Why Is My Dog Limping?

Written by: Milica Brzakovic
Is your dog limping and you don't know what's causing it? This is a very common problem, yet it can be difficult to discover what stands behind it. We're taking a look at the most common reasons behind dog limping.

Dog limping, or canine lameness, is a very frequent problem.

No wonder – dogs are in general very active, curious and like to explore their surrounding!

However, when you notice your dog limping it’s not always clear what caused it.

Dogs limp when one or more of its limbs are hurt, due to a problem of some kind. Limping can be caused by a variety of problems and it’s not always easy to determine what caused it. In general, it’s because the dog doesn’t want to or isn’t able to put their weight on the affected limb that limping begins.

That’s the easy explanation. However, that’s not enough. We need to know why our dogs are limping, in order to solve the problem accordingly. That’s exactly what we’re taking a look at in this article.

Reasons Behind Dog Limping

As mentioned, the reasons behind dog limping are different – injury, infection, inflammation, disease etc. The most common causes are arthritis and injury. However, these are not the only causes which is why it’s important to be informed about the possible causes.


After tiring exercise, such as swimming or running, dogs can start limping as a result of overexertion. It can sometimes be difficult to determine what too much is for our pet and dogs can’t express themselves the same way we do. However, limping as a result of muscle soreness usually go away quickly.


Your dog could be bitten by an insect or another animal. For instance, spider bites or tics can provoke limping. As you know, some spiders are poisonous which can affect the neutral system and cause limping, just like ticks can cause Lyme disease. Limping can occur as a result of an infection, if another dog or animal bites your dog.

Torn Pad

Torn pads usually lead to limping. The reasons for a torn pad are many; rough terrain, unfamiliar surface, sharp objects etc. This is one of the most common reasons behind dog limping. If you suspect that this is the reason, you should make sure your dog gets some rest.

Broken Nail

This might not sound like a big deal, but broken nails can actually be very painful and even cause limping. And while this can be painful, it’s even more dangerous if the nail gets infected. In order to prevent this from happening it’s important not to neglect your dog’s nails – keep them short (but not too short!) and you won’t have to deal with broken nails.

Broken Bone

This can be really obvious in some cases, while it can be difficult to spot in some situations. This is something you need to deal with right away, as the bone will heal better if treated early on. If you suspect that your dog has a broken bone take him or her to the vet as soon as possible.


This is a condition that causes bone inflammation, usually in larger breeds, such as German Shepherds. The cause behind panosteitis is not known, but it usually last only for a couple of months, until the dog grows up a bit more. During this time, the dog in question won’t be able to put weight on one or more limbs.

Hip or Elbow Dysplasia

Many dogs can have hip or elbow dysplasia without ever showing any signs of it, while other can show signs of lameness. Both of these conditions can only be diagnosed by radiograph and treatment depends on the severity of the situation.

Bone Cancer

Bone cancer, or osteosarcoma, usually results in lameness as tumors grow around the limbs. This can be very painful and disable the dog to put weight on one or more limbs. Cancer, as you know, is very serious and treatment should start immediately.

Muscle Sprain

It’s very common for dogs to sprain or tear their muscles when playing and chasing around. These injuries are among the most common reasons behind dog limping, especially in agility dogs and other active dogs. Sprains are usually very painful and require immediate care.

Object in Paw

Dogs love to explore new surroundings and they do it with their paws, right? Naturally, the paws can get dirty and things can get stuck. For instance, grass, dirt, stones or something else can get stuck and they won’t be able to walk on that limb because of that. If you see your dog limping, check its paws and see if that’s why.

Dislocated Knee

As the name says, a dislocated knee means that the knee isn’t where it should be. Some breeds are more prone to this condition than others, in particular toy breeds. However, a dog’s knee can also dislocate due to an accident. The result of a luxating patella can be lameness, even though some dogs can have a dislocated knee and never show any signs of it.


With age, the musculoskeletal system becomes worse, in dogs and in people. However, their mind doesn’t usually follow their body and they still want to be able to do all the things they could before. This can lead to injuries and as a consequence – lameness.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy is a disease of the spinal cord that can progress to paralysis in the worst-case scenario. Lameness is one of the symptoms indicating your dog is suffering from this condition.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage can result in lameness, as the front legs can become paralyzed. This will disable your dog to put weight on the limbs. Nerve damage has a lot of other consequences, lameness being only one of them.

These were many of the possible reasons behind limping! For more details, check out this page and the video below.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Limping

Limping can be sudden or occur over time. When sudden, it’s probably due to a sudden movement. On the other hand, if a disease or something else is behind it, it’s usually difficult to determine when it all began. So, what do you do when you notice that your dog is limping?
We’ll walk you through it step by step!

1. Try to identify which limb causes problems. In order to do that, observe your dog walking for some time. In general, the dog will put more weight on the healthy limb, in order to avoid putting weight on the limb. When putting down the limb that hurts, his head will come up.

2. Examine the limb. You can start by examining a limb that’s not injured, in order to see how he’s reacting to pressure and compare it to the injured limb. It’s also good to compare the limbs, as you might notice differences between the injured and the uninjured ones.

3. Examine the toes. Start from the bottom up. Check the nails and see if they’re broken and if something is bleeding. Examine each toe, squeeze and check for injury. You should also check the webbing, that is the spaces between the toes. It’s not uncommon for that skin to get sliced up or that foreign objects get stuck there. If you notice anything suspicious, it’s best to take your dog to the vet.

4. Check the pads. The pads serve to protect the paws and there are in total six on the front paws. The pads can be sliced and bleed. In addition, they can be sensitive from unwelcoming surfaces and can become dry and irritated due to chemical exposure.

5. Inspect the joints. There are three major joints in every limb. You check them by putting pressure on them and then increasing. If you don’t notice any signs of discomfort, you can lift the limb and examine each joint and see if any is the source of the problem.

6. Check the bones. As mentioned, a broken or fractured bone could be behind the limping. First of all, inspect the limbs and see if anything is out of the ordinary – swelling, bleeding or dislocation. Finally, apply light pressure and see if your dog reacts.

Hopefully, you have a bit clearer idea now and you can act accordingly.

When Is Limping An Emergency?

In some cases, limping requires emergency care. It’s especially the case if you notice a limb dangling at an unnatural angle, as this is a sign of fracture or dislocation. If your dog is dragging a limb it should also be looked into at once, at it could be a sign of nerve damage. Finally, bleeding that doesn’t stop, severe swelling and hot limbs are all situations that should be treated as emergency situations.

And even if it isn’t an emergency situation, you should still take your dog to the vet in order to see what the real problem is, even though it’s not that urgent.

Once At The Vet…

Once there, your vet will want to know all you can tell – when the limping started, if there had been any new,tiring or unusual activities, if it started suddenly or got worse over time etc. After that the vet will preform a detailed examination – radiographs, blood tests, sedation are all possible options. Try to remember as much as possible and provide every information you can, as it can help a lot and eliminate some conditions.


Dog limping is a very common problem most dogs (and their owners) go through at some point. However, many different reasons could be behind this problem, which is why it can be difficult to determine the right reason sometimes.

In general, the most common reasons behind dog lameness are arthritis and injury of some kind. But these are far from the only reasons. Other possible causes include broken nails, objects stuck in the paws, dislocation, fracture, overexertion…Some cases of limping happen suddenly, while other develop over time. The latter are much more difficult to diagnose, as you might not know when an injury happened or if a medical condition is behind it.

When you notice that your dog is limping, you should check your dog in order to determine which limb is causing problems, where and why. However, if you notice any dislocation, fracture, bleeding that won’t stop or severe swelling, you should take your dog to the vet immediately as these are emergency situations.

Dog lameness is usually nothing serious and goes away quickly, but you should never ignore it and wait for it to go away without determining where the problem is.