Is Your Dog Limping? Here’s What To Do

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7 min read
7 min read

Updated - Apr 5th, 2023

As a loving pet parent, seeing your dog limping can be scary and overwhelming. With all the jumping, running, and exploring that your dog loves, it’s possible they’ve overdone it, resulting in a limp. 

However, dog limping can come from a number of underlying causes – we’re here to help you get to the bottom of it.

Key Points

  • There are two types of limps you’ll typically see in dogs: a gradual limp that comes on slowly, or a sudden limp that comes on in a matter of seconds.
  • The type of limp your dog has as well as accompanying symptoms can help your vet diagnose the cause of the limp.
  • If there is an obvious break, bleeding, extreme swelling, or your dog cannot stand up take them to the emergency vet ASAP.

Identify the type of limp your dogs has

There are a few common causes of limping in dogs, so identifying the type of limp your dog has first can help pinpoint what’s wrong.

  • A gradual limp comes on slowly (maybe over a few days or weeks) and is usually caused by a chronic or degenerative condition like a bone or joint disease.
  • A sudden limp comes on in a matter of seconds, directly following an injury or trauma, or as a result of an infection, like bone infections (osteomyelitis) or tick-borne disease like Lyme disease.

Common reasons for dog limping

Here are a few reasons why your dog might be limping. Bear in mind that these are common ailments, and it’s best to see your vet before jumping to any conclusions.

Paw injuries and abnormalities

Our feet aren’t immune to stubbed toes or stepping on nails, and your dog’s paws are no different.

The paw pads underneath your dog’s feet do a lot. They provide cushioning and traction, protect bones and joints from the shock of walking and running, regulate body temperature, and help them navigate rough terrain. In other words, they’re always putting in work for your furry friend, which is why an injury to the paw pad requires immediate attention.

Objects like glass, sticks, and thorns can cut or get stuck in your dog’s paw, making it uncomfortable to walk and potentially leading to infection. Other paw-affecting injuries include:

  • Broken toenails
  • Burns
  • Bruises
  • Frostbite

If your pup is perpetually licking their paw (more than normal, that is), it could be a sign of injury. Dogs will also limp when they have an injured or painful paw pad. 

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Traumatic injuries and emergency situations

Traumatic injuries are a common cause of lameness in dogs. Just like how we can suffer from bone fractures or torn ligaments during physical activities, your pup can do the same. And while puppy casts are totally adorable (what isn’t adorable on your pooch?), the whimpering and limping are almost impossible to bear. 

Here are a few of the most common traumatic injuries that lead to limping:

  • Broken bones
  • Sprains
  • Dislocations
  • Joint injuries
  • ACL tears and other torn ligaments
  • Spinal injuries

In some cases, your dog might not be able to put any weight on the affected leg. If you notice a limp for more than 15 minutes, schedule an X-ray and an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to prevent the injury from worsening and help stop pain. 

Bone diseases and inflammatory conditions

If you have a younger, large breed dog, they might be at risk for bone diseases that can cause lameness. Large breeds tend to grow quickly – leaving their bones struggling to acclimate to all that new weight. 

Panosteitis (inflammation of the long bones) and Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (inflammation in the growth plates of the long bones) are the most common and can cause a gradual limp to appear that might shift from leg to leg. Bone cancers, such as Osteosarcoma, can also manifest in a limp and severely weaken a bone to the point that it easily breaks.

Before jumping to this conclusion, it’s best to schedule a  vet appointment as soon as you notice something’s off. 

Joint diseases

Joint diseases are another common cause of limping in dogs, with the degenerative joint disease – or osteoarthritis – being number one. Osteoarthritis causes inflammation in the joints that worsens over time and is particularly common in senior dogs, overweight dogs, and large breeds. 

In addition to a limp, you might also notice your pup sleeping more, walking more slowly, dragging behind on walks, having bathroom accidents in the house, or avoiding stairs and jumping. Lyme disease can also affect the joints, which is why it’s always essential for you to check your dog for ticks after a long hike or a day in the woods.

Other common joint diseases include:

Always make sure to ask your vet about how you can support your pup’s joint health – especially as they get older!

When to visit the emergency vet

Unless your dog’s limping quickly resolves on its own, puppy limping usually requires a visit to the vet. It’s tough to figure out if your dog just has a little bump or bruise from a rowdy game of fetch or if it’s something much more urgent. Since you might be a little panicked at their first signs of pain, we’re here to help you.

Broken bones and dislocated joints require immediate care, and post-trauma nerve damage can be an indicator of neurological damage or a spinal injury. If these signs are present, bring your dog to the vet ASAP:

  • Dangling/dislocated limb
  • Limping and won’t put a foot down for any reason
  • Abnormal swelling of any part of a leg
  • Hot limb Legs that seem painful when touched, or hot to the touch (indicates inflammation) 
  • Obvious break or unnatural angle of the leg
  • Down dog–can’t get up from sitting/laying down, dragging or both hind limbs seems paralyzed or weak in hind-end (can indicate spinal disc disease)

Treatment for your limping dog

So, now that you have a good idea of why your dog might be limping, you’re probably wondering what you can do to treat it.

First things first: don’t give your pup your favorite human medication. As much as you want to put a Band-Aid on their boo-boo, it might do more harm than good. Instead, call your vet who can prescribe special anti-inflammatory medications to help with the pain for your pooch. You’ll find that there’s no one “magic pill” to cure your pup’s limp, but it’s a good start.

Paw injuries, trauma injuries, bone diseases, and joint diseases will all be treated differently, and your vet will help guide you in the right direction. Treatment plans could include over-the-counter or prescribed pain medication, physical therapy, or surgery. For joint diseases, your vet will likely prescribe joint supplements like glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate. And for some injuries, the only cure is a whole lot of attention, treats, and TLC.


When should I take my dog to the vet for limping? 

If your pup is showing any signs mentioned hinting at a broken bone, paw pad damage, or neurological issues, visit your vet immediately. Otherwise, if there is no improvement and your dog seems to be in consistent pain, that’s another sign to visit. When in doubt, call your vet!

Why is my dog limping with no visible injury? 

There are many potential causes for this. It’s possible your pup simply needs rest, maybe an ice pack, and some TLC; other reasons could be tied to breed and susceptibility to joint/bone conditions.

Can a dog recover from limping? 

Fur sure! There are many causes for a limping dog, and many injuries are moderate. Make sure to consult your vet for the best care plan.

From diagnostics to medications, trips to the vet can be costly. Luckily, Pumpkin Dog Insurance plans can help pay 90% of covered vet bills for unexpected accidents and illnesses that can leave your dog limping.

Rachel Carp

Rachel Carp

Rachel is a copywriter and the favorite aunt of an adorable Cockapoo named Bentley.
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