When people limp, several things could be wrong – minor injury, muscle sprain, or even the effects of old age. Whatever the problem is, it is easy to ask the person.
However, what do you say to a dog limping on back leg? With dogs, getting an explanation is not always an option. Sometimes the limp is gradual and worsens over time. It can happen overnight, or you may even watch the accident happen.
It can be very worrisome to watch your dog limp in pain. What is worse is not knowing what happened or how to help the poor creature. If you are worried about your dog’s limping back leg, we have covered the possible causes and solutions that will help your dog walk normally in no time. Although this does not mean you should not visit the animal specialist, it will help you improve your furry friend’s condition lest it worsens before you make it over to the animal clinic.
What is Canine Lameness?
Defined technically as “deviation of normal gait”, canine lameness is simply hobbling or limping. If you discover that your dog suddenly finds it hard to walk, there is a chance it is canine lameness.
Why is my Dog Limping?
Dog limping, otherwise known as canine lameness, is mostly a sign or result of an underlying condition. Dogs usually limp in order to prevent putting pressure or weight on the abnormal, painful, or injured limb. The extent of the joint discomfort causing your dog to limp is dependent on the condition, age or activity of the dog.
The following are possible reasons your dog is limping.
- Anterior cruciate ligament rupture
If you are a soccer fan, you may have heard of ACL in players. ACL is the acronym of Anterior Cruciate Ligament, and tearing it is a common injury among dog conditions. The result of this is usually the dog limping on the hind leg.
What is the Anterior Cruciate Ligament?
ACL is a fibrous band found in the knee, going from the thigh bone to the shin bone (femur to the tibia). It functions to prevent the bones from shifting inward or forward when the knee is working.
There is a second cruciate ligament called the Posterior Cruciate Ligament, which is bigger and more powerful than ACL. Although it can also be injured, it is not as susceptible as ACL because of its power and location. PCL tear is a rare injury. Working together with two other major ligaments in the knee, the PCL and ACL aid proper movement and keep the bones moving properly to prevent injury.
Are some breeds susceptible to ACL injuries?
There are two main breeds of dog that are more prone to getting an ACL injury. They are:
Large Dogs: Large dog breeds like the Rottweiler, Labrador, and Neapolitan Mastiff.
Small Dogs with Short Limbs: Particularly in their middle age or older, these breeds are more prone to ACL tear. The Pug and Shih Tzu are two breeds that belong to this group. Another worrisome situation is how unfortunately prone these dogs are to discolagenosis, a progressive deterioration of the joint collagen. This defect makes them more vulnerable to such conditions.
Regardless, any dog can injure or rupture their ACL. Injury to this ligament sometimes happens if a dog goes through strenuous physical activity without adequate preparation, such as leaping onto surfaces or circling while standing.
How to Recognize Limp Caused by ACL Injury?
When a dog is limping on its hind legs due to the tear of the ACL, the cause is usually an unexpected injury. The pain can be agonizing and may make your dog unable to put any weight or pressure on the back leg or to rest it lightly on the floor. In an upright position, they’ll likely bend the leg to elevate it up in the air or push it away from their body. This is their technique for minimizing tension on the knee and relieving the pain.
In some cases, inflammation or swelling may occur on the knee but can be indistinguishable. The visible signs of a ruptured ACL are dependent on the level of the injury – if the ligament is partly ruptured or totally torn.
How can they diagnose the rupture of Anterior Cruciate Ligament?
To determine the extent of an ACL injury, the particular dog type must be considered. If there is a chance the ACL is ruptured, the vet will perform a “drawer test”.
For the test, the vet will attempt to shift the tibia forward while keeping the femur intact. If the ligament is torn, the tibia will yield to the force with minimum resistance because there is no ligament to keep it in position. Since this procedure can be unbearable without anesthetics, the vet will probably keep the dog sedated.
Performing a radiograph may not reveal evidence of rupture, but it can show the indications of osteoarthritis that occur in the first weeks following the tearing of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament. The presentation of the knee worsens, causing irregularities on the joint surfaces and deteriorating the prognosis. This is the reason that visiting the animal clinic as soon as possible for evaluation and detection is very important. In more severe cases, and depending on the facilities available in the clinic, an MRI or arthroscopy may be needed.
Treating ACL Injuries in Dogs
For treatment for ACL injuries, there are two options:
- In minor cases where the injury isn’t deemed severe enough to need surgery, the traditional medical treatment may be used. Part of the treatment course could be physiotherapy rehabilitation such as laser therapy or water movement sessions, both intended to lessen inflammation.
In addition, the animal may be placed on a diet course to prevent them from adding weight or becoming obese. The diet will also help the restoration of the articular cartilage and prevent arthrosis at all costs. They may also recommend a daily exercise routine for the dog. The animal should not be allowed to walk on terrains (such as slippery floors, ramps and staircases) that could worsen the situation.
- In more severe cases, a surgery may be necessary. Surgery is only performed only when necessary because it is expensive and recovery can be difficult. Because abrupt movements can worsen the condition, the leg will be bandaged and the dog will require much rest. In addition, the dog will be put on a proper diet to prevent obesity and improve their chances of a full recovery.
If left unchecked, ACL injury may affect the prognosis. Other ligaments may tear, especially is the dog is old.
What Causes Dog Limping On Back Leg?
- Something lodged in paw
Imagine what your life would be like going about with no shoes – running all over the neighborhood, in the woods, on the grass. Your feet would get dirt in no time. That is exactly what dogs pass through every day since they can’t wear shoes. If you discover your dog is limping or can’t rest his foot comfortably on the ground, it could be a result of a cut or an item trapped between his paw. It could be a pin, rock, burr, or thorn. Dogs with long hairs sometimes get their own fur tangled between their toes.
This is the inflammation of the bone and is sometimes caused by genetic disorder.
Too much physical activities like rough play, fetch, or even a long run in the field can make your dog exhausted. Their muscles get sore like humans. If this is the case, your dog will recover in no time after resting.
- Animal or insect bite
There are venomous spiders whose bites can affect the nervous system of your dogs. Ticks also carry Lyme disease that can cause limb dysfunction. In cases where the animal’s bite isn’t infectious, the puncture wounds can prove fatal to your dog and cause infections. Sometimes, it could be a bite from another dog. Such bites can injure your dog’s joints and make them limp.
- Underlying scar tissue:
If your dog has a history of broken legs or had a surgery, then there’s a chance the limping is a result of the scar tissue. If the dog’s leg was bandaged properly and a surgery was carried out, it could result in scar tissue. Also, the bone may have fixed in a position a bit different from how it was. This typically happens in cases where the dog suffered complex fractures and needed plates and screws to fix the bone back in place.
- Toenail problem
If you haven’t taken your dog to the groomer in a while or walked the dog on concrete (helps trim the nail), it could be an overgrown or ingrown nail clawing into its skin. This can result in serious distress to the animal and limp. In serious cases, you may require the expertise of a veterinarian to help reduce the nail. In contrast, if you had a recent visit to the groomer and the dog is limping, there is a possibility that the nail was cut too short. You will need to wait that out.
- Injury (ache)
This is perhaps the most common reason of limping in dogs. Dogs are mostly hyperactive, and each activity puts them at the risk of sprains and injuries. Your first guess should be injury if your dog starts limping out of the blue. It could have gotten its leg in a snare or struck by a large item. Normally, the limping should get better within a day or two. However, if the injury is severe, it could take weeks to heal.
Open wounds, skin cuts, nail beds, or incisions usually cause infections. You need to take care of the infection immediately after you notice it before it worsens.
Also called wandering lameness, this condition is quite rampant among growing large breed puppies between five to 12 months. Pain and lameness sometimes are likely to pass from one limb to the other for a duration of weeks or months. These symptoms can continue until the dog is 20 months old, after which they disappear completely.
Elbow and Hip Dysplasia are conditions that can likely make your dog limp in distress. Dysplasia is a hereditary disease that loosens the joint and causes subluxation.
- Dislocated Knee
Sometimes called Luxating Patella, a dislocated knee is a result of the dog’s kneecap shifting from its proper position. The consequence of this varies from total reluctance to put weight on the limb (which could cause serious lameness), to minor instability without any significant pain.
Some breeds such as toy breed dogs and Yorkshire Terriers are susceptible to the luxating patella. This disorder can also be hereditary, which means there’s a high probability that if your dog’s parent had it, your dog may have it too. Actually, many small dogs go through their lifetime with Luxating Patella and never have an episode of pain or arthritis, nor does it alter their lives negatively. In some cases, it could worsen into a deleterious situation that may necessitate surgery or adequate treatment. A dislocated knee can also be a result of an accident or physical mishap.
- Aging or Osteoarthritis
As the years pass, the musculoskeletal system of dogs gradually becomes weaker. It becomes harder for them to jump, run, and play like before. Since they are naturally hyperactive, they may try to exert themselves beyond their strength. A preventive care treatment course can help to manage osteoarthritis effectively.
- Nerve damage
If your dog suffers nerve damage, the leg could become paralyzed, causing lameness. As they walk, the bad foot will drag on the floor uncontrollably. Nerve damage is a common sight in dogs with diabetes mellitus.
- Fractured or broken bones
They can hardly be seen unless it’s a compound fracture (when the bone pierces through the skin). If your dog’s bone is fractured, it would be impossible for it to put pressure on the affected leg and walking would become distressing. Dogs typically whimper in pain in such cases to draw your attention.
- Tumors or cancer
One occasional routine check you should perform on your dog is finding strange lumps or growths. These lumps are not always harmful, but in some cases, they could be an indication of cancer. The most common of these is bone cancer (osteosarcoma), predominant in larger dog breeds and can develop quickly. This condition can cause pain, limping, or even death if not treated in time.
- Degenerative Myelopathy
DM is a degenerative condition that affects the spinal cord of older dogs. The early signs of the disease include lameness and weakness. This condition often worsens to paralysis.
How Do I Check My Limping Dog?
If your dog is limping on its back leg, the first thing you need to do is check to know the extent of the problem, since canine lameness can be minor to severe. You need to ascertain if your dog would even attempt to put weight on the leg or refuse to place weight on it at all. If the injury is not extensive such as serious bleeding or compound fracture, you can conduct a physical examination at home.
What can you do if your Dog is Limping on its Back Leg?
In Less Severe Cases…
After conducting a physical examination on the animal and discovering the situation isn’t complicated enough for a visit to the animal clinic, then you are dealing with minor lameness. You can perform the following treatments on your dog:
- Use mild heat or cold: First, ensure your dog is lying down comfortably. Use heat pad (taking care not to burn its skin), or a bag of iced up vegetables on the joints to reduce soreness or swellings. If the ache doesn’t subside within 24 hours or you want to be able to rule out chances of a chronic situation, pay a visit to the vet for a more thorough examination.
- Apply massage: Dogs with sore or irritated joints will find a massage comforting and soothing. Massage is generally considered the natural way to manage mile lameness. You can also use natural arnica with the massage to provide substantial pain relief.
- Use supplements: There are natural bone and joint supplements that keep your dog’s bones strong and joints healthy. A good example is Boneo Canine. One of the compositions of Boneo is lactoferrin complex, which has been identified to be effective for reducing inflammation and strengthening the skeletal system.
- Avoid carbohydrates: Consuming foods high in carbohydrates (such as wheat, corn, rice, soy, millet, and potato) can worsen the inflammation. Preferably, search for high-quality dog food with beef or real chicken as its major ingredient. This is a more nutritious option for your dog.
- Restrain movement: If the limping is serious and your dog shows signs of acute distress, you should keep it under restraint for a few days. Don’t let the dog run around or play with other dogs, since it may aggravate the injury. If you lift the dog, ensure you drop he or she carefully on the floor so you don’t put undue pressure on the wrong leg. You can put the dog in a crate with an orthopedic mat when you are not around. Prevent them from sleeping on the bed or elevated areas where they could try to jump off and hurt themselves even more.
- Stop exercising the dog: Dogs limping on back leg should be made to rest for a couple of days or weeks until the limping abates. After it subsides, you should keep them in restraint for one or two more days before you proceed with minimal exercises such as supervised walks.
- Get pain relievers from your vet: In some situations, aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs can be administered to the dog in low dosages. Before using any drug however, ensure you contact your veterinarian to be sure there are no side effects.
In more severe cases…
If your dog is suddenly unable to raise its body, walk, or seems to be going through excruciating pain, then the lameness is severe. Total inability to put weight on the affected limb can be an indication of conditions such as severe muscle injury, broken bones, or puncture wound. Complicated situations usually require immediate attention or sometimes surgery. If this happens, ensure you take your dog to the animal care center immediately.
When moving the dog to the vet, you should be careful enough to prevent more complications. If you own a large dog and it can still walk, let the dog walk gently to the car, then drive straightaway to the veterinarian. You can have the dog sit in a crate lined with paddings to restrain its movement. Alternatively, you can have someone join the dog in the back seat to make sure it isn’t moving unnecessarily, especially when turning. If the dog is small-sized, find someone to hold him while you drive to the animal clinic.
What if my dog is limping on back leg, but isn’t in pain?
You cannot be sure that your dog isn’t in pain just because it isn’t making any noise or lying down with a downcast glance. Unless your dog has a structural deformity that limits its proper movement, in most situations, limping only starts when the dog is suffering from a significant level of discomfort.
If your dog goes about its normal routine, aside from the limping, then the injury is probably not severe. In this case, you can apply any the suggestions we proffered for less severe cases. If the pain continues, take your dog to the nearest veterinarian.
Even if your dog isn’t limping, including a bone and joint supplement such as Free Range to their daily diet is an excellent idea. It can help reduce joint inflammation and strengthen their bones and joints.
Dog limping is one of the most popular reasons for vet visits. One minute you’re playing with your animal in the field, and the next, it is limping and whimpering all over the house. You should pay close attention and provide the necessary care as fast as possible. None of the tips mentioned above is a replacement for seeking a specialist’s help.