Common Causes of Limping & Lameness in Dogs Limping-dog

Identifying the causes of limping or lameness in dogs can be difficult. However, by doing a few basic checks you may be able to establish if your dog’s limp is a serious matter or something that can be treated with rest and supplements. If you have any doubts about the seriousness of the condition you should contact your vet. Limping-dog

Paws. The first thing to do is examine the pet’s paw for thorns and stickers. Grass sand spurs caught between the pads of the foot are a common cause of limping. Once the thorn is removed the wound rarely becomes infected. Thorns are more of a problem in dogs whose toe pads are heavily furred.

Paw lacerations are also common. These are often due to treading on sharp glass fragments. Even large lacerations heal quite well without suturing. Some vets recommend that cut footpads be soaked four times a day in warm hydrogen peroxide solution or tame iodine solution (Betadine, Wescodine, Povidine). Bandages tend to trap unwanted moisture and debris in the wound.

Toe Nails. Overgrown or overly short toenails can cause limping. This is particularly a problem in older, less active pets. These nails often break off exposing the quick of the nail. These nails quickly become infected. In other cases, overgrown toenails twist the joints of the toes causing toe arthritis, and painful toe joints. These nails need to be clipped off short under a mild anesthetic. Antibiotics are rarely required. Very active dogs and dogs housed on concrete often wear their toenails down to the quick. With time, the quick on these nails recede and pain subsides.

Determining which joint is affected.Try and locate the affected joint by noting swelling, heat or pain over the joint. Sometimes, over-flexing the affected joint will temporarily increase the limp.

Elbows.Unstable elbow joints of dogs and cats are subject to arthritis. The most common causes are elbow dysplasia where fragments of bone (medial coronoid process) are present in the elbow joint and ununited anconeal process where a portion of one of the bones that forms the elbow fails to fuse. These conditions tend to affect large breeds of dogs such as Labrador, Golden retrievers and Rottweilers. Signs often first appear at 5-7 months of age with a limp that worsens after exercise. These dogs are stiff in the morning or after rest. Both elbows can be affected. The elbow may be puffy.

These conditions can be treated medically with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines for a number of years or immediate attempts can be made to repair the joints surgically. Neither problem corrects itself and some degree of arthritis of these joints usually develops regardless of the treatment used.

Dogs with this problem should be kept lean and given

joint-enhancing supplements

Another common problem that can occur in the elbow of dogs is osteochonritis dissecans (osteochonrosis) in which a flap of cartilage breaks loose within the joint causing pain when it is trapped between the cartilaginous elements of the joint. Too rapid a growth rate, genetic factors and trauma to the joint can all play a part in causing this disease. These flaps or joint mice need to be removed surgically. Because genetics plays a part in this disease, these dogs should not be bred.

Shoulders.The shoulder joint of dogs is also subject to osteochonritis dissecans. These joints are rarely swollen or inflamed. However, rapidly extending and contracting the shoulder often causes discomfort. Not all cases are evident in x-rays and it is sometimes necessary to examine these joints with a camera under general anesthesia through small incisions. A few cases will heal without surgery when the dogs are given pain-control (analgesic) medications. But since we do not know which cases these are and because arthritis of the shoulder often develops when surgery is withheld, it is best to surgically remove these detached fragment(s) of cartilage from the joint.

Occasionally inflammation of the tendon of major muscles of the shoulder, the biceps, occurs after a shoulder injury. This condition usually improves when a corticosteroid is injected in the affected area and the dog is given a six-week rest.

Panosteitis.This is an inflammatory disease of young dogs, which causes lameness that shifts from one leg to another. It is also called enostosis, eosinophilic Panosteitis, juvenile osteomyelitis or osteomyelitis. Panosteitis is particularly common in German Shepherd dogs. Eighty percent are male less than two years of age.

The cause is unknown. Early in the lameness phase of the disease x-rays are normal. This is a transient disease that cures itself with time. We treat these dogs with medications to control pain such as buffered aspirin or Rimadyl. With time, this condition corrects itself without additional treatment. To test, firmly grasp the bones of the legs which will cause the dog to yelp.

The Stifle or Knee Joint

Luxating Patella or Knee Cap.In over ninety percent of these cases the kneecap pops out of its track toward the inside (medial side) of the knee. This is an inherited problem that causes intermittent lameness locking the knee when the kneecap or patella jumps out of its tract (the trochlear groove). This occurs when the tract in which the kneecap glides is too shallow and when the femur, the largest bone of the rear leg, is abnormally bowed. In this condition the ligaments on the lateral side of the knee, which stabilize the kneecap, are also abnormally stretched. Pain associated with this problem is minimal.

It is primarily a disease of toy breeds. This condition is treated by surgically deepening the tract (patellar groove) in which the patella glides and reinforcing the lateral ligaments that keep the patella in tract. Sometimes it is necessary to move the attachment of knee ligaments to a more lateral position as well as to remove tension on the medial side of the joint capsule.

Anterior (cranial) cruciate ligament injury.Tears of this ligament are quite common in dogs and football players. It occurs occasionally in cats. These tears occur suddenly in pets of any age causing the animal to refuse to bear weight on the affected leg. In dogs weighing less than twenty pounds, lameness generally resolves itself without surgical treatment during a period of three to six weeks.

These dogs should be given cage rest and analgesic drugs.

Under anesthesia, the knee of these animals is abnormally loose and demonstrates an abnormal motion called anterior drawer syndrome. In larger dogs this problem is treated surgically. In one popular technique, a portion of the ligaments that coat the muscles of the knee (fascia lata) and a portion of the ligaments of the kneecap are used to construct a new anterior cruciate ligament. Other techniques rely on stiffening the affected joint with non-absorbable suture to compensate for the torn ligament (extracapsular reconstruction). A third technique relocates other ligaments of the knee to compensate for the torn ligament (fibular head advancement). A significant number of these pets will injure the ligaments of the other knee within a three-year period.

Meniscal Injury.Trauma to the knee can result in tears of the cartilages that pad the knee joint. These rubbery cartilages are called menisci. These tears often occur in conjunction with torn cruciate ligaments. Dogs of all ages, sex and breed are affected. Sometimes, the knees of dogs with this problem “click” as they walk.

These injuries rarely heal on their own. Some peripheral meniscal tears can be carefully sewn together. Free tags of cartilage should be removed surgically at the same time that torn cruciate ligaments are repaired. Left untreated, joint arthritis develops.

Arthritis.All forms of chronic joint disease eventually result in some degree of arthritis. In older animals one commonly sees these degenerative changes affecting the spine, hips and shoulders. The signs of arthritis are lameness involving the affected joint(s). Sometimes these joints are puffy and tender. Arthritic changes appear sooner in large breeds of dogs but are uncommon in cats and smaller dogs until they are quite old. Arthritis is diagnosed by an x-ray of the affected joint(s).

Hip displasia.Hip dysplasia is a genetic problem. It is an abnormal development and growth of the hip joint and is mostly seen in large dogs but can occur in any breed. Usually both hips are affected, but only one side may show symptoms. It is manifested by varying degrees of laxity of the muscles and ligaments around the hip joint with instability and malformation of the joints. Arthritis is the long term consequence if the condition remains undetected or untreated.

Learn more about understanding the condition and its treatment.

Breeds susceptible to hip dysplasia.

Symptoms Lameness and pain can be evident as early as four to six months of age. The symptoms can initially be subtle: stiffness in the morning, slowness to get up, not wanting to exercise as long or as vigorously, a change in stride of the hind legs, "bunny hopping", wanting to sit down while eating or during walks, or reluctance to stand up on the hind legs. Sometimes the only observation is an "inactive" or "laid back" puppy. The symptoms may not be present until a dog is middle-aged or older.

Treatment

One factor causing this disease is too rapid a weight and muscle mass gain for the young animal’s hips and elbows to support. That is why it is usually the largest pups from a litter that have the most problems as they mature. More about feeding.

When dysplastic dogs are already mature you can no longer influence growth rate. But you can, ensure the dog does not become overweight.

Joint-enhancing supplements may also help.

Hip dysplasia can also be treated surgically. In small dogs, an artificial hip can be constructed. In larger dogs, artificial hip replacements are available. Surgery has also been perfected that realigns the socket portion of the hip joint.

Bone Tumors.Older large breeds of dogs are more susceptible to tumors of the bone called osteosarcomas. These often occur near a joint of the legs. Often the first sign of this problem is limping. These tumors have a characteristic appearance on x-rays. When they have not spread to the lungs, they are usually treated by amputation of the limb.

Abrasions and Contusions sprains and fractures.The most common cause of trauma to joints and muscle are car-related accidents and accidents occurring during vigorous exercise. Damage ranges from mild stretching of ligaments and tendons to dislocations and fractures. More severe trauma requires immediate x-rays for diagnosis. It is always wise to x-ray dogs that have lameness that persists over 48 hours after accidents. If the joints show no injuries, a week of treatment with one of the newer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is often all that is required.

Myositis.Dogs and cats sometimes develop inflammation of muscles of the legs and face for reasons we do not understand. These are probably forms of autoimmune disease where the pet’s immune system begins to attack its own tissues. Diagnosis is made by removing a sample of muscle for microscopic evaluation (biopsy). This disease often goes through waves of activity or flare-ups during which the pet is in pain. The disease can be controlled with corticosteroids such as prednisone or prednisolone.

Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head.This disease of the hip of young smaller breed dogs is also known as leg-perthes disease or osteochondritis dissecans. This condition, which mostely affects smaller breeds of dogs, the head of the femur within the hip joint begins to dissolve when its blood supply is lost. The cause of this condition is unknown. We treat this problem surgically by excision of the femoral head and neck.

Information courtesy Ron Hines DVM PhD