Why Is My Dog Limping Suddenly?
Is your dog limping? Did the limp start suddenly or has it been getting progressively worse? Dogs can sustain an acute injury such as breaking a bone or tearing a ligament. A dog who suddenly limps may also be suffering from a chronic condition like arthritis or elbow dysplasia.
Dogs don’t lie about pain. Dogs are good at hiding their pain, so if you notice your dog limping, it might be a medical emergency. Your dog’s limp could be something as easy as a torn nail or something more elusive yet scary like Lyme disease.
As a dog mom to two Cocker Spaniels with a history of leg issues, I can empathize with you. I share in that sinking feeling you get when your dog displays a hobble, paw lifting, or limp and you have no idea why.
Sometimes a dog may limp without exhibiting pain or he may howl, moan, whine, snap, or try to bite because it hurts. One time when I was transporting my Cocker Spaniel to an emergency hospital, she snapped at me in pain. She injured her leg, which was later diagnosed as patellar luxation.
You may be able to diagnose the reason for your dog’s limping if it is something simple, which we’ll discuss in this article. Never let your dog suffer in pain. Dogs can’t tell us where it hurts or what might have happened to cause the pain.
Here are the most common reasons a dog suddenly limps along with how to determine if it’s an emergency situation.
Reasons For Sudden Dog Limping
Overgrown or Injured Nails
Imagine wearing a pair of high heels if you are accustomed to flats or wearing shoes: Now try running in those heels and wearing them 24/7. This is what overgrown nails feel like on a dog.
This can also create bone and leg pain, which in the long run, causes serious issues for a dog. Make sure your dog’s nails are clipped back if necessary. A veterinary nurse or your dog’s groomer can clip his nails.
Dogs who limp may also have injured their nail. I recall taking our first Cocker Spaniel to a farm to see the animals and go for a walk. She managed to slice a paw nail on a cage, resulting in what looked like a bloody crime scene. She hit the quick of her nail, which is the part that supplies blood and runs through the middle of the nail.
A bleeding or broken toenail requires urgent care and is very common in dogs. If the quick of the nail is affected, you’ll see a lot of bleeding. Major breaks tend to be deeper and bleed more. Don’t risk infection, and take your dog to see a veterinarian immediately. The vet can check it, fix it, and prescribe antibiotics if needed to prevent infection.
Don’t try clipping your dog’s nails if you are not 100 percent certain how to do it. Here’s how I learned to clip my dog’s nails at home.
Paw Pad Injury
In hot weather, paw pads may be burned by hot pavement. In cold weather, pads can be harmed by frostbite or chemicals tossed on icy roads and sidewalks.
Excessive or frequent walking or running can also wear a paw pad down. A common myth among dog parents is that a dog’s paws need no protection; after all, they’ve been walking around without socks or shoes for thousands of years, right?
True, but a dog’s paws do need protection. If your dog suddenly limps, gently check the paws and in between the toes for any cuts, foreign objects, bleeding, chemical injuries, burns, or frostbite.
Hidden Lump In the Toes
In between each of your dog’s toes is an area of webbing. That area is also ripe for yeast to form (dark and moist), cyst or infection, or even a mass. Interdigital (between the toes) lumps and growths can form and cause a dog to limp.
If growths or interdigital cysts are an ongoing issue with your dog, get to the root of the cause. Some causes of cyst formation in the toes include bacterial infections, ingrown hairs, mites, allergies, and obesity.
Canine Thyroid Issue
Dogs with hypothyroidism (underactive) may limp due to the pain caused to the joints by the imbalance of thyroid hormone. In her book, The Canine Thyroid Epidemic, Dr. Jean Dodds explains that reduced thyroid function can produce a wide range of clinical signs.
If your dog limps and displays other hypothyroid symptoms, such as hair loss, unexplained weight gain, or skin issues, ask your veterinarian to check the dog’s thyroid hormone levels.
Although dogs may never display symptoms of Lyme disease, when symptoms do manifest, your dog might limp. Swollen, painful joints might indicate your dog has Lyme disease, which is carried by ticks.
Your dog limping may be on one leg on one day and then he may limp on the other leg later on. He may appear like he’s walking on eggshells and have a fever as well…or not. Inflammed joints as a result of Lyme disease can cause a dog to limp. Your veterinarian can run the necessary tests and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Spinal Cord or Disc Injury
IVDD, or intervertebral disc disease in dogs, affects the discs that cushion the spine: between the spinal column itself and the vertebrae.
The discs bulge or herniated (burst) into the spinal cord space. Your dog may drag his back legs, hobble when walking, seem off-balance, or refuse to walk at all.
Dog mom Kim Kiernan has managed her dog’s IVDD for years. She helps her Cocker Spaniel’s IVDD with exercise, dietary modifications, veterinary guidance, and holistic support.
Sometimes involuntary urination, leaking urine, or dribbling of urine in dogs is associated with limping. Like people, dogs develop arthritis and other orthopedic issues throughout their lives, especially as they age.
Nerves that control the bladder and its emptying can be affected by things like tumors, infections, and even spinal cord injuries.
One of the most common tears in a dog’s leg is that of the cranial cruciate ligament, CCL, sometimes called ACL. My dog tore his ACL twice, both times requiring surgery.
Many times, a veterinarian will perform an in-office “drawer test” on the dog suspected of an ACL tear. The drawer test involves manual manipulation of the knee joint by a veterinarian.
Here’s our Everything Guide to ACL Injuries that will help guide you and your dog if an ACL tear is suspected.
Other Reasons Your Dog Limps Suddenly
Sometimes, a dog limping suddenly is a simple fix and other times it’s more involved. Your dog could have:
- An insect bite
- A bee stinger or a thorn in his paw
- A foreign object or something sticky on or in his paw pad
- Vaccination reaction
- Pinched nerve or a nerve injury
- Burn or sliced paw
- Elbow dysplasia
- Hip dysplasia
- Back issue, compressed or herniated disk
- Bone tumor
- Muscle pull, tear, or muscle injury
- Joint luxation or subluxation
- Fracture or break
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Growing pains in puppies (panosteitis)
- Shoulder issue called osteochondritis dissecans
- Infection of unknown origin
- Congenital issue, such as malformation
- An immune system issue
- Valley fever
- Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (usually seen in large breed puppies)
Sometimes, the cause of your dog’s limp may never be known. In most cases, a veterinarian or specialist will be able to diagnose the cause of your dog’s limp.
Did your dog play or wrestle with another dog or you? Did he jump off the couch or the bed? Miss a step or run too fast outside? Even as something as minor as stepping off a curb can cause injury and cause your dog to limp.
In addition to determining the cause of your dog’s limp, the injury location is imperative. Is your dog limping on his front leg or is he limping on his rear leg? Is it both front legs alternating or the rear legs back and forth? Your vet will help with a diagnosis.
How To Help A Limping Dog: Bonus Tip
If your dog is anything like mine, by the time you see the veterinarian, the limp isn’t as bad or the dog isn’t limping at all. You bring the dog home and he limps again.
Document everything you can about your dog’s limp including:
- When you noticed the limp
- Anything that precipitated it
- Any medications your dog takes
- Any recent travel history including your dog
If you can videotape your dog limping, this will help the vet as well. My veterinarian allows us to text her with any ongoing issues so we can determine if an appointment is needed. You can show your vet the video of your dog limping, which can help with diagnosis and treatment.
Moving A Dog With A Limp
Sometimes a dog in pain will cry out, bite, or snap if you try to move him. However, you’ve got to get to a vet. If your dog is limping, here are some ways to transport him to your vehicle:
- Gently carry your dog outside if possible, cradling him in your arms while allowing the injured limp to rest or dangle, depending on the most comfortable position.
- Slide a heavy blanket under the dog along with a board or a piece of cardboard for support. This maneuver is best when performed by two people (unless you have a smaller dog).
- Call your vet or animal emergency clinic if you need help getting the dog to your vehicle. They will give you tips on transporting him to avoid further injury.
Should My Limping Dog See A Veterinarian?
Unless you are 100 percent certain of the cause of your dog’s limp and can successfully and easily treat it on your own, please call a vet for help.
Limping is an emergency if the dog is in extreme pain if your dog:
- Can’t weight bear at all
- Has bleeding or swelling
- Has a break or fracture (contorted limb, severe pain, etc)
- Is dragging a limb
- Has a fever, is shaking or trembling
- Experiences severe vomiting
- Has extreme fatigue
- Is fearful or aggressive
- Won’t eat or drink
- The limb is warm or hot to touch
- Your dog is showing no signs of improvement even if you think it’s minor
Never second guess or try to self-diagnose your dog. I never would have known my Cocker Spaniel had a patellar luxation without veterinary intervention.
I never would have known my dog had a torn ACL unless a vet intervened. Dogs can’t tell us where it hurts, so be the pet parent your dog knows you are. Never hesitate to seek medical help when it comes to your dog’s health.
Products to Help an Injured Dog
Here are seven of our favorite products to have on hand for a dog who is limping. Once your vet has diagnosed the extent of your dog’s injury, these are the types of products to have on hand.
DogMinder: The DogMinder is a health and wellness dog journal to record and save all of your dog’s medical notes, reminders, symptoms, signs, and more. We authored this journal and it’s under $10 on Amazon.
Styptic powder to stop nail bleeding: If you nick your dog’s quick or he has bleeding from the quick, styptic powder can stop bleeding fast.
First aid kit for dogs: It’s always a great idea to have a fully-stocked dog first aid emergency kit on hand. We have a post about first aid kits for Cocker Spaniels. You can also purchase this first aid kit for dogs on Amazon.
Joint supplement for dogs: We have several joint supplement favorites for dogs, but the two we have been most helpful for our dogs are Duralactin Canine Joint Plus Soft Chew and Dasuquin with MSM. Note: You want the Duralactin soft chews and not the tablets.
Comfortable orthopedic dog bed: Most dogs love to snuggle up and rest on a dog bed. If your dog has a leg injury, a solid orthopedic memory foam dog bed can be very helpful. Our favorite is from Furhaven Pet Products.
Dog ramp: If your dog is recovering from a leg injury or surgery, he may need to use a ramp to get around for a while. With your vet’s permission and following weight-bearing instructions, consider using a durable dog ramp.
Dog harness: Help your dog get around while recovering with a high-quality body harness. We prefer Gingerlead. I’ve met the owners of the company and have used this product with success.Save
This is interesting. I new about the claws and the pads, but didn’t know about the other reasons. Thanks for sharing!
Indeed. I had a friend whose dog was limping ever so slightly. It turned out to be a cyst between the pads. Appreciate the kind words!
Very helpful article. I was just having this discussion with a friend about her dog’s limping, and what it could be. Nothing obvious as to cause, and it comes and goes, but a vet visit is definitely in order.
That is great that your friend will go to the vet. There could be so many reasons for a limp. Keep us posted.
This is actually a very timely post for us! Two weeks ago, I took Chloe to the vet because she was not putting weight on her front paw. The test result…Lyme Disease!
We were totally shocked as we had absolutely no idea!!
Thank you for shedding some light on these important issues!
I recall learning about limping and Lyme disease with my first Cocker years ago. It always stuck with me. I hope Chloe is okay. Thinking she is probably on some antibiotics, right?
Thanks for sharing my Daughter’s Dashound Frank my Granddog whom I absolutely Love ❤❤ is dragging his back right leg getsssssss Lots of Love & Veternairy care / slip disc in his back. 9 yrs young!!!!! Praise God still wants to run ,bark eat, & guard my Daughter & grandkids… Great Dog❤❤❤❤❤❤
Thank you for giving valuable info that helps us to better care for our furbabies.
Thanks, Jackie. Always trying to make things better – hugs to your pack!
Dogs don’t limp for the fun of it, there is a reason and the human needs to figure it out. Great post.
Thanks so much. That means a lot coming from you: I am a big fan of your blog and your writing style!
GREAT READ! Even though I think I might know a lot, there were things in your article that I learned. Thank you for that. Hugs to Mr. Dexter.
Wow, Carol! As always, so much great information packed into one post!
With nine dogs in the family, we’ve faced many of these issues. We’ve dealt with broken nails, cut pads, interdigital cysts, ccl tears, back injuries and of course arthritis. I’ve learned to do home exams and have a great working relationship with our vet.
That is fantastic that you have a good working relationship with your vet and are on top of these things, Sue.
Funny, we have three limping friends right now.
Lily & Edward
Thank you for this article. Unfortunately my little dog Chico has suffered thru ruptured ACL and torn meniscus surgery, for which limping was the first sign indicating an injury. He also has IVDD of the cervical spine and while major episodes caused him to not be able to use his front legs, minor flareups always present as limping. Very glad you cited the importance of nail trims and keeping our dogs paws healthy. As we all know, when our feet hurt, everything hurts. We need to always be vigilant with our pets…since they can’t tell us what hurts. Any lameness should be brought to the vet’s attention!
Very interesting article. I just took Zee (boxer) to the vet for limping on her front leg. Her limp tends to come and go. Dr. Dean believes she may have a slight elbow dysplasia. He suggested MSM or some joint supplements. Hopefully she doesn’t have dysplasia and if so the supplements may help slow it down.
My neighbor’s young dog has hip problems and has limped since a puppy. He’s had a couple of surgeries.
This is a great post full of some really useful info! The underlying causes of limping can be anything from “nothing” to something extremely serious. Unfortunately we had the extreme end with Lola when what seemed like nothing but minor arthritis (even on the xrays!) turned out to be extremely aggressive osteosarcoma.
Small dogs are prone to luxating patella so I’m always watching Mr. N for limping. And trying to get his nails shorter!
Because I have the limping Henrietta, I am always checking her body parts! I never would have imagined the other reasons for a limp — other than the obvious. Thank you so much for this insightful information!
Good list. I wouldn’t say nobody talks about these reasons, though. I talk about them and a number of the blogging vets talk about them.
The average per parent might not, Jana
Very informative post, Carol. And coincidentally, I have one of my Huskies who just had an infected dew claw and was treated with a round of antibiotics. It appeared to clear up. We are at about two weeks after, and a lump suddenly appeared and is bleeding ( I discovered it in the middle of the night when I put on the light and saw blood all over my dog’s face. I don’t even remember my feet touching the ground as I jumped out of bed, totally freaked out) , Xrays last night show it is a tumor that appears to be eating the bone (I will be posting about this) and I pray it is benign. She is going for surgery to remove the tumor and the dew claw, and have a biopsy on Monday. How did I first discover it? She had a limp and I immediately went in to the vet. So this is such an important post. Pinning and will be sharing.
Layla hops with her left back leg in the air and the vet has done all testing and cannot find anything – we can go days without hopping and the it starts again for a couple of days – so on hopping days I just walk her less.
Very informative article. It was like a flashback to my time as an assistant to a vet here.
My dog ripped his ACL two years ago and never properly recovered from surgery. (He won’t stay calm). So limping is an on-going issue with him. I’m putting Dr. Buzby’s toe grips on him this weekend (properly this time) to see if that helps.
Also, I didn’t know they can get lumps between their toes. I’ll check that. my Victor chews his feet sometimes.
So many different things it can be that you might not think of. Thank goodness for vets!
Wow, I had no idea limping could be a sign of Lyme!! I like your comparison of running in heels to overgrown nails. Ouch! Everybody trim those nails!
Wonderful and thorough article! Poppy and I were also happy to see that disc disease made the list! We love the education your blog provides. Great job Carol and smooches from me and Poppy.
YAY to seeing the dynamic duo of Kim and Poppy here. We always think of you both…and miss you bunches.
i am always watching to see if my dogs are limping. sometimes i will make them walk back and forth to me several times. i check out there feet, in between the toes and pads as well. i do this when i groom them as well since i shave the fuzz. i also feel along their legs, joints to see if they are sensitive to any areas or if i feel anything lumps, bumps, etc. this is excellent information, thank you. my oldest started limping on her back leg, she has a bad back anyway. her hips were out of alignment, so the vet did chiropractic adjustment. she also showed me how to do it.
Thank you for this post.. I try to take excellent care of my dogs and look for any signs of distress.. this post gave me more vital information….
I’m so happy you included long nails. I just did a post on how to trim your dog his nails and it’s so important! It’ such an easy cause to overlook! Great article, as awalys!!
My dog Nelly had Necrosis of the femoral head, most likely due to poor breeding or an injury from being born and raised in a puppy mill. She needed surgery to cut away the dead part of the bone. I am taking my dogs in to have their nails trimmed this week-I never thought about overgrown nails as causing leg pain. Thanks for the reminder! I am so grateful that Baby Joey got the help and love he needed. You are such a wonderful advocate for dogs everywhere and your Wigglebutt Warrior fundraising is amazing!
Beth, that means so much to me. Thank you. Oh gosh ouch on that necrosis of the femoral head.
A comprehensive list and one any dog owner MUST read! I will share this – it matters! Some of thse you simply may not know or think about!
We LOVED the video too – it is an effective message for good care as well as a great rescue story!
Great post. I especially appreciate the mention on the spinal cord. Dexter has Chiari-like malformation (CM) and Syringomyelia (SM) which affect his spine and is neurological. Because of this, he can limp or have an odd gate at times. I’m glad your Dexter is doing so well.
Oh gosh I know all too well about that, Tonya. Is your Dexter okay?
Thanks. He does pretty well. Mostly good days. 🙂
I never thought about all the reasons a dog would be limping. When I was growing up, our dogs stayed outside, so I don’t think we ever clipped their nails.
Very interesting! There are a few of these, like hypothyroidism, that I certainly wouldn’t connect with a dog limping. Some of these sound really painful. I can see why it is important to have a veterinarian check it out as soon as possible. With kitties, an important thing to remember is that those limps could be a result of the cat being declawed. Declawing is such a destructive procedure and people rarely think about the effects it will have on the cat before they do it.
Wow, thanks for such comprehensive info Carol. I often put Finn’s limping down to his luxating patella… but you’ve really made me think of a number of other conditions I need to consider. Much appreciated by both me & #Finndawg 😉
We didn’t realize there could be so many reasons for limping. This was great info, and we will share with our friends who have dogs.
Interesting things some people wouldn’t think about! I always love the amount of info you are able to get into a post. Great read!
This is really good, I knew only about the nails. It is weird that nobody talks about it. I’ll pay attention with my Westie.
Thank you for a great article. This is something that we had to deal with about a month ago, our dog Charlie started limping. We checked his paw over and over, not finding anything. However, Charlie had an infection in his tooth ( he is 9) and was scheduled for a teeth cleaning in the upcoming week. A week after his cleaning, he was running/walking like nothing ever happened.
Our inner works are so interconnected that sometimes you seem to miss that one problem might be connected to another. Fixing his infection and cleaning his teeth made his paw feel better. While it is important to look at the initial problem, remember that other things might be at play is essential! Thanks again!
One of our dogs had an ankle injury when she was young and now limps if she runs too much or strains the leg. We had a good ankle brace for her but she lost it recently. Does anyone have any recommendations of good braces?
I had a springer with a severe limp that did not go away. The vet thought it was arthritis and tried to treat it with meds, which didn’t work. After months of limping, I finally convinced the vet to take an xray of the leg. It turned out to be osteosarcoma! This bone cancer usually kills withing a few months. Luckily we got the leg amputated and the dog made it for almost two years. Her life was quite a story and inspired me to start writing a book about it.
WOW that is a great story for a book. Smart to have the leg amputated. I look forward to reading about this.
Well written! But I have a question: if it is the nails that make my dog limping, why he does not want me to cut them for him? He struggles hard everytime
Thank you so much. If your dog has a limping problem then it is a serious problem. You check it timely and concern your doctor.
our 1 yr. old limps after he lifts his left leg to urinate. it is very temporary and after that he can run at full speed without any indications of injury.