My dog or cat is limping

Medical articles

Recently, my cat Barnes had a very sore paw and it turned out to be an infection in his foot. When he got sick, I wondered what the cause could be and it turns out that limping or lameness is one of the main reasons that cats and dogs go to the vet’s office.

So, what could be the cause of this problem? Here’s what I have found in my research:

  • Burrs or thorns in the paw– something you can check this yourself if your dog or cat will let you. Also cuts or scraps on the paw. These are generally treated by removing the spike and wiping with hydrogen peroxide or iodine solution to prevent infection.

  • Infection of the paw– just like my cat Barnes's swollen paw, something might have pierced his paw and caused an infection. The symptoms were a hot and swollen paw and Barnes had a mild fever. This condition can generally be easily corrected with a course of antibiotics such as amoxicillin, with a distinct improvement noticeable after one day.

  • Overgrown or overly short toe nails. If overgrown, the nail might have broken off after being too long and getting infected, or if the nail twists causing toe arthritis or swollen joints. If too short, perhaps the toe got infected from being clipped too close to the quick.

  • Sprains, dislocations, and broken bones, which might have occurred from an accident with a car or while exercising. You would probably know if this had happened but then again, if you have a cat that goes outside by herself, you can’t always tell. We think Lily dropped something onto her paw, causing it to be all swollen. Goodness knows how she did that!

  • Elbow arthritis where fragments of bone are in the joint – ouch! This is most often seen in large breeds of dogs such as Labradors, Golden retrievers and Rottweilers.

  • Sprains or strains in the various muscles of the leg and shoulder.

  • Slipping knee cap, often called a luxating patella. This is generally an inherited condition that can be treated with surgery.

  • Ligament tears

  • General joint arthritis which is quite common in older animals, just like us humans. Symptoms include limping and/or swollen joints and larger dogs get it sooner than smaller dogs and cats. Elbow or shoulder osteochonritis dissecans (osteochonrosis) is where a flap of cartilage breaks off and gets trapped in the joint. Symptoms can be alleviated with surgery, pain killers and aspirin; however, weight reduction is definitely effective and some people also swear by glucosamine for both treatment and prevention.

  • Hip dysplasia, which I have talked about in my article Hip Dysplasia in Dogs (and Cats).

  • Bone tumors called osteosarcoma, which grow on the bone near a joint. The usual treatment is amputation of the limb (check out the header picture on this blog – do you see the three legged dog?).

  • Inflammation of the muscles of the face and legs

    in both cats and dogs (known as myositis) can also cause limping over extended periods of time or in flare ups. The cause is unknown but could be related to the animal’s immune system attacking itself and is treated with corticosteroids.

  • An inflammatory disease of young dogs, particularly German Shepherds, which causes limping that shifts from one leg to another and yelping if you grasp the bones of the affected leg firmly (aka panosteitis, enostosis, eosinophilic Panosteitis, juvenile osteomyelitis or osteomyelitis). No-one knows what causes this condition but the good news is that it usually cures itself over time. Vets often treat for the pain until the condition disappears.

  • Lyme Disease

  • a blood clot

    aka aortic saddle thrombosis, where a blood clot caused by heart disease cuts off circulation to the hind quarters. Certainly you would hardly expect heart disease to cause limping in cats or dogs but it can happen rarely.

As with any of your pet’s health conditions, if you are worried about your pet, talk to your vet.