is safe for dogs because many over-the-counter NSAIDs made for humans are toxic to dogs, according to WebMD.