The Limping Dog
Limping in dogs, or lameness, is a very common occurrence in our canine companions. There are many different causes of limping; some are very simple, such as a sticker in the paw or a mildly pulled muscle, and some causes can be much more serious, such as a torn ligament, fractured bone or arthritis.
What to do if your dog is limping?
If your pet has never limped before and you are noticing that he/she is acutely (all of the sudden) lame on his leg, first check for the obvious cause such as a wound or a thorn in the paw. If nothing is found you may want to watch him for a few hours to see if the lameness resolves. A minor muscle strain will usually get better quickly. However, if the lameness persists then you should have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian.
What to expect at the vet’s office?
Your veterinarian will likely do a complete orthopedic examination. This means evaluating his gait, carefully examining his bones, joints and muscle to look for a cause of lameness. Often he or she will recommend x-rays to help diagnose the cause; in some cases additional tests may be recommended based on the findings of the physical examination. Be aware that if your pet is limping he/she is in pain and he/she may not tolerate examination or x-rays. Your veterinarian may advise giving your pet a pain medication or light sedative to facilitate examination and evaluation of the lameness.
What are the most common causes of lameness in dogs?
There are many causes of lameness but as we like to say, “Common things happen commonly.” The most common cause of hind limb lameness in the adult dog is an injury to the cranial cruciate ligament. Unlike humans, pets can sustain this injury without any history of trauma or overexertion. An injured or torn ligament results in instability of the knee joint, which causes lameness, pain and eventually arthritis. Surgery is often recommended for this injury. Other common causes of hind limb lameness include medial patella luxation, hip dysplasia or lower lumbar (back) pain.
Front leg lameness can be more complicated and common causes are often different depending on what type of dog you have. In large breed dogs elbow arthritis secondary to elbow dysplasia and shoulder strains are common. In small breed dogs shoulder instability with subluxation (beginning of dislocation) and cervical spinal cord disease are commonly the cause of forelimb lameness.
What about serious or life threatening causes of lameness?
Bone cancer is a cause of lameness and can be seen in older pets. The best way to diagnose bone cancer is examination with a veterinarian and radiographs of the leg.
What is the treatment for lameness in dogs?
Ultimately it will depend on the cause of the lameness. In many cases your veterinarian will advise you to rest your pet and prescribe a pain medication to see if he/she improves. If the lameness does not improve your veterinarian may recommend that you see an orthopedic specialist to see if surgery or different medical treatment is advised. Your pet’s prognosis will ultimately depend on the cause of the limping. However, in most cases, your pet can be treated with surgery or medication to improve or eliminate the lameness.