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why is my dog limping

Why Is My Dog Limping? [Most Common Causes & Treatment]

You might come home one day to find your dog hobbling on three legs, or you may notice your dog slowly developing a limp that gets progressively worse. Mobility is an important part of your dog’s physical and mental wellbeing. To provide your dog with the best care and bring the joy back to your daily walks, you need to start at the root of the problem. Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us how they’re feeling, so you may be asking yourself, “Why is my dog limping?”

There are various causes, effects, and treatments of limping in dogs. They depend on factors like the dog’s size, breed, age, and medical history. As the care and keeper of your dog, it is important to keep an eye on their wellbeing at all times, respond promptly to ailments and abnormal behavior, and seek veterinary care when necessary. Read on to learn how to identify a limp and its cause, what you can do about it, and when you should defer to a professional.


What Is a Limp?

Limping is a response to a leg injury, joint discomfort, or other health concern. The subject will avoid putting weight on the affected leg, resulting in an abnormal gait and slower pace. Humans with a limp tend to sway side to side as they walk, but dogs have four legs to contend with. Limping dogs will often lurch back and forth as they shift weight between their front and hind legs.


dog limping


Why Is My Dog Limping?

Limping in dogs can be caused by many different things. There are two broad categories of limping: sudden onset limping and gradual onset limping. These two types of limp may share symptoms, but they have vastly different causes. Let’s break things down and look at the causes and effects of sudden limping versus gradual limping.


Sudden Limping

As the name implies, sudden onset limping happens quickly due to an injured leg. There are several common reasons that your dog might suddenly start limping:

  • Sprain
  • Broken leg
  • Dislocation
  • Torn ligaments
  • Cut or burnt paw pad
  • Broken nails


Gradual Limping

Gradual limps creep up on you. They are mild at first, so it may take some time for you to even notice your dog limping. As soon as you do, you should consult a veterinarian because the limping is most likely due to an underlying condition. There are several common threats to a dog’s health.

  • Stiff joints
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Joint disease
  • Lyme disease
  • Bacterial infection

Older dogs and larger breeds like the Mastiff or Great Dane are more likely to develop conditions like hip dysplasia and joint diseases, but any dog is susceptible. Dogs should have a checkup with their local veterinarian on a yearly basis to keep an eye on their general wellbeing. Annual visits with the vet can help your dog avoid a gradual limp as they can catch underlying conditions well before you notice your dog is limping.


Signs of a Limping Dog

The clearest indicator of your dog’s condition is the limp itself (your dog will avoid placing weight on the affected leg), but there are other signs to look out for.


Dogs react to trauma the same way we do. They will probably feel frightened and vulnerable, just as you would in their situation. Certain behavioral changes may be an indicator that your dog has an injury or ailment:

  • Vocalization: that persistent whimper could be your dog’s way of asking for help.
  • Lethargy: your dog might stay glued to one spot if it is too difficult to walk.
  • Fear: injuries are scary, and injured dogs may back away from you and hide.



If your dog’s sudden limping is the result of a hurt leg, you might see external signs of injury. Take a cursory glance at your dog, looking for the following signs:

  • Broken bones
  • Dangling limbs (dislocation)
  • A sharp object embedded in the dog’s paw
  • Swelling of the affected limb.

If your dog is limping, but you do not see any obvious signs of injury, do not attempt to examine them further. Picking up your dog or manipulating its joints can worsen the injury and cause your dog more distress. Your injured dog may resist touch, and they might even bite you, even though they love you. Be gentle with your dog.


How Serious Is a Dog Limp?

The severity of a dog’s limp depends on the cause. Some serious cases may be obvious at a glance. Do you notice any fractures, dislocations, or open wounds? Is the limp severe enough that your dog can’t walk at all? These are very serious circumstances for which you should see a veterinarian immediately.

A minor injury can also make your dog start limping. Bruises, broken nails, and small cuts are generally not serious enough to warrant a trip to the veterinarian. You can typically treat these issues on your own. We’ll cover this in the next section.

If your dog has started limping and you cannot tell why, the cause could be mild or severe, but you should still treat the situation as serious. If you cannot see an external injury, the limp may be caused by an internal condition. To find out for certain, have your dog examined by a vet.


What Should I Do If My Dog Is Limping?

Depending on the severity and cause of the limp, you may be able to take care of your dog on your own. Pet owners can administer first-aid for a minor injury to the leg or paw. One of the most common causes of limping in dogs is the presence of a sharp object like a small rock stuck between their toes. In this case, you can play the hero and remove the foreign object.

You should not try to fix serious leg injuries like broken bones and dislocated joints. You might make the problem worse. Leave these matters to the veterinarian. The most important things owners can do for their dogs are to comfort them and provide a safe and soothing place for them to rest.


Can a Limping Dog Heal Itself?

Dogs can recover on their own in some cases, but they will usually need assistance from a human. It all depends on how serious the limp is and what caused it in the first place.

Cases of sudden limping are generally easier to recover from. Bruises and broken nails can naturally heal on their own. Most injuries to the paw pads can be treated with simple first aid measures administered by the pet owner. Most dogs will need a few days to heal and recuperate, but it will save you both from a trip to the emergency clinic.

If your dog’s limping develops gradually, it is likely due to an underlying condition affecting their joint health. Your dog will not be able to recover from this on their own. In fact, their limp can worsen over time if left unattended. These underlying conditions can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian, so you should defer to their professional opinion when considering treatment options.


How Can Pet Owners Help Their Limping Dogs?

When we humans are recovering from health problems, we look to our loved ones for care and comfort. A pet is no different. Make sure your dog has a comfortable place to rest and recuperate. They are sure to appreciate extra pampering during this time, so give them lots of attention and comfort them with treats.

Dog treats infused with CBD are an excellent, all-natural way to soothe discomfort and promote calm in a stressful situation. A CBD tincture can also be applied to your dog’s food, directly into their mouth, or underneath their tongue. You should never give your pet medicine intended for humans, like aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen.


dog with paw up


When Should I Go to the Vet?

You should seek veterinary care immediately if your dog has a serious injury like a broken bone or dislocation. Treatment options in these cases include splints, slings, and surgery. If your dog is put in a cast or receives surgery, a follow-up appointment will be necessary but, as long as your dog is diagnosed correctly and given prompt treatment, they should be able to make a full recovery.

If you can’t tell why your dog started limping, you should take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. The vet can perform a physical exam and take x-rays to determine whether your dog’s limp is the result of a sprain or an underlying condition like joint disease, hip dysplasia, or Lyme disease. The vet can also determine the best treatment plan for your dog, which may include surgery, medication, and physical therapy.

When it comes to dogs’ wellbeing, it is always best to play it safe. Our dogs care for us and deserve the same in return. Even if you can tell why your dog is limping, and the cause does not appear to be not serious, it can still be a good idea to place a call to the vet’s clinic to hear what advice they have.


Final Thoughts – Why Is My Dog Limping?

Every limp should be treated differently based on its cause, its severity, and the overall health of your dog. There are no universal remedies. While you might be able to treat minor cases of limping on your own, a vet is the most knowledgeable health resource for any pet. Vets offer a wide array of treatments for limping dogs. Your primary role as an owner will be as a source of love and kindness for your dog during this challenging time.

It’s important to remember that a limp doesn’t just affect your dog’s physical wellbeing but their mental health as well. Daily walks and play are a major part of a dog’s livelihood and their relationship with you. When a dog is immobilized with a limp, they’ll be missing out on some of their favorite activities, so don’t be surprised if they seem a little glum. Worry and restlessness can make your dog’s rehabilitation process harder than it needs to be. Make sure they are comfortable and tend to them regularly. You can try therapeutic products like CBD dog treats and tinctures to soothe their mind and body as they walk the road to recovery and beyond.