Why is My Dog Limping Suddenly?

Medical Contributor:

Dr. Karena Joung

Oct 14, 2020

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Your dog is limping, and you’re starting to worry. Why would your furry friend suddenly be favoring one paw or one side? Wasn’t everything just fine the last time you two went out for a romp together? Let’s run through the important things to know about limping in dogs; when to call an emergency vet, and what to do next.


This one of those pet problems that sneaks up out of nowhere. Right now, you might be asking the typical dog-owner questions:

  • Is my dog in pain?
  • Hmm, how long has Fluffy been favoring that paw or leg? 
  • Could the limping be a minor problem, like a splinter in the toe bean, or did my dog step in something sticky?
  • Is this limp something serious, requiring medical treatment?

What can you do to help your dog? First, be an observer. Is your dog panting heavily? Does he or she yelp when touched? He could be hurting pretty badly, so get to a VEG vet! If your dog seems relaxed and is okay with being petted, these are good signs that he is not in extreme pain. Nevertheless, if he’s limping, a responsible dog owner’s game plan is to call our ER and get him on the mend.

If your dog is limping, don’t try to play pet detective. The reason could be as simple as a mild irritation, like a bug bite. Or it could be due to an underlying condition needing medical treatment. We’ll assess, diagnose, and find a fix so that your little limping buddy can be comfortable and limp-free once again.


Your dog is limping to relieve some sort of pain or discomfort. Knowing this, your VEG veterinarian will want to know how long it’s been going on and how much pain your dog has been exhibiting over that time.

Two types of limping in dogs: gradual onset vs. sudden limping

Veterinarians classify limping into two general categories: gradual and sudden onset.

  1. Gradual onset limping in dogs – Gradual onset limping develops slowly over a long period of time. One day your dog seems fine and then gradually develops a slight limp, then it may become more severe. If you see that your dog is gradually starting to limp, call your nearest VEG ER for pets. Letting a gradual limp fester can lead to additional complications.
  2. Sudden limping in dogs – Sudden limping develops instantaneously. It’s usually due to some sort of injury or trauma. If you notice that your dog has started limping suddenly, you should take your poor pup to the vet right away to find out the cause and what can be done.


Obviously, dogs don’t limp for no reason, so it’s important to find out the cause. Some common reasons for a dog limping suddenly include:

Superficial Injury/Trauma: The reason dogs limp is to relieve pain. And one reason for sudden limping could be a paw or leg injury. Superficial injuries can include a cut or scrape caused by a sharp object. Examples: stepping on glass, getting stuck by a thorn, walking on a nail, or running on hot pavement.

If your dog starts limping and you’ve noticed he’s licking his leg or paw nonstop, check the area right away for any abnormalities or signs of injury.

Other paw injuries that can cause limping include:

  • bites or stings
  • infection
  • broken toenails
  • burns

Deeper Injury or Trauma: Is your dog one that considers himself quite the athlete but he’s actually unbelievably clumsy? Or is she a true athlete but didn’t see the sharp rock buried in the grass? If either sounds right and you’ve noticed sudden limping, it could be due to trauma.

Dogs oftentimes ignore their bodily limits to jump from heights, sprint fast and suddenly stop, or make a quick turn. This can lead to torn ligaments, bone fractures (broken bones), joint trauma, or sprains.

Trauma could also be something like being attacked by another animal, getting a leg stuck in the fence, or being hit by a car. 

Some of these injuries are more serious than others. So be sure to take your dog to the emergency vet if your dog seems to be suffering as a result of serious injury or trauma.

Joint Disease in Dogs: Another situation that can cause your dog to suddenly start limping is if they’re suffering from joint disease. This is typically considered gradual onset limping; however, maybe your dog has been good at hiding it or there is a flare-up of inflammation. 

Joint diseases include:

  • Hip dysplasia 
  • Elbow dysplasia 
  • Intervertebral disk disease
  • Ligament disease
  • Osteoarthritis (more common in elderly dogs)
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (may happen to puppies in periods of growth)


Limping could be a side effect of infection such as Lyme‘s disease, or a cancer like osteosarcoma that affects bones. If yours is a large breed puppy like a Great Dane, she might limp due to conditions such as hypertrophic osteodystrophy or panosteitis.

At VEG, radiographs, biopsies, and blood tests may be used to properly diagnose and treat the limp and its underlying cause.


At a human health doctor’s office, you can circle the emoji that matches your pain level. At a vet’s office, paws can’t hold a pen! But you may be able to tell if your dog is hurting a lot if he is whimpering or staying off of the leg altogether. Your VEG vet will ascertain the pain and speak with you about a treatment plan. 

Treatment will depend on the physical exam and diagnostics. Rest and relaxation may be all that’s required to get your buddy back to tip-top shape. In other cases, pain medications, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, or surgery may be the answer.


As a proactive pet owner, you’ll want to avoid situations where your dog could potentially get hurt. For example, when playing fetch, make sure the area of play has safe, smooth ground and no opportunities to escape to the street. 

If your dog has a history of being a relentless escape artist in your yard, take preventive measures:

  • Safeguard the yard / install or secure fencing
  • Enroll your pup in some behavioral training
  • Never leave your pet unattended outdoors


It can be hard seeing your four-legged friend in apparent pain, but remember, VEG is here to help. At VEG, we’re ready to help assess and relieve any pain that caused your dog to suddenly start limping. Emergency veterinarians at all of our VEG locations are here to care for people and pets when they need us most. With many of our locations being open 24/7 and all of them being open after hours, your pet will never have to wait to receive the immediate care they need.