Some toy dog breeds are known for holding up a front leg when they’re nervous, exhibiting the cutest little three-legged stance. However, if your canine companion has been walking on three legs, they are actually limping, a clear injury or illness sign. Minor injury causes most canine lameness cases, but some causes are more suspect and may require complex treatments to resolve. Our Red Oak Animal Hospital team shares the most common dog limping causes.

#1: Soft tissue injuries in dogs

A minor soft tissue injury, such as a sprain or strain, often causes a young, active dog to limp. Such an injury typically resolves within a few days or weeks, with or without treatment. Rest and anti-inflammatories can be helpful. Knee ligament injuries are also common in dogs of all ages and typically require surgery to repair. 

#2: Trauma and fractures in dogs

Trauma, such as being hit by a car or falling from a height, can lead to a limb fracture. Although such an injury is usually apparent, trauma may cause internal injuries as well. If you believe your pooch has sustained a fracture or other trauma, our Red Oak Animal Hospital team should immediately evaluate your dog’s condition. Surgery or external stabilization with a splint is the typical limb fracture treatment.

#3: Osteoarthritis in dogs

Osteoarthritis frequently affects older dogs and usually causes waxing and waning chronic limping. If your canine companion has osteoarthritis, they will move stiffly and painfully after long rest periods. However, their joints tend to loosen up with activity and movement. Treatments include medications, supplements, and alternative therapies.

#4: Patellar luxation in dogs

Some dogs are born with shallow grooves where the kneecap (i.e., patella) would normally lie. During usual daily movements, your dog’s patella can pop in and out of the groove and move to the sides, causing a seemingly random and short-lived limp that is typically painless. However, a severely luxating patella can develop into arthritis down the line. Surgery is occasionally required for severely affected dogs.

#5: Lyme disease in dogs

Lyme disease is spread through tick bites, and although most infected dogs never get sick, some develop systemic illness. The hallmark Lyme disease sign is shifting leg lameness and swollen, painful joints, often accompanied by fever, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes. Treatment requires a long antibiotic course to prevent the disease signs from becoming chronic, which can affect kidney function.

#6: Autoimmune diseases in dogs

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system believes normal tissues are foreign and mounts an inflammatory attack. When the immune system attacks a dog’s joints, they develop immune-mediated polyarthritis. Treatments include steroids and other drugs that suppress overactive immune function and reduce inflammation.

#7: Bone cancer in dogs

Osteosarcoma can strike dogs at any age and often affects bones in the limbs. This tumor type is painful, usually causing a dog to limp, and an affected pooch may cry out when the swollen area is touched. Osteosarcoma is not a common canine limping cause, but a dog who develops the disease typically dies within a few months to a year. Sometimes, limb amputation can extend a pet’s life span by slowing down the tumor’s spread to other body systems.

#8: Panosteitis in dogs

Panosteitis occurs when the thin tissue that covers long bones (i.e., periosteum) becomes inflamed. Because the condition usually occurs during a large-breed dog’s rapid growth phase, panosteitis is commonly referred to as growing pains, which often shift from leg to leg or affect multiple legs at one time. Anti-inflammatory medications are helpful until the dog’s growth slows, and the inflammation resolves.

#9: Spinal disease in dogs

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), a degenerative spinal condition, can also lead to limping. Neck pain and disc degeneration can cause shooting pains down a dog’s front legs, and lower back pain may cause hind leg limping. Treatments include anti-inflammatories, pain medications, and in severe cases, surgery.

What to do if your dog starts limping

Only your veterinarian can accurately diagnose the cause of your dog’s limping. Because some causes are extremely serious, you should schedule a visit with our Red Oak Animal Hospital team as soon as your pooch begins limping. Our veterinary team will perform a complete physical and orthopedic examination, take X-rays, and order blood and urine tests so we can determine the most effective treatments.

Shifting weight or holding up a leg in a tripawd fashion is a clear indication that your pup needs veterinary care. To have your dog’s lameness evaluated during our normal business hours, schedule an appointment with our Red Oak Animal Hospital team. If our office is closed and your pooch sustains a serious traumatic injury or exhibits illness signs in addition to limping, call your nearest veterinary emergency facility.