Many dog owners have likely seen their best friends suffer from lameness issues at one time or another. For example, throwing a ball and watching Fido take a tight turn, and come back to you holding up a rear leg can be alarming. When your dog starts limping, it can be a sign of something simple, like a cactus spine stuck in a paw pad, or it can be a sign of something more such as a snake bite or broken bone. If your dog is suddenly limping, there are things that you can do to determine the cause and provide relief, but if you’re concerned, it’s best to contact your veterinarian.

Causes of Dog Limping

Dog limping can be caused by something very simple, like a foreign body embedded in a paw pad or a broken nail, or something more involved such as injury or debilitation of one or more parts of the leg. A leg that is broken, or a joint that is dislocated will often appear swollen, painful, and the limb may appear at an awkward angle (in this case, it is a veterinary emergency). Skin infections between the paw pads or foot abscesses can also cause pain and lameness as well.

How to Assess a Dog’s Limp in Smyrna, GA

Some limps are more serious than others, so the first thing is to examine the affected leg. Watch your dog walk, and try to assess which limb is affected (right or left, front or rear), and pay attention to how your dog moves on the leg. For example, does your dog carry the leg up when walking, does she bunny-hop on the leg? Does she hold it up while walking? Also, try to figure out when you first noticed the limp. Did the lameness start all of a sudden, or has it been gradually getting worse? Does it occur after exercise or when getting up from a sleeping position? These are all good things to assess and can help your veterinarian determine the cause.

Should I Try to Examine the Leg?

If your dog is in severe pain, it’s best to leave her alone and have your veterinarian do the examination. Dogs in pain can bite, so it’s best to be cautious. If your dog is in obvious discomfort, manipulating a limb, especially if it is broken or dislocated can cause unnecessary pain and may worsen the injury, and it’s best to have your veterinarian take care of this. Your veterinarian can give a mild sedative and pain injection, and do x-rays if needed to assess the leg.

What if it’s not Serious?
If you suspect the cause of your dog’s limping isn’t serious, try to identify the hurt leg, and where it hurts. But be careful, if your dog is painful, you may want to wait and let the veterinarian do the examination. You can first try to examine the feet, look between the toes for foreign bodies such as thorns or splinters, and look for redness and inflammation as well. Examine the pads for cuts or punctures, and each toenail for breaks or nail bed infections. If your dog will let you, try to gently examine the entire leg, elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips for swelling or inflammation. Below are listed some things you can do if the cause of your dog’s limping is not serious.

Foreign Body

If you find a foreign body between the toes, such as a splinter, try to remove it and clean the wound with a mild anti-bacterial soap. You can also soak the foot in warm water with Epsom salts to relieve swelling and apply antibiotic ointment to the area as well.

Cut or Torn Pads

If your dog has a laceration or a torn paw pad, the first thing to do is try to control the bleeding with a first aid pad. If you suspect that the wound needs stitching, contact your veterinarian.

Broken Toenail

Sometimes dogs will get a toenail caught in something, and it will break or split. Often, a broken nail exposes the quick of the nail (the soft tissue in the center of the nail containing blood vessels and nerves). This will cause bleeding and can be painful. If your dog has a partially broken toenail, you may need to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

What if it’s Something Serious?

Some causes of dog limping in Smyrna, GA can be more serious, including the following:

Broken Leg

If your dog has suffered trauma, has been hit by a car, and you suspect that she has broken her leg, contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian immediately. Obvious signs of a broken limb include protrusion of the bone, swelling, bruising, limping, or the leg is at an odd angle.


As your dog ages, she may start to develop arthritis, which is extra bone growth in the joints, causing inflammation and pain. The joints most commonly affected are the hips, knees, and elbows, and if your dog is older, and limping on one of her legs contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can prescribe medications and nutraceuticals that can help decrease the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.

Torn CCL

A torn CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) happens mostly in medium to large breed dogs. Known as an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in humans, the CCL is a ligament in the knee that helps stabilize the knee and leg when walking. Dogs who are suspect of a torn CCL develop a limp in one or both of the rear legs after exercise, often while playing, jumping, or running, and most dogs are reluctant to put weight on the affected knee. If you suspect that your dog has torn her CCL, contact your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian can do x-rays and conduct a lameness exam. If the diagnosis is a torn CCL, surgery may be recommended.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is also seen in large breed dogs such as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, and happens when a dog’s hip joints are shallow, causing the ball of the femur to slip a bit and rub against the hip sockets, causing friction and an increase in bony growths that can lead to arthritis. Signs of hip dysplasia include having a hard time trying to sit or stand, limping, painful hips, or abnormal gait. If you suspect that your dog may have hip dysplasia, contact your veterinarian.

When to Call The Vet For Your Limping Dog in Smyrna, GA

If your dog has just started limping, you can’t find an obvious source of the limping, but she is eating, drinking, and acting normally, you may want to monitor her for a day or two. But, if your dog has suffered obvious trauma to her leg, is not able to walk on the leg, is acting painful or lethargic, call (770) 333-9030 and talk to your veterinarian at Windy Hill Veterinary Hospital right away or book an appointment online. It is important not to give any over the counter human pain medications because these medications can be toxic to dogs, potentially causing kidney and liver failure, and even death. Your veterinarian can examine your dog and take x-rays to help determine the cause of the lameness, and depending on the cause, your veterinarian can prescribe pain medication, joint supplements, physical therapy, or potential surgery.