Limping and Lameness in Dogs
Limping indicates a structural
problem, pain, or weakness in the involved leg. It is a common sign of bone and
joint disease, but it also occurs with muscle and nerve injuries.
Determing the Cause
Consider the history and circumstances surrounding the appearance of
lameness. Did the lameness appear spontaneously or was there an injury? Which leg is involved?
A dog often holds up the paw or
places less weight on a painful leg, especially one that has been recently
injured. A dog usually takes shorter steps on a painful or weak leg. You may
notice that his head bobs or drops as his weight comes down on the painful leg.
With chronic lameness, the dog may simply take very short strides with no
obvious limp. This is also true if more than one leg is injured or hurts. The
dog’s head bobs up on the painful side and down on the side with the sound
Having identified which leg is involved, try to identify the specific site
and possible cause. First examine the foot and look between the toes. Many
cases of lameness are due to foot injuries such as sprains, pad lacerations, broken nails, and penetrating
puncture wounds caused by thorns and
splinters. Carefully feel the leg from the toes up. Locate areas of tenderness
by applying gentle pressure. You may also feel areas of swelling. Next, flex
and extend all joints from the toes to the shoulder looking for resistance
(lack of easy movement). Resistance is a sign of joint pain, which will be
evident when the dog attempts to pull the leg free. If you aren’t sure if
something you feel is normal, check the dog’s other leg. You have one for a
comparison for both front and rear leg problems.
Having located the site of pain, the next step is to try to determine the
cause of the pain. Consider the following: