Dogs can start limping for many reasons. Unfortunately, they can't tell us if they stepped on something sharp, got stung by an insect, or have an infection in their paw. Instead, we have to look for signs of trouble, such as the dog licking its paws and limping.
Causes of dog licking paws and limping
Not all causes of a dog licking her paws and limping are emergencies. Clinton Veterinary Hospital explains that gradual or intermittent limping could be due to an age-related or chronic condition, such as hip dysplasia or arthritis. Sudden, acute limping could be due to something like a bone or muscle injury.
Sudden limping that doesn't seem to be severely bothering your pet can most likely wait for normal veterinary hours. However, a sudden change to behavior, such as your dog licking his paws and limping plus signs of a serious injury, such as swelling, obvious broken bones or fractures, or nervous system issues such as trouble breathing and not walking properly should be addressed immediately. A dangling limb could be a sign that something may not be broken but may be dislocated.
Injuries of the paw
Dog paw pads have thick tissue on the bottom, but that tissue can still be injured fairly easily. Stepping on sharp items such as glass, thorns, or nails can either cut your dog's paws or become stuck in them. Their toenails can break off, their dew claws could become stuck on something and tear, or a bite from an insect or another animal can cause swelling and infection.
If any of these things happen, you may see your dog frequently licking that area. Dr. Phillips Animal Hospital says that paw licking and chewing is a common behavior in dogs. If it's sudden and persistent, it should be looked at by a veterinarian because a dog licking her paws a lot—and in particular, a dog licking her paws and limping—is a sign that your dog is in pain or is uncomfortable.
Joint or soft-tissue injuries
A dog who runs too fast or jumps too far could injure his ligaments, tendons, or the joints themselves. This can lead to pain, which can cause a dog to lick his paws and limp. Over time, arthritis can develop in an injury that may not seem serious at first.
A dog can tear its cranial cruciate ligament (like the anterior cruciate ligament, ACL, in humans) or the ligaments that keep his kneecaps in place. These types of injuries are very common. With this type of joint or soft-tissue injury, your dog will limp and may lick to soothe himself.
Other possible causes
Another thing to visually inspect is hair that can grow too long in between the toes of certain dog breeds. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reminds dog owners to take special care of their dog's paws in winter and summer. Taking your dog for a walk in the bitter cold of winter can leave her paw pads chapped or frostbitten. Salt or chemical ice melters that are used on roads or sidewalks can be especially irritating, and if this gets on your dog's paw pads, it can also be ingested when she licks.
In summer, your dog's paw pads can become blistered by walking on hot sidewalks or other surfaces. If your dog's paw pads become burned, they could exhibit blisters, loose flaps of skin, or red patches. When examining your dog's paws if you see your dog licking her paws and limping, check for an odor, which could indicate an internal infection that you might not be able to see.
An odor that smells like Fritos or corn is a common thing for which to look. In this case, blame an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. New Haven Pet Hospital recommends treating this by giving your dog's paws a bath in tepid water and washing the paws. Trim her nails or overgrown hair and keep her paws dry until it clears up.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.