The Day All Owners Dread - Limping and Lameness in Dogs

by Charlotte Elisha-Lambert

Introduction

Today's blog is something that a lot of Dog owners worry about, in certain breeds limping and lameness can be a concern before your puppy has even been bought home. Being a family that has a number dogs of the larger spitz breeds we understand, and have the same concerns or fears. 

We're not vets by any means, but for things like this experience sharing is always important. We're lucky enough to be in a community where we have contact with incredibly knowledgeable breeders who we've badgered when something has gone wrong!
 

The Anatomy of Dogs

Getting to know the anatomy of your dog is important, firstly you will know what you Vet is talking about during appointments and secondly when it comes to limping and lameness, the pain points are crucial in taking the appropriate action when needed.

For the purpose of this blog, we're mostly interest in from the Elbows and Knees down as limping or lameness can usually be attributed to the anatomy in this particular area.  

 

Limping and Lameness in Puppies

Essentially two words for the same thing, limping or lameness can either be incredibly slight or severe - and it's when you puppy cannot fully bear their weight on one or more of their legs. This will often have a noticeable impact on their gait and ability to walk normally, the easiest way to spot this is during a walk or slightly faster trot. We always recommend trying to get a family member to record you, purely because it can be there one minute and miraculously gone by the time you arrive at the vets! 
If you do have concerns about limping or lameness you should also try to look out for other telling signs, pay attention to their upper arms and thighs.
  • Are they dropping slightly in any of their shoulder or hip joints during walking?
  • Are they struggling to getting up or lying down?
  • Are they reluctant to let you touch them in these areas? 
  • Is there any shaking or trembling in the affected leg?
  • Are they usually playful and now avoiding activity or playtime?
  • Are they show any signs of pain, such as whimpering, moaning, groans, agitated barking or crying?

 

Our first piece of advice is not to immediately panic, if you haven't seen or suspect that your puppy has injured themself and they are still able to bear some of their weight on the affected leg then try to record a clear video of them walking and monitor them closely. If you know or suspect they have injured themselves then you can skip the next two paragraphs and jump straight to our section on Injured Dogs - Limping and Lameness What to Do.

In medium or large breed pups they may experience growing pains, we've experienced this and it is tough! It's awful watching them struggle, but if improves within 24-48 hours after some rest then you shouldn't have anything to worry about. Although we always recommend mentioning it during regular puppy check ups with your Vet just incase. Due to the medium and large breeds also being more prone to joint disorders, we would also advise speaking with your Vet about adding some glucosamine supplementation to their diet whilst they're growing so quickly.

If you notice that lameness doesn't improve, it is apparent for over 48 hours or it is reoccurs that it is definitely something to speak with you Vet about. The quicker joint problems are diagnosed the more treatment options are available. It's important to rest them as much as possible during periods of lameness, puppies are known to throw themselves around and rough play - but when lame crate or pen rest is the best option. Resting them completely isn't advisable either, short walks on a short leads to work the muscles and joint are also important. Finding balance is key!

 

Injured Dogs - Limping and Lameness What to Do

 This is where it becomes slightly harder to provide advice, for us personally in all cases of injury that is causing any limping or lameness we would always book to see a Vet as soon as possible. If you're an evening walker like us, then the severity and your dogs symptoms should decided whether an Out of Hours appointment is needed or whether they will be ok to wait for a standard appointment the following day. Our general rule of thumb, if they are bearing most of their weight then immediate rest and get them seen next day. However if they cannot bear weight or are clearly trying to avoid so, it would be an emergency appointment for us.

Once home and your dog is comfortable, try to determine where the injury is. Be incredibly gentle and pay attention to their reactions. We start by looking at the pads and toes examining for any injuries, bites, stings or swelling. It's much more common than you think for a dog to step on an unsuspecting wasp and pick up a sting!

The slowly work up their leg checking for obvious swelling or out injuries, paying particular attention to their hock if its a rear leg injury - if they've strained or sprained here they will usually flinch and make it clear they don't want to be touched here. Another tell is that when they flinch watch their movement in the hips, if movement is clean normal they this usually indicates lower limb injury.

You can gently run you hands over the elbows and hips to check for external injures or a reaction, but this is where you really need an experienced orthopedic Vet to check them over as these are the dreaded problem areas!

 Broken bones and soft tissue injuries play out in dogs the same way they do in humans, if the injury is just left where surgery or a course of anti-inflammatories are required the severe swelling will complicate the process and lead to a poorer prognosis and potential earlier onset of arthritic conditions.

 

Limping and Lameness in Adult or Senior Dogs

As dogs get older, like us their joints deteriorate so arthritis it common among older dogs. There are lots of over the counter remedies to help ease stiffness and pain which we can recommend on request.
However in dogs that are only a couple of years old, they shouldn't be experiencing any lameness where an injury isn't suspected. In dogs over 15KG or breeds associated with the hereditary gene cases of hip or elbow dysplasia are more common.
Dysplasia often the result of excessive or poor growth during puppyhood can be exacerbated by improper exercise, and poor weight management and nutrition. Often diagnosed via X-Ray in order to determine the dysplasia severity, your Vet will then discuss all the treatment options available. Always ask they to fully explain each one, ensuring you have the full picture in terms of risks, cost and prognosis before finalising a treatment plan.

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