Limping in dogs is probably one of the most common symptoms seen in veterinary medicine. Dogs of all ages can experience this symptom for various reasons. What are common reasons for limping? When is this symptom serious enough to require a veterinary visit? What are ways to diagnose the cause of limping? These are some of the questions we will look at further on in this article.
So what can cause limping in dogs?
Limping can result from injury or damage to two main groups of anatomy. These two groups are the musculoskeletal and the nervous system. The musculoskeletal system comprises the bones, tendons, ligament, muscles, cartilage, and joints. The nervous system consists of the nerves, brain, and the spinal cord. As you can see, there can be many factors involved when you are dealing with your limping dog. However, the most common cause for limping in dogs involves either the joints or muscles.
Some Common Causes for limping in dogs
As previously mentioned, the most common cause for limping in dogs involves the musculoskeletal system. Highly active dogs often rupture ligaments in the knees which can lead to swelling and pain. Many older dogs develop arthritis in their hips and elbow joints. Smaller dogs may experience a bony defect in their knees that cause their knee caps to dislocate also referred to as a luxating patella. This is often characterized by little pain and intermittent limping especially when active.
Unusual causes for limping in dogs.
Joint disease. The joints are the parts of the body that allow for smooth movement of the limbs. They are made up of fluid surrounded by an associated capsule. Sometimes the joints can get inflamed for different reasons. Causes can be due to injury, infection, or autoimmune disease. Infection can occur from wounds to the joints or can occur from tick bites. The most common infection from ticks that affects the joints is Lyme disease. Dogs can also experience an immune mediated joint disease where their own body attacks the structures in the joint. This is known as immune-mediated polyarthritis.
Unusual puppy diseases– Young puppies can also experience a few disorders that can lead to limping as well. Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy is a disease that affects large breed dogs. The specific cause is unknown, but it affects all the joints causing swelling and extreme pain. Panosteitis is another rare disease that occurs in younger medium and large breed dogs. The cause for this is unknown as well. It causes extreme pain in the limbs and is diagnosed by a characteristic cotton ball appearance of the bones that are seen on the x-rays.
Legg-Calves Perthes Disease occurs in young toy breed dogs and is characterized by limping that affects the hip. The cause behind this is also unknown. Diagnosis is made by x-rays which shows an abnormal hip joint.
When do you take your dog to the vet?
For limping in dogs, your pet should see a veterinarian if there is significant swelling associated with the leg, if there is an obvious fracture, if the limping lasts longer than 24 hours without improvement, or if there are any open wounds.
The best way to diagnose a cause for limping is through a combination of x-rays and physical exam findings. Physical exam findings may include obvious swelling, instability of joints, and localized pain. These specific findings may help with a diagnosis.
Treatment of limping can vary based on the cause. As far as medications are concerned, most dogs are placed on some type of anti-inflammatory like Rimadyl or Previcox. Joint supplements that contain ingredients such as glucosamine and MSM are common also. Some conditions like the a torn cruciate ligament and a luxating patella will likely need surgery for correction in addition to medications.
Physical therapy: Animal physical therapy is becoming more popular as an option for treatment. Physical therapy may involve stretching and range of motion exercises to help increase mobility. New modalities such as laser therapy, chiropractic care, soundwave therapy, and underwater treadmills are becoming more popular as well.
Don’t self treat: It is often tempting when we see our dogs in pain to offer pain medications we personally take. These may include medications such as Tylenol, Aleve, and Advil. The problem with these medications are that dogs don’t metabolize them like we do. Therefore giving your dog these medications might poison them.
Having a limping dog can definitely concerning for any pet owner. The key is to determine the cause so your dog can receive the appropriate treatment and achieve relief quickly.