‘My Dog Is Limping’: What to Do If They Have Mobility Issues

Have you noticed that your dog seems to be limping?  It may not be something you need to panic about but, depending on the severity of their lameness and other environment and physical conditions, it could be something that requires veterinary intervention.

There can be a whole host of things that can cause your dog to start limping and in this article, we are going to try to look at some of these and the action you may need to consider taking.

If your dog is limping it is important to consult a vet if it is a severe or prolonged problem or one that is accompanied by other worrying symptoms

Spotting the Signs of Joint Pain or Problem

Dogs are hardy souls and they tend to have a much higher pain threshold than humans.  Often, by the time they start limping this can be a sign that they are in a lot of pain. Sometimes the problem will have been building up for a long time before the limping started, other times it may have been a sudden injury that has caused it.  Sometimes the limping may come and go. It is important to look out for other signs that your dog may be in pain.

Other signs could include:

  • Stiffness, particularly when getting up after resting
  • A dog that normally craves contact may be shying away from cuddles
  • Growling or barking when you try to touch them or move them
  • Does your dog have any cuts, puncture wounds, swelling or other noticeable signs of injury
  • Is your dog panting excessively or showing signs of a fever
  • Is your dog vomiting or lethargic
  • A normally playful dog may no longer show enthusiasm for games
  • Decreased appetite

Some signs can be extremely subtle, like the dog shifting their weight whilst standing from one side to the other regularly, restlessness, pacing or very small differences in gait.

If your dog has become stiff or is limping and this is paired with uncharacteristic aggressive behaviour this could be a sign that your dog is in a lot of pain

Know When to Go to the Vet

If your dog has developed a sudden limp, perhaps they took a rough tumble when they were playing outside, it could be that they have just strained a muscle.  If there are no other signs of injury and they are not showing signs of being in distress it may be that you just need to encourage them to rest, keep them off their paws as much as possible for 24 hours and give them time to heal.   If they are still limping the following day or it shows signs of getting worse during that time, then a trip to the vet may be required.

If there are more obvious signs of injury or other symptoms like those described in the list above, this may mean that veterinary attention is needed.

If your dog has been having intermittent limping, perhaps they are stiff sometimes when getting up in the morning, maybe they are also starting to get on in years, this could be a sign of age-related mobility issues and a trip to the vet would be recommended to discuss options for managing this type of condition.

Don’t just hope the problem will go away.  Even if the limping is not very pronounced, if it has been going on for more than 24 hours, it is always better to get it checked out – just in case.


If your dog is displaying worrying symptoms, don’t delay taking your dog to the vet for a consultation

What Can Cause Joint Pain for Your Dog?

Sometimes identifying the cause of lameness can be more tricky than you might think, although with x-rays, scans and even just a general examination, usually, a vet will be able to help provide a diagnosis so that appropriate treatment can be given.  Below are some of the reasons why your dog may be limping.

Injury

This is one of the most common reasons for limping and, if the injury was not serious, it can often clear up with rest and time.

If the injury was more serious it could be that additional treatment, possibly surgery and sometimes pain relief may be required.  It could be anything from a torn ligament, to a dislocation or fracture. Fractures left untreated are not only extremely painful but they can also cause infections or further mobility problems.

Arthritis

The most common medical condition that would cause stiffness and lameness is Arthritis.  Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition so it means that older dogs will often develop this. Whilst there is no cure for it there are a number of treatments that can help slow the progression and alleviate any discomfort caused.  

It is important to consult a vet to ensure that you are given a correct diagnosis and advice on the best treatments. Whilst there are prescription medications that can be very useful including anti-inflammatories and pain relief meds, some people also choose to give their dogs joint supplements to help with canine arthritis.  They will not prevent the disease from happening but they may also help to slow down progression and ease the discomfort.

The fatty acids in fish oils have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and so can be a popular choice.  Zesty Paws produce a Salmon Oil supplement that is well regarded.  It is sustainably sourced, produced in an FDA approved facility and they are well certified too.  

Products containing glucosamine and chondroitin are also popular.  The Nutramax Dasuquin Soft Chew Joint Supplements are widely regarded as one of the most popular glucosamine based doggy joint supplements on the market

It is important to closely monitor the development of this condition.  Your dog may require a lighter exercise regime, no high impact activity going forward and more mental stimulation with interactive toys and games.  If your dog loved agility or another high impact dog sport, as the arthritis progresses this will put too much strain on their joints and you may need to look at a lower impact activity to keep them stimulated, scent work trials may be an option.

In older dogs as the condition progresses, it is important to stay in contact with your vet and always have your dog’s quality of life at the forefront of your mind.  


Older dog’s are more susceptible to developing arthritis, early intervention can slow the progress of the condition and help to manage the pain

Breed Specific Conditions

There are some dogs that are more prone to mobility issues due to breed-specific conditions that they have inherited.

Golden Retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds and some other large breed dogs, for example, can be more prone to developing hip or elbow dysplasia and this can also bring on early onset arthritis.

Dachshunds are more prone to developing spine injuries or conditions and this can also impact on their mobility and cause lameness.

Some of the smaller breeds like the Boston Terrier, Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terrier are at greater risk of developing Patellar Luxation.  This is when the kneecap dislocates from its normal position.

Dalmatians and Irish Wolfhounds are a couple of breeds that are more genetically predisposed to developing Gout.   Whilst it is pretty rare and also treatable once diagnosed, this is a condition that can cause uric acid crystals to form in the joints leading to pain, swelling and lameness.


Golden Retrievers and some other large breeds have a genetic predisposition towards developing hip or elbow dysplasia

Obesity

Obesity is a huge problem for the pet dog population worldwide.  I am sure many readers would be shocked to know that a 2017 study conducted by  The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reported that in North America an estimated 56% of dogs are obese!

Obesity can cause so many health and wellbeing problems for your dog.  One of the most common is the strain that it puts on their joints. Overweight dogs are much more likely to develop joint injuries or conditions like arthritis.

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will keep them healthier and happier and hopefully help them live a longer life.


Dog’s that are overweight put much more strain on their joints and so are more prone to developing problems

Diabetes

If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes this can dramatically increase the chance of your dog developing problems with their musculoskeletal system and this can lead to joint problems.  It is important to talk through the risks with your vet and look at solutions to minimise the risk.

Puppy Growth Abnormalities

It is extremely important that your puppy receives the right balance of nutrients from a young age and also that they receive the right amount of exercise.  Over-exercising a puppy can lead to too much strain being put on their softer, developing bones and this can lead to serious problems in later life with their joints. There is a general set of guidance that pup should get around 5 minutes of exercise (twice a day) for every month older they get.  So a twenty-minute walk twice a day is great for a four-month-old puppy. Obviously, this is just a guide but it gives you a good baseline.

High impact exercise like canicross, agility or other dog sports should be avoided altogether until your dog has reached maturity (so around 1-year-old or up to 18 months for large breed dogs).


Care must be taken not to over-exercise growing puppies whilst they still have soft and growing bones

Ageing

The older your dog gets, the more wear and tear their bodies will have been subjected to.  This means that joint problems are much more common in senior dogs. Arthritis is one of the most common issues that will be seen, they are also more prone to the likes of hip dysplasia and even certain cancers that could cause joint pain.

It is important to make sure that you help your elderly dog to remain as comfortable and as mobile as possible.  Make sure they are getting the right treatment when needed; pain meds, supplements and drugs to help minimise the symptoms.  You may need to adapt their exercise regime and possibly even provide them with some aids to help them remain more comfortable (doggy ramps for getting in the car, raised feeders etc).  It is extremely important that if their condition is deteriorating, you monitor their quality of life closely and speak to your vet about possible changes in treatments and medication.

Overgrown nails

Sometimes even seemingly simple things can cause serious issues with our dog’s mobility.  One of these examples is dogs having overgrown toenails. If you have a particularly hairy breed it can be easy to forget to check this and toenails can become uncomfortably overgrown.  Not only can this cause possible injury if the toenail curls in on itself and into the pad but it can also cause your dog to walk uncomfortably and this can make them limp. Invest in a good set of dog nail clipper or a nail grinder and get your dog used to having their nails trimmed.


It is important to keep your dog’s nails kept trimmed short to prevent it causing injury or impacting on their gait

Cancer

Osteosarcoma is a very aggressive form of bone cancer and it can often cause joint pain for dogs.  Early detection is key for successful treatment so if you notice limping or stiffness combined with a loss of appetite, weight loss or signs of fatigue it is important you quickly consult with your vet.

Diet is Incredibly Important

If your dog is on a very poor quality diet or not getting the right balance of nutrients this can impact on your dog’s long term mobility.  If a puppy receives too much calcium, for example, this can cause overly rapid skeletal growth and can lead to joint problems in the future.  Too much vitamin C has been shown to contribute to the development of arthritis.

If you are concerned about the balance of your dog’s diet we would recommend seeking the advice of a qualified canine nutritionist.

Possible Treatments for Mobility Issues

It is always extremely important that you make sure you have a diagnosis of the problem and that you work in conjunction with your vet on a plan for appropriate treatments.  Sometimes it is all about pain management, sometimes it is about changes in lifestyle, sometimes surgery may be required and often it can be a combination of different solutions.  Below are some of the things that you may have to consider when dealing with a dog’s joint pain.

Surgery

Sometimes there are conditions that will benefit from surgery to help cure or at least improve the problem.  If your dog has surgery it is important to allow them the appropriate time to recover, discussions with your vet will be required about their future quality of life and what you may need to do after surgery to speed up their healing and decrease the chances of recurrence or further damage.


Sometimes surgery is required to correct a mobility related issue

Medications

Certain problems will be able to be treated or pain alleviated by medication.  Pain meds are often extremely important when dealing with chronic arthritis, for example.

It is important to discuss the side effects of any medication and what can be taken alongside them if you are using supplements or other alternative therapies.

Sometimes a bit of trial and error is required to work out what the best pain meds for your dog are.

Supplements

Most supplements will not be curative but there are some that can help to ease symptoms.  Whenever you are considering supplements it is always important to discuss their use with your vet.  You want to make sure that they will not react with any other medication being given, that they are not a problem when a dog has certain conditions, that their use has been proven to be effective through clinical trials or studies and that they are from a reputable source.

Diet

There are some diets that have been specifically developed to promote joint health.  There are some that are available as prescription diets from your Vet and others that are available online and from pet superstores.

For dogs that are living with a joint condition, it is advisable to speak with your vet or a qualified canine nutritionist first about what diet may be most appropriate for your dog.

Alternative/Physical Therapies

For dogs that are managing a long term joint condition or that are recuperating from major surgery or injury, complementary therapies can sometimes be beneficial.  The sessions should always be administered by a fully qualified and certified practitioner and often these are done by vet referral.

The goal of these sessions can vary but they are commonly used to help alleviate pain, keep any inflammation to a minimal, build muscle strength, promote flexibility and minimise any compensations that your dog may be making as a result of pain or muscle damage.

Some of the possible treatments include:

Physiotherapy

A general physiotherapist will perform a number of exercises with your dog to promote recovery after an injury, help with pain relief and aid increased mobility.  They may perform some massage techniques, these can help to improve the dog’s circulation and can then help to aid the healing process and help with pain management.  They will also manually manipulate the limbs and joints to help improve flexibility and they often have your dog perform certain exercises to promote flexibility.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy involves your dog exercising, under the controlled supervision of a qualified hydrotherapist, in water.  This means that they can work their muscles without having to bear any weight on them. It is a great way of building up muscle strength and helping to alleviate the stiffness caused by conditions like arthritis.


Hydrotherapy can be useful to build muscle strength and help alleviate pain given that the dog is not having to bear any weight

Acupuncture

Veterinary Acupuncture, just like the human version, involves inserting needles into certain points in the animal’s body to promote healing.  The technique has seen good results in helping to promote a better range of movement in joints and also with providing some pain relief.

Regular sessions are often required for dogs with conditions like arthritis.

Consider Mobility Aids When Appropriate

For dogs that are recovering from injury or surgery or are managing with a long term joint condition, then making adjustments around the home and outdoors can make a big difference in terms of their comfort and mobility.

Ramps

Dog ramps can be especially useful for bigger breeds that have mobility issues.  They can be used to help your dog get into a car more easily or for them to get up on the sofa or your bed if they are used to accessing these places normally.

Make sure that you purchase one that is appropriate for the weight of your dog, has a good grip and that is easy to fold down and transport.  Some dogs may need some encouragement to start using them, perhaps lured onto them with a tasty treat, but once they get the hang of them they usually accept them well.

Boots/Floor Coverings

When a dog has mobility issues they can sometimes find it more difficult to maintain a grip on slippery surfaces.  If your home is fully tiled or wood flooring, you may see them start to lose their footing more easily. This can be uncomfortable, make them more prone to further injury and it can also scare them and make them averse to coming into certain spaces.

By introducing little socks or boots with grippers this can sometimes give your dog a better chance of being able to hold their position.  They need to have rubber soles and they must be a comfortable fit that will not rub or fall off too easily.

It can also be a solution to use carpet runners so that your dog can follow them to the sofa, their bed, the garden etc rather than going onto the slippery floor surface.

Dog Carrier/ Buggies

You may have an elderly dog that is starting to tire more easily on walks or gets more stiff the further you go but, other than this they still keep well and have a good quality of life.  If you don’t want them to miss out on the bigger adventures you could consider introducing a dog carrier or buggy (depending on their size).

For the smaller breeds, a carrier may be more convenient if they accept going into it.  It means that you don’t have to worry so much about the suitability of the terrain, it is easier to transport and you can still access public transports, go into cafes etc.

I have used the K9 Sport Sack for my elderly dog when she could no longer do full day hikes and, although we did have to practice getting her used to the bag with lots of tasty treats and short sessions in it at first, she accepted it well and it meant she didn’t miss out on the fun!

If you have a larger breed then you could consider using a specially designed dog buggy.  You may get some funny looks from other members of the public but, if your dog has a genuine need for this tool to help them get out and about, who cares!

Again you may need to work on getting your dog used to using the buggy in advance of going out for a proper long walk.


A carrier or buggy can be useful for allowing an older dog with mobility issues to still get out on longer walks

Lifting Harness/Dog Carts

For dogs that may have very limited mobility in their back end using a lifting harness or even a doggy buggy can give them back better freedom of movement.

Obviously if your dog is in a lot of pain and their quality of life is not good then these are not a long term solution but, if your dog has a condition where they have lost the movement in their back end but still have a good quality of life and are happy and pain free then this can help them enjoy life even more.

Dog carts are often custom made and can be expensive and it is important to make sure that it is a good fit and that your dog is comfortable using it. Introducing a dog cart usually needs to be done very slowly with lots of treats and short sessions.  

There are also harnesses which lift up the back end, so if it is just a quick pootle in the garden rather than a full walk, this can be a helpful tool also.


Dog carts can help a dog that has rear end mobility issue but is otherwise in a happy and healthy state

Orthopaedic Beds

For dogs that suffer from arthritis, it can be a good idea to review their sleeping arrangements.  Do they have a comfortable bed, is it in a warm, draught free position? There are a number of very high-quality memory foam dog beds on the market that can ensure that your dog will get the best support possible whilst they are sleeping and this can give a more comfortable nights sleep for a dog that suffers from the joint pain of arthritis.

Raised Feeders

For arthritic dogs it can also be important to help them reach their food and water without having to strain their joints too much.  Raised feeders can be a really useful additional piece of kit. Your dog will be standing in a much more natural and comfortable position whilst they eat and it will put less strain on their joints.  These can be particularly useful for the larger breed dogs.

Coats and Sweaters in the Cold Weather

Arthritic dogs can feel pain in their joints more when they are cold and wet.  It may be an idea to invest in a practical doggy coat or sweater to help keep them cozier in the colder months.


A coat or jumper can be useful for keeping a dog with arthritis cozy in the colder weather

Consider Your Dog’s Exercise Regime

It is very important that your dog gets an appropriate amount of exercise. A dog that is not getting walked enough can become unfit, overweight, bored, depressed, destructive and develop a multitude of behaviour problems.

There are times though when you may also need to restrict your dogs exercise for their benefit.

Puppy Exercise

As mentioned before, puppies should not be over exercised as this can put too much strain on their soft and growing bones.  They also should not be subjected to any high impact sports or activities until they are fully grown (usually between a year and 18 months old).

Obese Dog Exercise

If you have an overweight dog, it is really important that they do get more exercise but this often has to be introduced very gradually.  An overweight dog will have a lot of extra strain on their joints and introducing too much exercise too quickly can put too much strain on their joints and also put them at risk of heatstroke or even cardiac issues. Very overweight dogs often benefit from hydrotherapy sessions as these can be carefully controlled and they are not weight bearing on their joints whilst they burn off the calories!


For dogs on a weight loss programme it is very important that the amount of exercise they get is increased very slowly

Elderly Dog Exercise

As your dog ages, their exercise regime may have to slow too.  Whilst it is important that you do still keep them active, stimulated and mobile, you will need to monitor them more carefully in terms of how they tire and for any signs of stiffness during and after the walk and make sure that you adjust their exercise regime accordingly.  There are lots of other activities that you can start to introduce to keep your dog stimulated if they are missing the longer walks including brain games, using interactive toys and more opportunity for slow and sniffy walks.

As mentioned above, you could also consider introducing a doggy carrier or cart to allow them to still enjoy the longer walks without overstretching them.

Dog Recovering From Injury or Operation Exercise

Often dogs that have just had major surgery will be on a very restricted exercise regime at first.  Some may even need to be on ‘crate rest’ for up to six weeks, depending on what their operation or injury was.  This can be a real challenge for the dog and the owner, especially if they are young, fit, healthy and high energy dog.

It is really important though to follow the vets advice and not cheat.  If you start introducing walks or frequent play sessions too early you can jeopardise the success of the surgery or risk making your dogs injuries worse.

There are a number of things that you can do to make the crate rest time as stress-free as possible for you both:

  • Make sure that you have taken the time to get your dog used to being in the crate, training using lots of positive rewards and short sessions initially.
  • Make the crate a fun and comfortable place to be.  Don’t always have them shut away in a room on their own, the crate can still be in the hub of the home so they can still be part of the family
  • Make sure they have a very comfy bed and lots of their favourite toys to hand
  • Have a great and varied selection of treat toys and brain train games that are suitable for use inside a crate.
  • If they are allowed out for short periods don’t get them all hyped up.  Use the time to do calm, short training sessions that will keep them stimulated but not over-aroused.

Once your dog is out of the crate or if they were only on restricted exercise to start with, make sure that you build up to their normal levels of exercise gradually.

Introduce Extra Exercise Gradually

Even if you have a very fit and healthy dog that is used to a good level of exercise it is important to be sensible when introducing any new high impact or increased energy level activity.

If you are just starting out in agility and you ramp the jumps up super high when your dog is not used to this, not only are you increasing the chances of them injuring themselves but you are also putting a lot of strain on their joints when they are not used to it.

The same goes for canicross. You should never head out on a 10 mile run with your dog if they have never done exercise like that before.  Be sensible and build up their activity levels, just like you would do with a human.

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