By MyPetNeedsThat Staff
Last Updated May 23, 2019

It’s very distressing to see your dog limping. You know there’s something wrong but he can’t tell you what it is. Some owners can go straight to panic mode and imagine the worst, but there are a few common causes of limping. You should contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice any signs of limping or lameness.

dog with a limping leg

Two Types Of Lameness

There are two types of lameness – sudden onset, and gradual onset.

  • Sudden Onset Limp

A sudden onset limp is exactly that. It happens suddenly and without any pre-warning. This type of limp would be common after an injury or some sort of trauma. There’s a number of injuries that could cause a sudden onset limp.

  • Gradual Onset Limp

A gradual onset limp happens over time. These kinds of limps are often caused by an underlying condition. You will need to call your vet as soon as you notice his limp. Some conditions that cause gradual onset limping can be treated effectively if they have been diagnosed in good time.

Common Causes Of Limping

As mentioned earlier, there are a few common causes of limping. Some are severe, some are less severe, and some are mild. You should always contact your vet for advice whenever you notice your dog limping.

1. Overexertion

If you notice your dog limping after rough play or a particularly long hike, then he may have simply overexerted himself. Dogs who have muscle aches from overexertion usually recover quite quickly, but you will need to consult your vet if he needs pain relief, or if there is no noticeable improvement.

2. Paw Trouble

Some form of injury to the paw is a common cause of sudden limping. Check his pads for lacerations, but also remember it’s quite common for small foreign bodies to become stuck in your dog’s paw. If he’s limping and holding up one paw, check it for thorns, burrs, small rocks, or even mats between the toes.

3. Toenail Trouble

Toenail care is actually more important than many owners realize. Regular grooming, and walking on concrete can help keep the toenails filed, but he could still have an overgrown nail or an ingrown nail. You groomer would be able to cuts his nails, but if he has a severely ingrown nail, then your vet would need to deal with it. Another possible cause for toenail issues is that his nail has been cut too short.

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4. Animal Bites Or Insect Bites

Insect bites can contain venom or disease. Spider bites can affect the dog’s neural system. Ticks can carry Lyme disease. Both of these could be the cause of a limp. Animal bites can be another potential cause. If your dog has been bitten by another dog or even a cat, he could be at risk of infection, bleeding, or this bite may have injured his joints.

5. Infection

Infections need to be treated with antibiotics, so you would need to see your vet to get an appropriate medication, at an appropriate dosage. If an infection is left for a long period, it can become very difficult to treat. Infection is possible if there’s a wound, incision, skin irritation, or problem with the nail bed.

6. Sprains And Strains

Just like people, dogs can become injured by sprains or strains. Leg strains or sprains can be quite common and are often the cause of sudden onset limping.

limping leg in dog

In most cases, the injury resolves itself within a few days, but in some cases, it may be more serious and need veterinary attention.

7. Scar Tissue

Scar tissue can form around an old injury or surgery site. Injuries, like broken bones, even if properly splinted and treated, can still develop scar tissue, or the bone may have set in a slightly different position. Injuries which involved complex fractures, or injuries that have been treated with plates, pins, or screws.

8. Panosteitis

Panosteitis is also known as wandering lameness. This is a condition that affects large breed puppies between five to twelve months. It can cause pain, and lameness, moving from one leg to another over several weeks, or even months. In most cases, these symptoms disappear at around twenty months of age.

9. Luxating Patella

A luxating patella is a medical term for a dislocated knee. This is when the kneecap has moved from its natural position. This can cause a variety of symptoms, from being unable to put weight on the leg, to instability when walking, and in some cases, the dog doesn’t seem to experience pain. Some breeds are more likely to have this condition than others. It’s also a hereditary condition, so if even one of the parents had it, then the resulting puppy is likely to have it. Some dogs can have it and have no symptoms, and very little ill effect on their day to day life. Other dogs suffer pain, or it can worsen requiring surgery, or other treatment. It is also possible for a dislocated knee to occur as a result of some other trauma, or injury.

10. Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are quite common hereditary conditions, which can cause limping and pain. The joint becomes loose and can dislocate easily. Your vet will advise the best course of treatment depending on the severity of the individual case.

11. Fractures And Broken Bones

A fracture or break can’t always be seen without an X-ray. If your dog has a fracture, then you may notice that he is unable to put any weight on his leg. A break or fracture is often the result of a trauma.

12. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is often just one of those things that an older dog experiences. Their muscles and skeleton weaken, and they can’t exercise or play like they used to be able to. Most owners admit that they do need to keep a close eye on their older dog, as they often forget that they are no longer as able as they once were. Osteoarthritis can be managed with a care regime, so always make sure you talk to your vet for advice.

13. Nerve Damage

 Nerve damage can cause paralysis in the legs, which would look like a limp. The dog will usually drag his foot on the ground. Nerve damage is common in dogs who have diabetes mellitus, so if you notice your dog dragging his foot, you should contact your vet immediately.

14. Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM, is a progressive disease affecting the spinal cord. It’s common in older dogs, and symptoms include weakness and limping. This disease may progress to paralysis, so it’s very important to get a diagnosis, and management plan as soon as possible.

15. Cancer

You should make it part of your regular grooming routine to check your dog for any unusual lumps, or growths. They can be a sign of cancer, but they can also be something entirely benign.

However, always get any lumps checked, as cancer can often be treated if it has been caught in time. Bone cancer can spread quickly, cause pain, and can be a cause of limping. This type of cancer is especially common in the larger breeds but can affect any breed.


  1. Dr. Jennifer Coates, Limping in Dogs, PetMD
  2. Scott H, 8 Reasons Your Dog May Be Limping, IHeartDogs




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