Lameness - Limping

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Walking on four legs has great advantages over walking on two. If one leg hurts, there are three more that weight can be shifted to. Dogs in particular naturally carry two thirds of their weight on their forelegs. Finding the cause of lameness or a limp can be more challenging than you might think. Even determining which leg a pet is limping on can be difficult although that may be the easiest part of the problem. If your pet is taking shorter steps than usual or head-bobbing as it walks it is lame. Initially we will ask you the following:

  1. Has lameness developed gradually or occurred suddenly?
  2. Are you aware of any injuries?
  3. Is a foot held up or not fully bearing weight?
  4. Is your pet licking at any particular area, especially the paw?
  5. We will want to see your pet walk and then will examine the paws, limbs and back, looking for cut pads, penetrating injuries, feeling for regions of heat, swelling or tenderness and flexing and extending all joints. Causes of lameness include:
Cut pads Licking may or may not occur
Foreign body between toes Licking usually occurs. An abscess forms at the sight of foreign body penetration. Lameness progressively worsens until the abscess bursts.
Bite wounds and infections Licking wounds. Lameness worsens as swelling and infection increase.
Sprains and strains Lameness is sudden, sometimes accompanied by swelling or bruising. May last days to weeks.
Joint diseases In older pets. Worst upon awakening. Lameness improves with exercise.
Inherited joint disease Often in younger pets. Seldom associated swelling. Worsens over time.
Ligament tears Lameness is sudden. Pain usually minimal. Lameness becomes chronic. Minimal weight bearing capacity.
Fractures and dislocations Lameness is sudden. Pain is severe. Accompanied by swelling and inability to bear weight.
Bone tumours Single leg limp in older pets. Painful swelling felt through muscles. Worsens with time. Does not respond to rest.
Spinal cord damage Sudden in small pets, sometimes gradual onset in larger breeds. Moderate to severe pain. Often a symmetrical lameness.
Degenerative nerve diseases Mostly in German Shepherds. Gradual onset in middle aged pets. No pain or swelling. Hind paws buckle over.

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