When your best friend starts limping for no reason that you can see, it can be hard to determine the cause. Most cases of sudden lameness that just involve a limp resolve by themselves within a week, but some could represent major injuries.
If your pet won’t put any weight on a limb, or it is visibly misshapen or deformed, see your vet immediately! If it’s not clear what could have happened or what is hurting- you can start with your own diagnosis. the cause.
1. Determine which limb is injured. If it’s a front limb that is hurt, you’ll notice your dog’s head and neck more upward when the injured limb hits the ground, and drop back down when the comfortable leg bears weight.
If it’s a hind limb that is injured, the hips will drop when the hurt leg touches down, and rise when the weight is lifted.
Both hind legs may be affected, in which case your dog will likely shift their weight forward over their forelimbs.
2. Once you have identified the leg that isn't being used, it’s still a good idea to examine your pet’s entire body to make sure nothing else is hurt or out of place.
3. To test the limb that seems to be hurting, you can start by checking to see the paws are clear of thorns or any material that may be sticking into or between the foot pads. Lacerations and cuts can also cause limping, and these can usually heal with a small amount of care- such as soaking with hydrogen peroxide, or applying betadine iodine.
Overly long or short toenails can also be a problem, and if they have not been cared for properly may require a vet or a dog groomer to trim and cauterize the nail. Long nails can crack deep into the quick and be very painful, and may not heal without help even after being properly trimmed.
4. If the paws are clear, move on up the leg. Assuming there is no visible swelling or bleeding, squeezing the leg to see if pressure causes pain can help you identify the hurt area, and whether it’s in the bone, muscle, or joint.
5. If squeezing pressure doesn't hurt, next it’s time to check the joints. Just like humans, in the front dogs have wrists, elbows and shoulders, and in the rear, ankles, knees and hips. Each joint needs to be checked by lifting the limb from the ground, and slowly moving the joint through its range of motion. Here is where you may identify sprains, ligament or tendon pulls.
What’s the diagnosis? If you've uncovered a major trauma- please get to the vet. If you've found an owwie that you can treat yourself, or a mild sprain that will heal with a little R&R, follow up over the next few days or a week to make sure it heals. If the limb isn't showing improvement, best to get to the vet.
If you've found a source of pain other than a cut in the paw or a sprained muscle, you may be dealing with a disease or a larger trauma.
Younger dogs (less than a year or 18 months of age) may develop sudden lameness from congenital conditions that are unlikely to appear suddenly in older animals. Older animals are more likely to have arthritis or degenerative diseases caused by age, wear and tear. Animals of any age who live in high vector areas are vulnerable to lyme disease, a bacterial infection passed on by ticks that can cause lameness and other physical symptoms.
Dogs of all ages may have torn ligaments, tendons or cartilage which connect muscles to bones, bones to bones, and cushion joints. Muscles can tear partially or fully which may require surgery. Dislocation or partial dislocation may occur in some joints. Dysplasia may also cause a joint to come partially out of the socket when moving through the range of motion. Occasionally a degenerative nerve disease or injury can cause muscle deterioration and limping. Your vet will be able to make a clear diagnosis after a physical examination and possibly x-rays.
Pet MD has an excellent list of conditions that tend to affect the limbs of younger or older dogs, respectively. http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_dg_lameness#.UigNbJLVDsV
If your vet has determined your dog has a condition that requires surgery, rehabilitation, or extensive treatment, the Assisi Loop™ can likely help your dog get back on its feet. The Loop has been clinically demonstrated to reduce pain and inflammation, and to speed healing of wounds, injuries, and tissue damage. Find out more at http://www.assisianimalhealth.com/technology/
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