Why is My Dog Limping Suddenly?

Dr. Karena Joung

Oct 14, 2020

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There are many reasons that your dog could be limping out of the blue. Just like us, it could be as simple as something bothering them or it could be a more complicated health issue. The purpose of limping is to relieve some sort of pain that your dog is feeling. It can be hard seeing your four-legged friend in apparent pain, but as long as you stay calm and seek your vet’s professional opinion, you and your pup will be back up and running in no time.

Categories of Limping in Dogs

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

Gradual Onset Limping

Gradual onset is the type of limping that develops slowly over a long period of time. If you see that your dog is gradually starting to limp, you should consult a vet because letting a gradual limp fester can lead to additional complications.

Sudden Limping

Sudden limping is the type of limping that 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 them to the vet right away to find out the cause and what can be done to help it.

Reasons for Sudden Limping in Dogs

Dogs don’t start limping for no reason, and it’s important to find out the cause of why they started doing this.

Some common reasons for a dog limping suddenly include:

Superficial Injury/Trauma

One reason for sudden limping in dogs could be a paw or leg injury.

Superficial injuries can include a cut or scrape caused by a sharp object such as stepping on glass, getting stuck by a thorn, walking on a nail, or running on hot pavement. Other paw injuries that can cause limping include bites or stings, infection, broken toenails, or burns.

All of these cause pain which, as previously stated, is the main reason dogs limp. To relieve pain. You may also notice your dog licking the area nonstop. It’s another sign of an injury. If your dog starts limping out of the blue, the first thing you need to do is to check his paws and legs for any abnormalities or signs of injury.

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 to 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 make sure to take your dog to the emergency vet if your dog suffers from a serious injury or trauma.

As a preventative measure, avoid dog situations where he could hurt himself.  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 measures to keep him safe such as safeguarding the yard, behavioral training, or never leaving your pet unattended outdoors.  

Joint Disease              

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, ligament disease, osteoarthritis, osteochondritis dissecans, or intervertebral disk disease. I know, that’s a lot to take in. Your veterinarian will be key in diagnosing exactly what’s going on and the best way to relieve the pain to take away the limping.

Some of these joint diseases, like osteoarthritis, are more common in elderly dogs. Others, like osteochondritis dissecans, happen in younger pups during periods of growth.

Other Reasons

There are still other reasons for your dog’s limping. It could be a side effect of infection such as Lyme disease or a cancer like osteosarcoma that affects bones.

If you have a large breed puppy like a Great Dane, they might limp due to conditions such as hypertrophic osteodystrophy or panosteitis.

In order to decide exactly what’s going on, your vet will run a variety of tests. Radiographs, biopsies, and blood tests are all possible options your vet may use to decide exactly why your pup has started limping.

Possible Treatment Options for a Dog Suddenly Limping

Treatment will depend on the physical exam and diagnostics.

In some cases rest and relaxation are all that’s needed to get your buddy back to tip top shape. Others could need treatment such as pain medications, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy or surgery.

In any case, your primary veterinarian is the number one resource you have to diagnosing and treating your dog’s limping. VEG ER doctors will inform your vet about every detail so that they can continue with your pet’s care for successful treatment.

Get Help if Your Dog’s Limping Suddenly

Dogs can start suddenly limping for a number of reasons, and some of these reasons can be more serious than others. No matter the cause of your dog’s limping, it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. If your pet starts limping due to a serious situation and your primary veterinarian is not available, then you should seek immediate emergency vet care.

At VEG, we’re ready to help assess and relieve any pain that caused your dog to suddenly start limping. The emergency veterinarians at all of our convenient VEG locations are here to care for your pet 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.