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Dog Is Limping Should I Walk Him

Introduction

If your dog is limping, you're probably asking yourself "should I walk him", and — if the answer is no — when can I start walking him again? Before diving like doctor dachshunds into this topic, it's worth mentioning two extremes of the spectrum from the get-go; if the limp is bad (for example a possible fracture), you can at least use a towel as a sling under your pup's belly, letting him still use the bathroom in the yard; if the limp seems non-severe (for example like he slept on his leg), then you can give him time and potentially wait for your pup to initiate any walking.

In the proceeding paragraphs, you'll read kibble-bits of information touching upon types of limping, symptoms related to various causes, and roadmaps for tackling treatment. Armed with that context in mind, you'll hopefully be able to better determine if and when you can start walking with your pup normally again soon!

Types Of Limping

To understand your pup's limp, it's helpful to first organize limping into two categories. The first category of limping can be called gradual onset, while the second can be called sudden onset.

Gradual onset limping means the limping has slowly manifested itself over the course of months or even years, often due to age-related wear and tear. Sudden onset limping means your pup was walking last week, but has suddenly started limping, possibly due to splinters, cracked toenails, or dislocated joints, among other potential triggers.

Causes of Limping

As you'll soon see, dog limping isn't the easiest of issues to solve, since there can be so many different causes. The causes can range from bone fractures to cuts on your pup's paws. Clearly, depending on the cause of the limping, the timeline of treatment and when you can walk your dog normally can vary vastly.

You've probably got some rough guesses as to why your pup is limping, and you can try cross-checking those guesses with some common causes of limping which are listed below:

Joint Issues

  • Hip socket which doesn’t fully encase the ball of your dog’s upper thighbone (this is also called hip dysplasia)
  • Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, occurring due to the breakdown of rubbery cartilage that eases the friction within your joints
  • Joint dislocations, such as the kneecap moving from its normal position. This is also called patellar luxation
  • Disease causing the degeneration of the joints, such as cranial cruciate ligament disease (CrCLD)
  • Wear and tear, or disease, causing issues with the vertebrae
  • Ailments such as Lyme Disease, which cause joint pain
  • Overstretched or torn ligaments, also called sprains

Bone Issues

  • Cancer
  • Auto-inflammatory disease of the bones, called hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD)
  • Growing pains, especially in large dogs during puppyhood, also called panosteitis

Injury or Trauma Issues

  • Cracked toenails
  • Fractures of the leg bones
  • Broken leg bones
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Insect bites
  • Snake bites
  • Cuts
  • Slivers

Symptoms of Limping in Dogs

Stacked on top of the knowledge of different causes of limping in dogs, it’s also useful to recognize the symptoms of limping. Being aware of the symptoms, you’ll be better prepared to decide which path is the best course of to follow for remedying your pup’s situation.

For starters, you’ve probably picked up on the visual cues of the injury in your dog’s leg. For example, your dog may lift her head when gingerly stepping on the injured leg, and bow her head when returning weight to the good legs, resulting in a head bobbing, strained gait. The irregularities should hint at which leg is in pain.

More serious symptoms of the limping can include the following:

  • Limbs splayed at odd angles, usually meaning a broken bone
  • Swelling, moderate or severe, indicating possibilities such as infection, bug bites, or disease
  • Fever-like symptoms at the same time, which can indicate disease

You’ll have a rough idea if your dog’s case is severe based on symptoms your pup is showing, visible discomfort (such as a depressed mood), and retracing recent activity with your pup (like an overly active trip to the dog park).

Diagnosis and Treatment

For broken limbs, worsening swelling, and fever-like symptoms, you’d want to see professional support from a veterinarian as soon as possible. If, however, your pup’s case feels less severe, or vets are not immediately accessible, then you can familiarize yourself with the at-home treatment listed below, which you can use at your sole discretion as your pup's parent.

If you’re unsure about visiting the vet, because let’s be honest — vet costs can be quite high — it's very understandable. In that case, you can consider waiting, say, 1-2 days to gauge your pup's natural recovery. If, after 1-2 days, your pup naturally recovers, then you might be able to get away without visits to the vet. Though, if the condition stays the same, or worsens, you really ought to visit a professional. If your pup's limp strikes you as somewhat but not very severe, try booking a vet appointment in a few days' time. You can always cancel the appointment if your dog heals naturally, but if the condition doesn't improve then you can still visit the vet soon. It's much better then waiting until the final hour, suddenly calling the vet, and realizing she can't accept new bookings for another few days.

Veterinarian Treatment

In case you visit the vet, the appointment will probably start with your vet performing a physical examination, also asking you questions about the issue. These questions, for instance, might include when the limping began, how severe the pain seems to be, if the condition has worsened recently, and so on. The physical examination will probably consist of testing for tenderness and pain, evaluating range of motion of the leg joints, feeling for unusual swelling or heat, and examining for slivers or pebbles stuck between the toes. 

For more serious cases, or when the cause of the limping isn’t well understood, your vet might suggest running extra tests for more clarity and to ensure more accurate treatment of the underlying issue.

Other tests for severe limping might include:

  • Radiographs (identify broken bones, joint disease, skeletal problems)
  • Biopsies and joint fluid collection (identify cancer, and other diseases)
  • Blood testing (infectious diseases)

Based on the results of the examination, your vet will probably prescribe treatments including a few days of rest, surgery, physiotherapy, or ice packs to mitigate swelling, among other ideas.

In all likelihood, this won’t be the first time your vet has encountered a limping pup, since it's a common issue for dogs, so rest assured that your vet can likely help you a great deal with diagnosis and treatment. If you're sceptical of costs or treatment, you can always try getting seconds opinions from other nearby vets.

At-Home Treatment

Supporting dogs can be pricey enough without trips to the vet. Clearly, many dog moms and dads will first look for at-home remedies, so we may as well cover ideas in that area as in-depth as possible; therefore, here are some roadmaps for diagnosing and treating your dog's limp.

Important Disclaimer: please use the information shared below at your own discretion! These writings are by no meant replace professional opinion, and could easily worsen your dog's condition if applied improperly. People using GPS' have been reported driving straight into lakes and rivers, blindly trusing their GPS and abandoning their own common sense; instead, use this as a tool in emergencies when vets aren't available — otherwise you should not actually follow these instructions.

To begin, let’s assume you’re in a remote location, with no access to a vets or skilled animal handlers nearby. You’ll have to do your best to help your pup, and that’s what the information below aims to help with! For all the ideas listed, take your time, be extra calm, and remain gentle with your pup; remember, you’re dealing with injured limbs here, and you easily have the strength to accidentally hurt your pup.

For starters, carefully perform a physical examination of your pup’s injured leg. Here’s an idea for a checklist in examining your pup’s injured limb:

Physical Examination

  1. Examine foot pads for physical trauma such as sores, cuts, swelling, thorns, rocks, or bug bites
  2. Inspect the nails of limping foot carefully. Lightly apply pressure at the base of the nails and observe your pup’s response. She will whimper in case you’ve found a bad nail that might be causing the limping
  3. Lightly allow your pup’s paw to flutter from up to down and back up, as it naturally does (attention: do not test it from side to side as it’s not meant to rotate that way)
  4. Lightly test the elbow joint, one joint above the wrist, allow it to also naturally move from up and down slowly (Attention: do not test it from side to side as it’s not meant to rotate that way)
  5. Gently sweep your fingertips up and down your pup’s limping leg. This will help you locate the area which can be causing the limping (Note: apply as little pressure as possible when sweeping your fingers, and feel for broken bones, swelling, bug bites, slivers, and reactions of discomfort from your dog)
  6. Lightly massage the muscles of the shoulders above the limping leg and watch your dog’s reaction if anything
  7. As gently as possible, rotate your pup’s entire leg in a circular motion to test the mobility
  8. Observe if your pup’s knee could be causing the issue. Small dogs especially are susceptible to dislocated kneecaps which cause lots of discomfort, just needing to be pushed back into place.

Treatment

Once you’ve managed to zero-in on a few, or even one clear cause for your dog’s limping, then it's time to go about nursing your dog back into proper, non-limping shape. Here are some treatments for the limping depending on what's causing the limp.

Before diving in further, these three steps in particular will get defined first below, since they're called upon many times; this way, they won't have to be repeated.

  • Clean wound: use water or solution of physiologic saline or hydrogen peroxide to rinse blood, dirt, grime from the damaged area
  • Disinfect wound: gently dab with diluted iodine solution, betadine, or chlorhexidine to kill bacteria and germs from the open skin
  • Apply antibiotics: apply ointment to the open wound, helping to prevent infection, and wrap wound in gauze if dog tends to lick wound excessively or if there’s still bleeding
Paw Pad Injuries
  1. Clean wound
  2. Disinfect wound
  3. Apply Antibiotics
Injuries to Webbing (Skin Between Toes)
  1. Remove objects or splinters which may be causing pain
  2. Clean wound
  3. Disinfect wound
  4. Wrap wound if necessary
Injuries to Toenails
  1. Clean wound
  2. Disinfect wound
  3. For bifurcations in the nail (which could get caught in grass or weeds)
  4. Buff or trim the bifurcated nail so it’s less susceptible to being tangled, pulled, and worsened
  5. Apply antibiotics possibly and wrap the foot if it’s causing lots of pain to apply pressure
Sore Joints
  1. Apply cold compress to injured area for about 15 minutes or more to ease the inflammation or swelling. Attention: wrap the cold compress with a buffer like a dish cloth
Broken Bones
  1. Clean wound
  2. Disinfect wound
  3. Apply temporary splint with a magazine, rolled around the injured limb and tied together with duct tape. Attention: Can irritate areas where the magazine rubs against your dog’s skin, so this should only be used for a couple hours at most until your dog gets a proper cast
  4. Go to nearest animal emergency hospital
Snake bite
  1. Clean wound
  2. Disinfect wound
  3. Possibly give your dog an antihistamine (such as diphenhydramine, 3-4mg/kg twice per day). Attention: for bleeding wounds, don’t give aspirin, as the blood thinning can exacerbate the bleeding
  4. Visit animal hospital for antibiotics and further treatments
Insect bite
  1. Clean wound
  2. Disinfect wound
  3. Possibly give your dog an antihistamine (such as diphenhydramine, 3-4mg/kg twice per day). Attention: for bleeding wounds, don’t give aspirin, as the blood thinning can exacerbate the bleeding
  4. Apply cold compress to injured area for about 15 minutes or more to ease the inflammation or swelling. Attention: wrap the cold compress with a buffer like a dish cloth
Dislocated kneecap
  1. Very gently, squeeze the muscles around your pup’s knee with one hand, applying just a slight amount of pressure, as if you’re extremely gently squeezing a stress ball. Note: Use your fingertips to gently press your dog’s muscles around the knee into your palm, and you should hear and feel a small “tick” noise that indicate the kneecap is back in place

Conclusion

You've hopefully gained insight into your dog's limp, and a better idea of when you can begin dog walking again.

Limping can occur for all sorts of reasons in dogs, ranging from awkward sleeping positions to bone fractures, so there's no broad-ranging answer for when you can walk your dog again. Instead, you should seek professional help, learn the cause of the limping, follow your vet's treatment, and wait for your pup's leg to recover.

If you're in an emergency and can't get help from a vet, you can try to carefully help your dog yourself, though that's not recommended.

We hope your dog makes a robust recovery in case she or he is facing a limp at this time!

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