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Dog Limping: Causes & Treatment

by Geoff Works |

Seeing your dog limp can be alarming. But sometimes it’s unavoidable due to injury or old age. The reason behind the limp can be traced to one of two reasons: your dog has suffered trauma or they have a chronic, degenerative disease.

When you start noticing the signs of a limp, it pays to visit the vet right away so your pet can get the right treatment. But to make things easy for you, we’ve listed the common causes of dog limping and how to treat them.

1. Paw pad injury

A paw pad injury can happen from something as simple as taking a walk or excessive paw licking. It could also happen if your pet steps on sharp objects, which could lead to a laceration, puncture, or abrasion.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Persistent licking of the affected paw
  • Inability to use the affected paw
  • Swollen, bleeding, or blistered paws

If the injury has been caused by a foreign object, be careful and try to remove the object from the paw with a tweezer. Once it’s been taken out, wash the paw with soap and water to prevent infection. Dry the paw with a clean cloth and apply bandages to the affected area. If the bleeding still doesn’t stop, take your dog to the vet.

If a burn was the cause of the injury, wash the affected area with water. Then, carefully apply a disinfecting solution to the part. If the blisters are swollen, take your dog to the vet.

2. Broken nail

If you fail to clip your dog’s nails regularly, it could put them at risk of a broken nail injury. Since it’s a painful injury, your dog may yelp out in protest, start limping, and constantly lick its paw.

If your dog has a broken nail, the first thing you need to do is stop them from licking the affected area. Persistent licking could, after all, lead to infections or irritation. It could also reopen a healing wound.

Make sure to properly clean the affected area twice a day using warm saltwater (one teaspoon of salt and one pint of warm water). Once the area has been disinfected, cover it with a small cloth to prevent your dog from licking their paw so the wound can heal.

If your dog is still in pain, take it to the vet. In some cases, your vet may have to remove the damaged nail.

3. Sprained or strained leg

Sprains and strains are different. A strain is an injury to the tendons linking your dog’s bones and muscles. Strains usually affect the hip and thigh are caused by stretches, slips, falls, and jumps.

A sprain, on the other hand, happens when the ligaments connecting the bones are damaged. They often affect the knees, elbows, and ankles.

If your dog has a sprain or strain, you might notice them limping, whining, and refusing to move. Take them to the vet after you notice these signs to get the right treatment.

4. Broken leg

A broken leg is another common cause of limping. If your dog is limping on its front leg, it could be a sign of a broken ulna, radius, or humerus. But if your dog is limping on its back leg, the femur, tibia, or fibula could be affected.

Regardless of the broken bone, dogs with a broken leg should be taken to the vet immediately. In the meantime, you can apply a splint to the leg to prevent your dog from causing further harm.

5. Osteoarthritis

Older dogs are more prone to developing osteoarthritis. But apart from old age, other factors could put your pet at risk of the condition. These include:

  • Large breeds of dogs
  • Obesity
  • Conditions like Lyme Disease
  • Repetitive stress from activities like flyball or agility training

The best thing you can do to slow down the onset of osteoarthritis is through a proper diet, regular exercise, and by taking joint supplements.


There are two compounds necessary to maintain your dog’s joints: glucosamine and chondroitin. Your dog can get glucosamine by consuming these types of foods:

  • Trachea
  • Chicken feet
  • Oxtails or pigtails
  • Beef knuckle bones
  • Shellfish shells
  • Green Lipped Mussels
  • Bone broth

Meanwhile, foods rich in chondroitin include:

  • Cow trachea
  • Pig ears
  • Pig nose
  • Bird cartilage


Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can help your dog manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis. But before you give your dog NSAIDs, consult your doctor first. After all, it can have serious side effects, especially for dogs with poor liver or kidney function.


Always ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight so they don’t apply too much pressure on their joints. You can help them on track with their weight through regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet.

If your dog has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, hydrotherapy is a great type of exercise. The activity reduces pressure on the joints and the water’s resistance can help your dog move its legs freely. This type of activity can help them shed off some extra weight.

Hip dysplasia

Another condition that could be the reason behind your dog’s limp is hip dysplasia. When this happens, the ball and socket in the joints fail to fit properly, leading them to constantly grind against each other.

Hip dysplasia is particularly common in larger breeds of dogs like Saint Bernards or Golden Retrievers. Other contributing factors include:

  • Rapid growth rate
  • Obesity
  • Strenuous exercise

Your vet will diagnose hip dysplasia by conducting a physical exam and taking radiographs of your dog's hips. This can help determine the degree and severity of the condition so your dog can receive the best treatment.

To reduce the risk of hip dysplasia, make sure your dog maintains a healthy weight, gets proper exercise, and takes joint supplements.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is an infection that can cause dog limping and lethargy. If your dog is suffering from Lyme disease, it may exhibit these signs:

  • Decreased activity
  • Fever
  • Pain, stiffness, and discomfort
  • Limping due to swelling of the joints

If you notice these symptoms, take your dog to the vet. Your dog will go through a series of blood tests to identify the presence of antibodies. Other tests may also be conducted to diagnose the infection and determine if the condition has affected your dog’s kidneys.

As part of Lyme disease prevention protocol, make sure your pet is vaccinated against the infection in addition to tick removal and control. It also helps to clear out shrubbery near your home and use reliable tick prevention products.

It Always Starts with Prevention & Care

If your dog is showing signs of a limp, always stay calm and assess the situation first. When in doubt, consult your vet right away.

It also pays to maintain healthy habits like getting enough exercise and maintaining the proper weight. After all, your furry friend deserves the best and the last thing you want is for them to end up injured. So make sure you know the signs of a dog limp so you can prevent the injury from getting worse. And don’t forget to give your dog some TLC.

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