Dog limping, or canine lameness, is a common reasons for visits to the vet.  One day you are playing fetch with your fur buddy and the next day he is suddenly limping  and in some discomfort.

To follow are some of the more common causes of canine lameness.


Dogs limp for many reasons. A simple explanation: your dog is either unable to or refuses to put their full weight on the affected limb. Of course, what is causing your dog to limp is not so simple.

Here are the top 15 causes from those that cause mild lameness to problems that may be more severe:

WC-2013-Ken-Bernard-Canada-Photo-casey-thompson1.  Overexertion. Dogs can over-exert themselves during a fetch session, rough play, or a run in the park can cause overexertion. Muscle soreness affects them just like us. In these situations, dogs will usually recover quickly.


2.  Something Stuck in Paw. Imagine going outside without shoes on – running around on the grass, in the woods, and all over your neighborhood. The bottoms of your feet are bound to get dirty, right? This is what your dog does every single day! If your dog is limping or putting up his paw, it could be due to a laceration or having something stuck in between his paw, such as a burr, thorn, or even rock. In some long-haired dogs, even their own fur can get matted between their toes.


3.  Toenail Problems. If your dog hasn’t been to the groomer in a while, or is not walking on concrete regularly (which helps file the nails), there is a chance that an ingrown or overgrown toenail is digging into his or her skin. This can cause discomfort (i.e. limping) and, in severe cases, may need a veterinarian to help file the nail down. On the other hand, if your dog just came from the groomer and is limping, it’s also possible that their nail got cut too short.


Tick Twister 14.  Animal or Insect Bites. Venom from spiders can be poisonous and affect the neural system and and bites from certain ticks can cause the limbs to fail. Animal bites that are not infectious can also be dangerous because of the puncture wounds. If your dog has been bit by another dog on the leg, for example, this could injure the joints and cause limping. Learn about the safest way for removing ticks


5.  Underlying Scar Tissue. If your dog has ever broken his leg or had surgery, scar tissue may be the culprit. Even if the dog’s leg was properly splinted (and he got surgery if needed), there may still be scar tissue and/or the bone may have set in a position that is slightly different than before. This is especially true for cases where there are complex fractures that requires plates and screws to structure the bone.


6.  Infection. An infected wound, incision, skin, or nail bed can cause pain and limping. Infections should be treated right away as they can worsen and become harder to treat.


7.  Injury (Pain). Dogs are active creatures, and with activity comes the possibility of sprains and strains. Leg injuries are one of the most common causes of limping in dogs. Injury should be suspected if the onset of the limping was sudden. Sometimes the limping subsides in a day or two, and sometimes it persists if the injury is more serious.


8.  Panosteitis (Wandering Lameness). This condition tends to affect growing large breed puppies (age 5-12 months). There is a tendency for pain and lameness to move from one limb to another over the period of several weeks or months. Symptoms usually disappear by the time the dog is 20 months old.


yorkie-running9.  Dislocated Knee (Luxating Patella). A luxating patella is a fancy term for a dislocated knee; it occurs when a dog’s kneecap moves out of its natural position. The effect of this condition varies from complete unwillingness to bear weight on the limb (causing severe lameness) to mild to moderate instability without any accompanying pain.

Certain breeds, such as Yorkshire Terriers and toy breed dogs, are predisposed to luxating patella. The condition is also hereditary, so if your dog’s parent(s) had it, chances are your dog may too. Many small dogs live their entire life with luxating patella and it never results in arthritis or pain, nor does it interfere with the dog’s life.

In other cases, it can manifest into a more serious condition, which can require surgery or treatment. A dislocated knee can also be caused by an accident or other external trauma. See our article:  Floating Kneecaps


10.  Dysplasia. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia are common conditions in dogs which can cause limping. Dysplasia is a condition of a poorly fitting joint causing the joint to become loose and subluxate. To learn more about this condition, check out our articles:  10 Most Important Things You Need To Know About Hip Dysplasia


11.  Old Age/Osteoarthritis. As dogs get older, their musculoskeletal system naturally becomes weaker. They are unable to run, jump, and play the way they used to. Their mind does not always want to listen to their body, so they may attempt to play beyond their abilities. Osteoarthritis and can be effectively addressed with a preventive care regimen like Sashas Blend. This is especially important for working and larger breeds.


Home is where my dog is

12.  Fracture/Broken Leg. Fractures and broken bones are not always visible to the naked eye, and can happen due to trauma. When a dog is suffering from a fracture, it will be unable to bear weight on the affected limb.


13.  Nerve Damage. This can cause a front or rear leg to become paralyzed, causing lameness when walking, usually the foot will drag on the ground. Nerve damage is often present in dogs that have diabetes mellitus.


14.  Degenerative Myelopathy. DM is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. Initial symptoms include weakness and lameness. The disease can eventually progress to paralysis.


15.  Tumors/Cancer. You should always monitor your dog for any unusual lumps or growths. Most of the time, lumps are not harmful, but in some cases they can indicate cancer. Bone cancer, which is especially prevalent in larger breeds, can grow rapidly and cause limping, pain, and even death if left unchecked.



Treatment for sudden lameness in dogs vary depending on the severity and cause of the limp.  In sudden severe cases, veterinary care is always recommended.

The actual reactions you have from your dog from avoidance to aggression when inspecting your dog, especially if the onset of the lameness was sudden, can make a huge difference.


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