Why Is My Dog Limping?

Plus, when dog limping is an emergency 🤕

dog holding up paw with bandage on it

If your dog’s suddenly limping with no apparent cause, you’re probably super worried and confused. You don’t want your pup to be in pain, after all.

We reached out to Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff vet, to find out why dogs can start limping and if it should be a cause for concern.

Why is my dog limping?

There are a variety of reasons why your dog might be limping.

According to Dr. McCullough, here are some common causes of limping in dogs:

  • Injuries, such as a broken bone or stepping on something sharp
  • Muscle, tendon or ligament strains
  • Broken nails
  • Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease
  • Immune system disorders
  • Cancer
  • Elbow or hip dysplasia
  • Arthritis
  • Congenital bone or joint abnormalities
  • Intervertebral disc disease (degeneration of spinal discs)

Dogs can start limping suddenly, or they can have a gradual onset. If your dog suddenly starts limping, it’s most likely caused by an injury. A long onset of limping is “typically caused by chronic and degenerative diseases, such as arthritis, elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia,” Dr. McCullough told The Dodo.

What to do if your dog is limping

You should take your pup to the vet if he starts limping, but keep in mind that it’s not always an emergency.

If your dog has a mild limp, he probably doesn’t need to get to the vet right away if you can’t get an appointment.

A mild limp will look like:

  • He shows no sign of pain
  • No other symptoms of illness
  • He’s still using his leg but not putting much weight on it
  • Resolves quickly and on its own

Since gradual limping isn’t caused by trauma, it’s not an emergency, but you should still get your pup checked out by your vet to find out what’s causing it. For gradual limps, your pup might limp on and off or limp more at certain times, like when getting up from a nap.

“Limping is an emergency when it occurs due to a serious incident, such as getting hit by a car, or if there are other symptoms, such as severe pain or swelling, bleeding, inability to move the body or the affected leg, fever, severe lethargy, or vomiting,” Dr. McCullough said.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should definitely get your pup to the vet ASAP:

  • Crying
  • Dog doesn’t put any weight on the leg
  • Swelling
  • Leg feels warm
  • Leg is clearly broken, like if it’s at a strange angle
  • Dangling or dragging the leg
  • Bleeding
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting

Treatment for limping in dogs

The treatment your pup will need will depend on what’s causing his limp.

For a mild limp, your vet might just recommend pain medication, anti-inflammatory medications and rest.

If your dog has a cut or something stuck in his paw pads, stop the bleeding or remove the object. Then soak your pup’s paw in warm water and apply antibiotic ointment.

Other treatments for limping include:

  • Cast, bandage or splint for a broken or dislocated bone
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy for cancer
  • Physical therapy
  • Products to help your dog walk, such as a sling or wheelchair
  • Weight loss
  • Joint supplements

Treatments like surgery can get really pricey, so it’s important to have pet insurance to help you cover the expenses. Pet insurance is one of the best ways to pay for expensive vet bills.

If you're looking for pet insurance, you’ll want to check out Fetch by The Dodo. It's made by and for adoring pet parents, and it's the most comprehensive coverage in the U.S. and Canada. It covers things that other providers don't or charge extra for, like holistic services, prescribed supplements for conditions they’re covering, and breed-specific conditions.

So if your pup has a gradual limp or doesn’t seem to be in severe pain, it’s probably not an emergency. But if he won’t put any weight on his leg, has other symptoms, or you know he got injured, take your pup to the vet to get him checked out.

Or maybe your dog’s just like this pup who started limping to make his dad feel better after he broke his ankle. Dogs are the best.