One of the surest signs that your dog is healthy is when it is able to walk without any issues. The moment you notice your dog limping, you already know that something is wrong. There are many reasons why a dog can limp as it walks. Learning what these causes are can help you determine the best course of action to take.
The joints play an important role in mobility. Without it, movement will be very stiff and awkward. Any problem in the different joints that make up the limbs of the dog can result in lameness.
Canine arthritis is one of the most common causes of limping or lameness in dogs. This can be due to different factors, although hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are quite common among dogs. Obesity can exacerbate the condition, leading to more pain and swelling in the joints.
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Large breeds of dogs are prone to hip dysplasia whereby the hip joints do not form in a normal way as they should. Over time, this leads to a deterioration in the function of the joint. The dog is unable to walk with ease because of the resulting inflammation and pain. One of the clearest indications of hip dysplasia in dogs is limb stiffness that is most pronounced in the mornings.
If hip dysplasia is a problem among large breeds, all dog breeds are at risk of developing patellar luxation. For small and toy dog breeds, they often have medial luxation. Large dogs have lateral luxation. Regardless of the type, patellar luxation results in the popping out of the kneecap. This limits the full range of motion of the knee. With such limitations, the dog will not be able to move in an effortless manner.
There is a type of arthritis in dogs known as immune-mediated polyarthritis. It can occur in any dog; although, the incidence is higher in dogs between the ages of 4 and 6 years old. There are many potential causes of IMPA in dogs. These include the presence of an infection, neoplasia, and gastrointestinal disease. In some dogs with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), they can also have polyarthritis. What happens is that the dog’s immune system attacks and destroys some of the cells in the joints. This leads to inflammation and loss of function.
Conditions in the Dog’s Paws
One of the most often overlooked causes of limping in dogs is a problem in its paws. This is that part of its body that bears the most weight. It is also in contact with the ground. If there is pain in the paws, then the animal will not want to step with it.
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Pet parents who don’t observe proper pet grooming can risk having their pets develop overgrown or ingrown toenails. The natural curvature of the toenails can lodge it straight into the paw pads of the animal. Every time the dog walks, this toenail can dig deeper into the skin and cause discomfort in the dog. Trimming the toenails very short can also lead to limping. The quick contains sensitive tissue that gets exposed if the nails are cut too short.
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Object Stuck in the Dog’s Paw
Dogs love the outdoors. Unfortunately, they can also step on broken glass, sharp sticks, and other similar objects on the ground. These can get stuck in the dog’s paw, causing pain or discomfort. Matted fur can also get stuck in the paws. As the dog walks, the matted hair pulls on the skin of its lower limbs. This can be uncomfortable for the animal and cause it to limp as it walks.
The joints are not the only organs necessary for locomotion. The bones are important, too. These are where muscles attach, allowing them to move the limb. Hence, if the dog is limping, one of the most likely reasons is that it has a bone disease.
This is a bone disease that affects large breeds of dogs. It is prevalent in young canines between the ages of 5 and 12 months. What happens is that there is fibrosis in the medulla of the long bones. This can lead to intermittent lameness of one or both forelegs. What is characteristic of this condition is that the initial limping will only last for about 2 to 14 days. The lameness disappears for about 3 days before reoccurring for another 2 to 3 weeks.
Common in very young large and giant dog breeds, osteochondrosis dissecans affects the back surface of the humerus. Immature cartilage tissues do not form bone. This leads to the abnormal thickening of the cartilage. As the cartilage thickens, the cells in the deeper layers of the cartilage do not receive nutrition and they die. The loss of cells deep in the cartilage tissue results in the development of pockets at the junction between the bone and cartilage. Activities can cause the development of fissures that can reach the joint. This forms a cartilage flap. Pain and dysfunction ensue, leading to lameness in the dog.
It is not common for dogs to have bone cancer, but it does occur. Cancer destroys the tissues of the bone, compromising its integrity. Even without destruction of bone tissue, the tumor can compress the different nerves in the bone, leading to pain. This can make the dog walk with an unsteady gait.
Trauma or Injury
Injuries to the bone, joints, and associated structures can also produce lameness in dogs.
Fracture causes a discontinuity in the structure of bones. This compromises the bone’s weight-bearing abilities. In other words, it may not be able to support the weight of the dog as it tries to walk. Moreover, fractures also lead to damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the bone. Pain and swelling can also make movement difficult.
The most common form of cruciate ligament injury is an anterior cruciate ligament tear. This ligament helps in the stabilization of the knee joint. It connects the thighbone to the shinbone. Injuries to the cruciate ligament is almost always secondary to sudden changes in direction. Injury to this ligament always leads to pain and immobilization.
This is not a disease in itself but a condition whereby a long bone is not in its proper alignment relative to the opposing bone. It is often due to trauma. This is different from patellar luxation where the condition has a genetic origin. Dislocation always results from trauma or injury to the affected limb. The affected limb will show swelling in the joint above it. This swelling hampers a dog’s ability to walk with ease.
Sprains and Strains
Either strain or sprain can produce pain and swelling in the affected limb. This can also cause limping in dogs.
In strains, there is injury to the tendons that join bones and muscles. It can be due to slips and falls. A dog jumping during playtime can also injure one of its tendons. Athletic dogs are very prone to strains as they can overstretch their muscles. The most common affected limbs are the thighs and hips.
In sprains, the problem is in the ligament. An example of a sprain in dogs is anterior cruciate ligament tear, which we described above. Aside from sudden changes in direction, sprains can also develop after a hard landing.
Problems in the dog’s nerves can also lead to lameness. This is especially true if the affected nerves supply the animal’s limbs. This can weaken the legs. At the same time, the pain that the dog experiences will make walking difficult.
This affects older dogs between the ages of 8 and 14 years. In degenerative myelopathy, there is the stripping away of the insulation of the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. This results in the loss of the nerve fibers, causing interference in the communication between the limbs and the brain. The limbs no longer receive as much motor inputs from the brain. Weakness and lameness of the limbs develop alongside other manifestations.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
In this condition, the cushioning between the different vertebrae either burst or bulge into the space of the spinal cord. They compress the spinal nerves and produce nerve damage. In some cases, there can also be paralysis. Aside from lameness, there can also be muscle spasms, loss of bladder control, anxiety, and pain.
Not many pet parents recognize ticks as one of the possible reasons why their dogs show lameness. Ticks themselves do not make a dog walk with difficulty. It is the microorganisms that ticks carry and inject into the animal that produce a variety of symptoms, including lameness.
For example, Lyme disease can cause lameness, stiffness, swollen joints, and fatigue. Ehrlichiosis can also produce swollen limbs. Anaplasmosis can bring about stiff joints, while Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can cause stiffness. If the lameness is intermittent, it is possible that the dog has Bartonellosis.
Limping in dogs is a sign of a problem with the animal’s musculoskeletal system. In some cases, nerve injuries and other medical conditions can also bring about lameness. Whatever the cause, it is important to remain calm and have your vet take a look at your pet’s condition.