What should I do if my dog is limping?

Medical Articles
dog on mat by door

There are several emotional stages for a pet parent with a limping dog. First, you see the limp. Maybe your dog gets up funny or you see them wobble a bit. Then you question yourself. Was it really a limp or did I just imagine it? Did she just step funny? You might even ask someone else to watch your dog walk. The limp goes from a maybe to definitely. And now what?

Don't panic. We’ve been there too, and we’ll walk you through it.

How bad is the limp?

Sometimes a limp can be really subtle. If it’s just the dog favoring one leg slightly or seems to be nodding his head when he walks, it’s minor and you can give it a couple of hours to see if it gets better. If you rush to the vet now, chances are your dog will be doing a normal-but-costly strut into the emergency clinic. Give it a bit and then call your vet to schedule the next possible appointment if it doesn’t go away. If it appears to be healing with TLC at home, give it a week before letting your dog resume normal exercise. It might help to take a quick video of the limp. This allows you to compare it to how your dog is moving in a day or so and to show it to the vet if you do need to go in.

If your dog is yelping, dragging a limb, or the leg appears to be bent, or is hot to the touch it’s best to seek immediate emergency treatment.

Inspect the Limp

Look at the paw to see if there are any cuts or injuries. Thorns, bee stings, or splinters can cause a limp to pop up suddenly and are usually a quick fix. Inspect the pads, nails, and between the toes for odd issues. If you find the source of the problem, apply first aid and give your pup extra cookies and snuggles.

If your dog has pulled a muscle or caused a sprain during play or other activity, it’s best to rest it. Apply heat or cold to the affected area if you can locate the site of the pain. Keep them in bed or a crate to restrict movement and try to keep them from licking the sore area. You can call your vet to ask about pain management, but do not give any medication without talking to your vet first. Splinting, bandaging, or other wraps may help, but in some cases it causes more aggravation and possibly more injury.

What if it doesn’t resolve itself?

It’s best not to let a limp go unchecked for more than a day because an untreated injury can cause long-term damage like arthritis or other serious health issues. Even if your dog isn’t whimpering or still seems otherwise okay, he may be masking pain and the symptoms of an underlying issue. It’s best to have your dog examined and possibly have x-rays done to rule out problems or get the issue treated quickly. Call your vet and let them know what’s going on so they can see you or recommend you seek emergency care.

Whether your dog is a young pup or an aging senior, lameness is, well, lame. We hope you get some answers soon and that she’s on the mend in no time.