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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 leg.

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.

Then, call your veterinarian with your observations and concerns. 

WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"

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