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Why is my dog limping and how can I help?

Limping is one clue that your dog might be in pain. In this post, our Voorhees vets share some reasons your dog may be limping, what you can do to help your dog, and when a vet appointment is needed. 


Similar to a person, a dog might limp for a variety of reasons. However, unlike people, your dog won't be able to explain how they are feeling or why they are limping. This means that it's up to you to assess what may be causing your dog's limping and whether your pooch requires veterinary care. 

Why Your Dog May Be Limping

A number of diseases and injuries may cause your dog to develop a limp. These conditions range in severity from easy to heal and in need of urgent medical interventions. Here are some common conditions in dogs that can result in limping. 

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tear

Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) ruptures and tears are among the most common leg injuries in dogs and are typically caused by overexertion in exercises such as jumping and running. Certain dog breeds are at higher risk for this injury than others, including golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, Newfoundlands, and rottweilers. 

Luxating Patella 

This injury is most common in small breed dogs such as chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire terriers. However, dogs of all breeds can suffer from a luxating patella, which occurs when the patella (kneecap) shifts out of alignment with the femur (thigh bone). 

When this injury occurs in small dogs, it generally happens in an area near the inside of the limb or near the middle of the limb. While it can also occur laterally (on the outer parts of the limb), this is usually only diagnosed in larger breeds. 

Canine Carpal Hyperextension 

While this condition is most commonly diagnosed in active larger breed dogs, it is also found in smaller breeds. Canine carpal hyperextension occurs in the forelimb just above a dog's paw and happens when a dog applies excessive force to the carpus joint, triggering its collapse. 

If your dog is suffering from this injury, she may favor one leg over another. The joints may be unstable and there may also be swelling in the forelimb. 

If you suspect your dog has experienced any of these injuries, contact your vet immediately. 

Other Causes of Limping in Dogs

While it's true that serious injuries and joint diseases can cause pain and a subsequent limp in your dog, issues that don't fall into this category can also result in limping. These include: 

  • Insect bite or sting 
  • Inflammatory conditions 
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Vascular conditions
  • Infectious diseases, such as Lyme 
  • A small stone or other object getting stuck in their paw 
  • Strains or tears in muscles, tendons, or ligaments
  • Trauma, including fractured bones 

Symptoms That Indicate It's Time for Emergency Care 

Though you won't always need to visit the vet when your dog is limping, there are some circumstances where your pooch requires prompt veterinary treatment. If any of these apply to your dog, it's time to contact your veterinarian or your nearest emergency animal clinic to arrange emergency care:

  • Moderate to severe swelling 
  • Limbs that feel hot to the touch 
  • Limping in combination with a fever 
  • A broken limb (will appear at an irregular angle) 
  • A dangling limb (this indicates dislocation)

How can I help my limping dog?

As soon as you see your dog limping, do your best to help them rest. You will have to limit their mobility because any additional strain can make the injury worse.  You should also hold off on exercising your dog until they have recovered, and keep them on a leash when you take them outside for bathroom breaks because they may try to run. 

Examine your pup's foot for signs of injury, such as cuts. Call your vet if you notice something obvious that might be causing your dog's pain, such as a small rock or other object. If you believe your dog's limp is being caused by inflammation, try alternating between heat and ice packs as a way to help reduce swelling and discomfort. Contact your vet for recommendations on which to apply and when.

Look for bleeding. This should give insight into whether your dog has experienced an injury, bite, or puncture.

Generally, if your dog's limp isn't severe, you can just monitor your pup's progress at home over 24 – 48 hours, watching for more symptoms or to see if the limp becomes more pronounced.

Most of the time it's best to err on the side of caution and schedule an appointment with your vet. Your veterinarian may be able to help both you and your pooch feel better. If the limp doesn't start resolving itself, is getting worse, or is accompanied by whining or yelping, it's time to call your vet or visit your nearest emergency pet hospital.

Your veterinarian has the training and knowledge needed to diagnose the cause and determine the severity of your pup's pain. A thorough examination may include blood work, tick testing, or X-rays. Your dog's breed, history, age, and general health will all be considered in the diagnosis, as well as the prescribed treatment plan.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have you noticed that your dog has been limping lately? Contact our vets at Voorhees Veterinary Center to schedule an examination for your pooch.

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Voorhees Veterinary Center is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of New Jersey's companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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