My dog is limping!! What’s wrong?!!!

Posted: December 4, 2011 in Veterinary Considerations

   This post could quickly become a book, so I’m going to do my best to condense it (EDIT!!)  to a manageable length.  My goal is to give you a grass-roots tutorial on the musculoskeletal of your Omorrow puppy, and grown dog.  Putting this in layman’s terms will be easy, as I AM a layman.  I have, however, done my best to get educated by Veterinarians, and other experienced canine people.  This post should NOT be relied on for diagnoses of anything.  Again, this post should NOT be relied on for diagnosis.  Please, consult with your Veterinary professional.  What I want to accomplish is arming you with enough knowledge  to ask intelligent questions of your vet, and a foundation to understand what she is looking for, and recommending. 

  Your dog has over 300 bones in it’s structure.  Giving an exact number is hard, because different breeds have more or less.  Just as you do, your dog has Joints, the place where bones come together and move or articulate.  Between the bone ends, are pads of cartilage called Meniscus.  With time, or injury, these pads can become thin or damaged.  Some of you reading this understand the pain of this all too well.   

The dog joints are held securely in place by Tendons, Ligaments, and a tough, fibrous cap over the ball of the joint.  With age and injury, this support system can become  Lax, allowing the joint to become dislocated.  Pain, and lameness are the result.  Lameness is where I want to start…

Limping, or Lameness indicate pain or weakness in the dogs structure.  Take it seriously, because your dog is capable of hiding a great deal of pain from you.  It’s a natural skill that protects them in the pack structure.

To begin a diagnosis, you AND your Vet will need to ask and answer a series of questions:

1)       What is the history of the limp/lameness?  Did it appear suddenly, or has it been increasing in intensity slowly?

A dog that is injured will most likely hold up the injured limb, or avoid putting its weight on it.  This may not be the case with a Chronic condition.  Signs of chronic pain are much more subtle and you will need to be alert to Shorter steps in gait, a Bobbing motion to the head or shoulder when weight is placed, or perhaps a whine/whimper.  Learn to really SEE your dog in motion.

2)      Which Limb seems affected?  What specific spot on the limb is most affected?

Is the hip affected? The elbow? The Carpal? The MetaCarpal? The Toes? The Pad? (See diagram) This is important to examine closely and carefully.  We tend to fear the worst, hope for the best, and I want to help you NOT do that.  Recently, our young puppy Holly, came up limping after a play session, and it looked terrible!  Nothing was visible with a cursory exam, and my sweet wife was ready to head to the Vet.  One Hundred dollars later, she would have discovered that the puppy  had stepped on a piece of sticky Hall’s Cough Drop, and it was wedged in between her furry little toes.  NOT panicking, and being willing to really examine, will save you time and money.  Fortunately, the problem was solved in our kitchen with a warm bowl of soapy water, and patience.  Oh yeah, just so I don’t seem like a genius, the puppy bit me during my examination.   THINK before you start doing anything and prepare yourself. 

Flex joints gently, and slowly.  Pain will cause resistance, or the dog will pull away abruptly.  Gently knead the bones and soft tissue around the affected site.  This will help you find the exact source of pain.

3)      Area’s of Infection, associated with lacerations, splinters, or bite wounds will be red, tender to the touch, and draining pus.  Are any such area’s obvious?

One word of caution, occasionally a bite wound, will exhibit  no blood or open wound, but rather a bruise from a crushing pressure.  Touch these wounds carefully. Forgeting to do so could result in a nasty wound of your own.

4)      Are there any areas of obvious swelling or bruising?

Strains and Sprains happen suddenly, and hurt a lot!  Usually, this type of injury allows the dog to put weight on it, so be observant!

5)      Are there any obvious deformities in the limb? Any indication of broken bones?

6)      Is there an absence of any obvious injury or trauma? Has the lameness increased over a time period? 

Most Genetically based orthopedic problems develop very slowly, and take time to manifest themselves fully.  We all have a tendency to diagnose Hip Dysplasia long before medically possible.  An X-ray is necessary to diagnose this most feared problem.

7)       Does your dogs pain/stiffness seem worse in the morning, or after prolonged rest, with gradual improvement after movement begins?

Arthritis is a common cause of lameness in dogs, but rarel with puppies.

8)      Are there any firm Masses/Soft masses evident anywhere on the limb?

Tumors or cysts can often cause pain, and need to be evaluated by your Vet!!!  Do not attempt to drain them yourself.  You may mask or destroy valuable evidence for proper diagnoses, make a big nasty mess in your house, or permanently injure your dog!

This is a small tutorial towards what will occur in the process of evaluating your dogs limping/Lameness.  Next I will be posting some information of Hip/Elbow Dysplasia, and Osteomylitis.

  1. Jasmine Dille says:

    Wonderful and informative as always!!!

  2. Tom Van Cleef says:

    As with all of your posts, your exceptional writing skill makes the read enjoyable.

    Very important information for owners to understand their dogs and how to help ~~ and what to look for in behavior.
    Too much help can hurt your dog,

    Thank you for posting