Why Is My Dog Limping?

Updated Jul. 12, 2024
A dog limps.

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Seeing your dog limping can be scary and concerning. Although some causes of limping are obvious, it’s not always easy to determine what’s causing the problem. Limping in dogs is never normal, but some of its associated health problems are more serious than others.

Let’s look at everything you need to know about dog limping and what you can do to help your pup recover.

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What Is Limping in Dogs?

A limping dog is reluctant to put weight on one or more legs, usually due to pain. As a result, they have more difficulty walking.

Limping may be short-lived—sometimes a dog may limp for a few moments and then be fine. A dog may have a long-term or progressively worsening limp.

In other cases, a dog may limp on and off intermittently. Occasionally, the limp may appear to shift between legs.  

Types of Limping in Dogs

Chronic Dog Limping

By definition, a chronic limp has been present for two weeks or more.

Perhaps your dog’s limp was barely noticeable a few weeks ago, but now it’s more obvious. Or maybe you thought your dog’s limp would go away with rest, but it hasn’t.

If your dog’s limping hasn’t resolved in a week or two, it’s time for a veterinarian to figure out what’s going on. A chronic limp is almost never an emergency, but you should make the appointment as soon as possible to get your dog some relief.

Acute Dog Limping

If your dog has just started limping, this is called an acute limp. If this is the case, you need to figure out if your dog's limping is mild or severe.

Mild Dog Limping

A mild limp means your dog is still using the leg but not putting as much weight on it.

If your dog has just developed a mild limp but appears comfortable and healthy in all other ways, it’s not unreasonable to encourage them to take it easy for a few days and see what happens.

If your dog doesn’t start improving quickly, the limping worsens, or your pet isn’t back to normal in a week or two, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Severe Dog Limping

When severely limping, dogs may refuse to bear weight on the affected limb, or they may just barely tap their toes on the ground.

While severe dog limping should be evaluated by a veterinarian quickly, you should take your dog’s personality into account. Some dogs will avoid bearing any weight on a mildly sore limb while others are stoic and will walk almost normally even though they’re in a lot of pain.

This will help you determine if your dog’s severe limp warrants a trip to the emergency clinic or if you can wait to see your regular veterinarian the next day.

Limping With Other Symptoms

Evaluate your dog’s well-being. Is your dog displaying other signs of pain?

If your pup is showing the following symptoms, take them to the vet right away.

My Dog Is Limping. What Should I Do?

If your dog is limping, you should first assess the severity of the situation. If your dog’s limp is new and mild and they have no other signs, it’s okay to rest them for a few days to see if the signs improve. If your pup has been limping for several days with no improvement, then it’s time to call your veterinarian.

If your dog has other symptoms—such as those listed above—contact your veterinarian.

If there are no other signs, make sure to peek at the bottom of your pet’s foot. Occasionally, things like gum, rocks, or cockleburs can get stuck to the bottom of your pet’s foot or between toes, resulting in what looks like a dramatic limp.  

Keep in mind that limping generally means your dog is experiencing pain. Even in mild cases, contacting your veterinarian is the best way to get pain relief for your dog. A lot of dogs hide their limps in the veterinary office, so consider taking a video of your dog limping to show your veterinarian.

When resting your dog, keep them from running, jumping, or roughhousing. You should take them out on a leash to eliminate.

Causes of Limping in Dogs

Several injuries and conditions can lead to limping in dogs. Common causes of dog limping include:

This is not an all-inclusive list for causes of limping. Your veterinarian can help you determine what is causing your pet’s limp.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Limping in Dogs

Your vet will start the diagnostic process by taking a thorough health history of your pup.

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • How long has your dog been limping?

  • Can you identify a specific event that may have initiated the limp?

  • Does the limp come and go, or is it present all the time?

  • What type of treatment have you tried at home? Has it worked?

  • Have you noticed any other changes to your dog’s health or behavior?

Next, the veterinarian will perform a physical exam that includes:

  • Watching your pet walk to determine if there are gait abnormalities

  • Moving their joints through their normal range of motion

  • Palpating (examining by touch) along the back, limbs, joints, and paws for pain or abnormalities

  • Checking your pet’s reflexes and proprioception (awareness of limb position)

X-rays are often needed to reach a diagnosis. Some cases also benefit from blood work, a CT scan, an MRI, a joint fluid analysis, or other laboratory tests.

Treatment for Limping in Dogs

The veterinarian will then make treatment recommendations based on your dog’s diagnosis and overall health. In some cases, pain relief and rest may be all that is needed.

Veterinarians often prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain. These medications are safer for dogs than those designed for human use

Medications may include:/p>

  • Carprofen: Carprofen is a prescription NSAID used in dogs to reduce pain and inflammation, typically due to osteoarthritis and pain following surgery. Carprofen is the drug’s generic name. Brand names include Rimadyl and Carprieve.
  • Deramaxx™: Deramaxx™ (active ingredient deracoxib) is a prescription NSAID used primarily for the treatment of post-operative pain and inflammation caused by orthopedic and general surgery. It’s also used to treat inflammation associated with arthritis, and may also be used to control fevers and inflammation caused by other conditions.

When joint health is in question, many veterinarians also recommend the use of nutritional supplements such as:

Common supplements vets may recommend include Nutramax® Dasuquin®, and Nutramax® Cosequin.

If your pup’s limp is caused by something else, other treatment recommendations may include:

  • Additional medications to manage pain, reduce inflammation, treat infection, and/or suppress the immune system

  • Bandages, splints, braces, or casts

  • Surgery

  • Chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer

  • Acupuncture

  • Physical therapy

  • Stem cell therapy

  • Cold laser treatments

  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

  • Therapeutic ultrasound

  • Extracorporeal shockwave therapy

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

  • The use of assistive devices like harnesses, slings, prosthetic limbs, or wheelchairs

  • Weight management

You and your veterinarian are a team. Working together, you can design a treatment plan that will soon help your dog feel better.

Recovery and Management of Limping in Dogs

Some causes of limping will recover quickly with rest and pain medications. If your pet has had surgery or more advanced treatments, your veterinarian will likely discuss activity restriction and how to slowly increase your pet’s activity back to normal.

When resting your pet, you should prevent running, jumping, and rough play. Leash walks can help keep your pet safe when they go outside. In some cases, you may need to use a sling or harness to help your pet with mobility.

Consider purchasing soft orthopedic beds to keep your pet comfortable. You could also get small sets of stairs or ramps to help your dog get around more easily.

Prevention of Limping in Dogs

Accidents happen, and not all causes of limping in dogs are preventable. Steps you can take to help protect your pet include:

Why Is My Dog Limping? FAQs

Can I give my dog aspirin for a limp?

You should not give your dog your aspirin for limping. Aspirin can cause irritation to the stomach and intestines and can affect blood clotting. Although you can purchase aspirin in some pet stores, aspirin is not FDA approved for pain in dogs. 

What does it mean if my dog is limping but not in pain?

If your dog is limping, they are usually experiencing pain, even if you don’t see other signs of pain.

An exception to this would be if they have something stuck to the bottom of their foot, such as gum or tape, that’s causing them to feel uncomfortable when walking. Some nerve conditions can cause limping in the absence of pain, but you will usually see other signs, such as a stumbling gait, difficulty holding in urine or feces, or seizures.

Why is my dog limping suddenly?

There are many reasons your dog could limp suddenly, ranging from a mild sprain that will improve with rest and pain management, to a more severe injury like a fracture that necessitates splints or surgery. Work with your veterinarian to determine the cause and develop a treatment plan for your pup.


Jennifer Coates, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Jennifer Coates, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...


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