Why Is My Pet Limping?

Lameness or limping, in pets can be defined as a decrease in a pet’s ability to put weight on a limb or a decrease in the normal mobility and function of a limb. Canine limping indicates a structural problem, pain, or weakness in the affected leg. Sudden lameness is most often caused by an injury, such as a cut on the paw, a torn nail, or muscle strain. If you find your pet limping, the first thing to do is to locate the site of pain or problem.

Where Does It Hurt?

First, try to determine which leg is involved. A pet usually holds up the paw or puts less weight on the affected leg. He usually takes shorter steps on a weak or painful limb. His head bobs as his weight comes down on the affected leg. Once you have identified which leg is the cause of his limping, try to determine the specific site of the problem. Take a look at the paw pad and between the toes. Look for injuries such as sprains, pad lacerations, broken nails, and puncture wounds. If you cannot find anything wrong with his paw, feel carefully and gently the whole leg from the toes up. Apply gentle pressure to see if any place is tender or swollen. If you are not sure whether anything is abnormal, compare the affected leg with the other normal one. See if the affected leg is any different. Then focus on the joints. Flex and extend all the joints from the toes up to the shoulder. Pay attention to see if there is any stiffness or lack of easy movement.

Joint pain is evident if the dog tries to pull his leg free or cries out in pain when you try to flex the joint. By doing the above, you will be able to locate the site of pain or problem. See your veterinarian to diagnose the cause of limping.

Below are come common causes of lameness in pets

  • Sprains and Strains: These are rather common especially among active pets. Your friend limps suddenly and the site is often swollen, tender, and sometimes bruised. Lameness caused by sprains and strains can last for days or even weeks. In most cases, the pet can bear some weight on the affected leg.
  • Paw Injuries: Paw injuries, such as lacerations and foxtails, can be painful and the pet usually will lick the injured paw constantly. If the wound has become infected, the area will become red, warm, and tender. There may even be pus coming out from the wound. As the infection worsens, the limp gets steadily worse as well.
  • Bone Fractures: Bone fractures are an uncommon cause of lameness. A pet may get a bone fracture after being hit by a car, or stepping in a gopher hole, for example. Fractures cause severe pain and the pet is unable to bear any weight at all on the affected leg. When fractures cause lameness, they can be almost anywhere in the leg or hip, and the fractures can be mild (slight cracks in the bone) or serious (compound fractures where the bone is shattered into pieces). You may see some degree of deformity and swelling in the leg.
  • Dislocations: Dislocations usually are caused by car accidents or falls from a considerable height. Dislocated joints cause sudden severe pain and the pet is unable to bear any weight at all on the affected leg. You may see some degree of deformity in the leg – the elbow or knee may be bent, with the leg pointing either toward or away from the body.
  • Ruptured Ligament: Another cause of limping is a ruptured ligament in the stifle joint (knee joint). This happens very often to young, active and energetic dogs. The sudden onset of lameness in a rear leg suggests a rupture. The lameness may subside with rest, but may recur with exercise.
  • Spinal Cord Injuries: Spinal cord injuries are usually caused by car accidents, falls, or intervertebral disc disease. The pet may suffer from neck or back pain immediately after the injury. He may limp, stumble and develop fecal or urinary incontinence. One or more limbs may be weak but without pain.
  • Inherited Bone and Joint Diseases: Dogs with inherited bone and joint diseases are usually young or middle-aged. These types of diseases come on gradually. Swelling can usually be seen on the affected leg. The limping gets worse with time. Examples of inherited bone and joint diseases are hip dysplasia (a common cause of rear leg lameness), elbow dysplasia (a common cause of front-leg lameness), and panosteitis (“pano” or commonly called wandering lameness because the pain and lameness shift from one limb to another over the course of several weeks or months.)
  • Degenerative Joint Disease: Aka arthritis or osteoarthritis, this type of joint disease is most the common cause of lameness in older dogs and cats. Usually, the limping is worse when the pet gets up and improves when he starts walking around.

Diagnosis of Limping

If your pet is limping and you are unable to identify the underlying cause, it is essential to take him to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis is made using one or more of the following:

  • Physical Examination: To determination the location and possible cause of the limp
  • X-ray: To determine if there are any fractures or dislocation.
  • Bone Scan: CT Scan or MRI: These scans are useful in diagnosing tendon, ligament, and muscle damage.

Treatment options

There are a lot of variations of treatment options for your pet depending on the type and severity of the injury and the age of your dog. Some soft tissue injuries can be treated with rest and anti-inflammatory edications such as Rimadyl or Metacam, while more severe injuries like torn cruciate ligaments or meniscus will require orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation. Still other long term degenerative conditions can be controlled and maintained with more homeopathic remedies such as acupuncture or hydrotherapy. Some of the common treatments and dietary supplements recommend by Dr Yen and Dr Reid are list below.

  • Hills J/D diet
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Glycoflex
  • Cosequin
  • MSM
  • Laser/Light Therapy
  • Rimadyl
  • Metacam
  • Adequan Injections
  • Dasuquin
  • Acupuncture (available at CVC)
  • Hydrotherapy (Available in Walnut Creek)

Shaping Your Dog Up for the Summer

Exercise is as essential to dogs as it is to humans. It is profoundly tied to a dog’s physical, mental and emotional health. A sedentary dog is a bored dog, often an overweight dog, and, in general, a less healthy dog.

How much exercise one’s pet can handle depends on many factors including age, fitness level, medical condition, and breed. Signs of being out of shape and over exercising include drooping of the head and tail, panting excessively or abdominal breathing for more that a few minutes. Symptoms of underlying medical conditions can include coughing, hoarse breathing, tiring more easily, limping or walking in a hunched or crouched fashion. If your pet exhibits any of these signs, a physical exam by a veterinarian is needed before an exercise program is continued. Always make sure your pet has an exam and is current on vaccines prior to beginning an exercise program.

Certain breeds are not meant for distance running. Pugs, English bulldogs, and other flat-faced breeds can get overheated very easily and should only be given short frequent exercises. Some large breed dogs are predisposed to hip dysplasia and ligament tears in the knee so even if your big guy enjoys running off leash or playing fetch in the park, there is a chance it may be causing more harm than good.

Check with Dr. Yen or Dr. Reid about a possible modified exercise program that may include controlled leash walks or swimming instead of running for certain breeds, fitness levels or medical conditions. Moderation is key. Two shorter brisk walks will be less stressful on joints than one long walk. A brisk walk should have the following four components:

  • 5 minute warm-up, gradually increasing in pace
  • Brisk walk for 10–30 minutes, depending on fitness level
  • 5 minute cool-down, gradually decreasing in pace
  • Drink of water

“Cinder” the Miracle Kitty

In late May, the Berkeley Humane Society suffered a tragic and devastating fire that not only left them with major building and electrical damage, but also caused the deaths of several beautiful cats that were being housed in their cat adoption ward at the time of the blaze. Cinder arrived at the humane society the same day of the horrific blaze. She was brought to us after the fire to be treated for smoke inhalation and recovered completely. She is FeLV/FIV negative, up to date on all of her vaccinations and has been spayed. She is all black with a small patch of white on her belly and an absolute love bug. She’s a little miracle kitty who survived the blaze and is now looking for a new home. If you are interested in meeting “Cinder” give us a call or stop by and we can arrange for you to spend some time with her.

UPDATE: Cinder has since found a loving home!