Why is My Dog Limping?

4 min read
Mar 20, 2023

If you notice that your usually active dog is suddenly limping around the house or walking with a different gait, you may feel concerned. Getting your dog checked out by a veterinarian is recommended, regardless of how minor your dog’s limp may be. Here are some reasons why your dog might be limping, plus the best course of action to follow in different scenarios. 

Sudden Onset Limping vs. Gradual Limping

One of the first questions your vet is likely to ask is whether the limp appeared suddenly or has developed over time. This is because limping is usually classified by the American Kennel Club under two categories: sudden onset limping and gradual onset limping.1

Each tends to indicate different potential reasons why your dog is limping and may be able to help your vet deduce the cause of the limp.

Causes of sudden onset limping

If your dog is suddenly limping it may be caused by:1

  • Leg injury or trauma: If your dog is limping after playing, they may have broken a bone, injured a ligament, or damaged a joint in their legs and hips. 
  • Paw injury: Glass, nails, or thorns stuck in your dog’s paw are painful and could cause your dog to keep off it when moving around. If left untreated for too long it may also cause an infection.
  • Dislocation: If your dog has dislocated a hip bone, it will make it difficult for them to walk.

Causes of gradual onset limping

If your dog has developed a limp over time it may have been brought on by a disease or a chronic condition. Here are a few potential reasons that a limp may develop:

  • Bone disease: Conditions such as hypertrophic osteodystrophy or some cancers can make walking painful. 1
  • Joint disease: Hip dysplasia and other degenerative conditions affect the bones and cartilage in the hip joint. These conditions can cause gradual onset limping as they worsen.
  • Elbow hygroma: An elbow hygroma can start as a small, moveable mass. However, they can grow and fill with fluid, which could potentially impact your dog's ability to walk effectively.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is the inflammation of one or more joints, which can cause pain or even a limp.
  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) wear-and-tear: The ACL is the fibrous tissue that connects the knee joint to the leg bones above and below it. In dogs, this tissue can wear down over time and use, especially for dogs that are active.

Other Things To Look for if Your Dog Is Limping

In addition to identifying whether a limp is sudden or gradual, there are other questions to ask yourself: 1

  • Are there signs of a visible wound or injury?
  • Is your dog limping on their back leg or front leg?
  • Is your dog limping after playing, or after resting and sleeping?
  • Does your dog seem to be in pain?
  • Is your dog licking their leg?

These types of details provide important clues that may help you and your vet figure out what might be wrong.

Pet Insurance May Help Cover Treatment Costs for a Limp

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First Aid for Your Dog’s Limp

It’s best to make an appointment with your vet or emergency clinic at your earliest convenience if your dog is limping. Before you visit, they may be able to make recommendations for ways to treat your dog at home or help your dog feel more comfortable until you can get them to the vet.

In the meantime, do your best to keep your dog comfortable. If your dog has a visible wound, you could ask your vet if it makes sense to apply a bandage.

If there isn’t a visible injury, your vet may recommend applying a cold compress to the injured area for 24 hours, then switch to heat.2 This can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Also, monitor them to see if their pain gets worse, and keep an eye out for signs of infection like a fever or a decrease in appetite.

Can I give my dog aspirin for a limp?

No pet owner wants their dog to suffer, but acetaminophen, ibuprofen or other pain relief medications meant for humans may be toxic for dogs. Instead, it’s recommended to consult your vet. They may be able to recommend pain medications that are safe for your dog.

Should I try to remove splinters or other embedded objects?

If your dog has a splinter or other object embedded in their skin, it may be tempting to take it out, but you’re usually better off leaving it and letting your vet know. Trying to remove an object embedded in your dog’s paw or leg may simply spread the infection or make it harder for your vet to remove the object later. Also, even the gentlest, best-behaved dogs may become agitated if they’re in pain, and may attempt to bite you if you try to remove the object yourself.

How Do You Transport a Limping Dog?

If your dog’s limp does not resolve on its own, it’s a good idea to get things checked out. It’s highly recommended to immediately go to the vet if you notice swelling, if there is an obvious break, or if your dog’s leg feels hot to the touch. 

If you’re planning to take your dog to the vet, do your best to keep them off their injured leg or paw. If you can carry your dog, do so while supporting their head and hips. When you get them to your vehicle, lay the dog down with the injured leg up.

For larger dogs that can walk on three legs, help support them as best as you can while getting them into your vehicle. If they can’t walk, you may be able to use a heavy-duty blanket or tarp as a sling. Don’t try to lift them alone and ask for help when you get to the vet’s office.

What Are the Treatment Costs for Your Limping Dog?

When you go to the vet, you will typically pay the cost of the office visit ranging from $50 – $250, depending on your vet. X-rays, bloodwork, and other diagnostic costs could add at least a few hundred dollars to your total.

After that, the costs will depend on the treatment recommended by your vet.

Costs for a cast, leg brace, or harness

If your dog has a broken bone, injured joint, or damaged ligament, treatment may be as simple as providing your dog with a cast, leg brace, or harness to help with mobility. This keeps the leg stable allowing them to heal on their own. According to PetKeen, this could cost up to $1,000 depending on the injury, the size of your dog, and other factors.3 This also assumes that your dog doesn’t require surgery.

Surgical costs

If your dog needs surgery, the severity of the injury or issue and the age and size of your dog may determine the necessary treatment and the resulting cost. Some examples of surgeries may include:

Depending on what is going on, your dog could need pain medication, physical therapy, or alternative therapies.

Pet Insurance May Be Able To Help Keep Your Dog on Their Feet

Hopefully, your dog will be walking and running for all of their lives. But if they do start limping, it could become very expensive. That’s where dog insurance can help. Your insurance plan may help cover expenses like vet visits, casts and leg braces, surgery, and even alternative treatment that can help your dog recuperate faster.5,6 To find out more, get a quote today.

We Can Help You Protect Your Pup

1 “Why Is My Dog Limping?,” American Kennel Club

2 “Dog Limping: What to Do and When to See Your Local Vet,” Ponderosa Vet Clinic

“How Much Does Dog Broken Leg Surgery Cost? (2023 Update),” Pet Keen

4 “ACL Surgery in Dogs: Costs of Healing and Treatment,” K9 of Mine

5 Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

6 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

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