How to Determine Why Your Dog is Limping

Warning

Even mild-mannered dogs can become snappy and aggressive when they’re in pain, so use caution and care when checking your dog for injuries. If possible, have another person help keep your dog relaxed and still while you examine him or transport him to the vet.

Never give your dog over-the-counter pain medications intended for human use, as they could be toxic.

Tip

Your vet likely will perform a physical exam and possibly take X-rays to determine the cause of your dog’s limp. He also may perform an orthopedic exam to evaluate joint issues. This can be painful, and your vet may recommend sedation for the process.

Don't let a limp go unaddressed.
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When your pooch starts to limp, it could be a simple scratch, nails that need to be trimmed or something much serious, such as a broken limb or a joint problem. Use a gentle touch with your pup and get him to the vet for medical attention as soon as possible.

Step 1

Examine your dog for visible signs of trauma. If he's bleeding or looks beat up in any other way, he could have been in a fight with another animal, hit by a car or otherwise injured. This constitutes a medical emergency, as your dog could have unseen internal injuries.

Step 2

Check your dog's feet, particularly his paw pads and in-between his toes. Thorns, rocks, glass and debris can get caught in these tender areas. Puncture wounds to the paw pads, whether from a toenail or a foreign object, can be painful. Use a gentle hand to remove any visible foreign object, wash with warm, soapy water and apply a topical antibiotic cream. Epsom salts can help reduce swelling.

Step 3

Look for signs of discoloration on your dog's paw pads. If they are hot and paws are red and swollen, he could be suffering pavement burns. After exposure to frigid temperatures, red, white or blackened paws can be a sign of frostbite. A trip to the vet is in order. .

Step 4

Look at your dog as he's walking away from you. If his gait is off, he could have hip dysplasia. If he's holding one leg off the ground he could have a sprain, a broken bone or a knee issue, such as a torn ligament. These issues can get worse without treatment, so see your medical professional right away.

Step 5

Pay attention to when your dog limps. If he has a hard time standing or a limp that goes away after he's up and walking around for awhile, he could have arthritis. This is especially prevalent in older, large breed and overweight dogs.

Step 6

Call your vet. A persistent limp should be checked out. Even seemingly minor issues that you treat at home, such as minor cuts, can become infected. More serious issues such as broken bones or joint and ligament problems often require rest, immobilization and sometimes surgery. If the situation goes unaddressed, the problem could get worse and be more painful for your dog.

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