If your dog suddenly refuses to put all of its weight on one of its legs, it could be caused by a lot of things. You may not feel overly worried if your dog is still chipper and energetic, but there could still be an underlying medical condition. So how do you treat a limping dog at home?
First and foremost: be careful and try not to self diagnose the issue if you can’t see any changes! Even the most caring and gentle pet can snap at you if you accidentally hurt them. You can also cause more harm than good if you don’t know what you’re doing. When you do choose to examine your pup, use extreme caution and watch their body language carefully.
You should always consult with your vet if you notice your dog is limping for more than a few minutes. If the limp doesn’t seem to be causing your dog pain, you can wait to see if the issue resolves itself within a few hours. If it does not, contact your vet.
Before we begin, let’s look at the two different main types of limping.
Gradual Onset vs. Sudden Limping
Limping, or lameness, is not a disease. It is often a symptom of a problem in your dog’s foot, knee, bones, or hips. There are two types of limps: those that happen suddenly and those that occur slowly and increase in severity over time (gradual).
Sudden onslaught is normally caused by injury or trauma, like a torn ACL, injury to the paw pad, or broken limp. Gradual usually happens due to a degenerative disease, such as osteoarthritis, cancer, or dysplasia, old age (arthritis or weakened joints).
If your dog developed a gradual limp due to old age or an underlying diagnosed condition, try conservative treatment such as a Doggy Brace. The brace restricts movement while supporting the affected limb.
Thankfully, more serious injuries will typically cause your dog some kinds of discomfort or pain. If your dog is not in pain, monitor them for the next 24 hours to see if their condition gets better or worsens. If it does get worse, call your vet immediately.
Things That Can Cause Painless Front Leg Lameness
If you notice your dog is refusing to put weight on one of its front legs, it could be as simple as a sprain, something caught in their paws, or a broken nail. Dogs do not have knees or ACLs in their front legs, so injuries here are more limited. If they aren’t showing any pain or more than mild discomfort, it’s likely that the injury is not severe.
You may notice your dog licking a certain area too. This is likely what is causing them discomfort, so be sure to make note of it!
You should have a friend or family member — someone your dog trusts — carefully restrain them as you gently look over their paw. Here are some tips:
- Look at their paw pads and check for any cuts, sores, or swellings
- Keep an eye out for redness or debris, like burrs, thorns, ticks, or rocks, between their paws too!
- Check their nails
- Squeeze each nail at the base and move it around a little and watch for any reaction from your dog
If you don’t find anything, do NOT try to move any of their joints. Call your vet immediately. While waiting, you can check for pain or swelling by gently running your hand over the affected leg. If you find anything, be sure to let your vet know.
How to Diagnose Rear Leg Lameness
Dog’s rear legs are more complex than their front. This is because their hind legs have ACLs (the correct term is CCL, but ACL is more commonly accepted), and knees. If you notice your dog is limping in their rear leg, but doesn’t seem to be in pain, it doesn’t mean the injury isn’t severe.
Just like with the front leg, you should check your dog’s paws to see if there is any cuts or debris lodged between their toes, or damage to their nails. If you don’t see anything, call your vet. A lack of pain in their back leg does not mean a lack of injury! Do not try to diagnose a back leg injury by yourself, as you can cause your dog to move suddenly and worsen the injury.
How to Treat a Limping Dog at Home
Every common injury has its own type of care. Let’s break those down.
Injuries to the Paw Pad
If you notice a cut or a piece of debris in their paws, here’s how you treat it. Clean the wound with water, physiologic saline, or diluted hydrogen peroxide. You can also disinfect it with antibiotic ointment, if you have it on hand.
Because dogs tend to lick their wounds, wrap it in gauze and put a cone over their head until the wound heals. If your dog tolerates clothing, you can also try covering their paw with a sock when they go outside to keep their dressings clean.
Monitor their activity and try to keep their running to a minimum.
Injuries to Between their Toes
If your dog hurt the delicate skin between their toes, carefully remove whatever caused the injury, as part of it is likely still there. You can use tweezers and cotton swabs to gently and carefully dislodged anything stuck in there.
Wash out the area with warm water, saline, or diluted hydrogen peroxide. If it is bleeding, wrap the foot and follow the steps in the previous section.
If you notice any swelling, remove the bandage immediately.
Injuries to their Toenails
Check all of your dog’s nails: any of them can get caught in long grass or weeds and cause injury. Helping your dog deal with a broken nail is pretty simple.Simply clean the injured toenail. If it’s bleeding, wrap it up for about 15 minutes or until the bleeding stops. Your dog will be sore for a couple of days, but the injury will heal on its own.
Your dog may be limping because they’re sore from overexertion or arthritic. You can carefully massage the area and apply a wrapped ice pack to the limb for 15 minutes.
Anything beyond what is listed above should be treated by a vet!