How To Treat A Limping Dog At Home

How To Treat A Limping Dog At Home

By: Merliza Cabriles, D.V.M.
Limping is a common issue in dogs. Knowing how to treat a limping dog at home and deciding when the problem needs prompt veterinary intervention is very important.

Limping in dogs can be caused by a variety of reasons. The severity could also vary depending on the cause; some will need immediate veterinary attention while there are cases that can be treated at home. Read on to know more about lameness in dogs and how to treat a limping dog at home.

Besides refusing to put weight on the affected limp when walking, which is the most obvious symptom, other signs of lameness in dogs include the following:

  • Reluctance to play fetch and other physical activities that s/he normally enjoys.
  • Appear to be hesitant when climbing any steps.
  • Cry out in pain when the affected leg is touched.

Causes Of Lameness In Dogs

Injury or Trauma to the Paws

  • Foreign bodies, like thorns, broken glass, nails, or anything sharp that can get lodged or embedded in your pet’s paw can cause pain and discomfort. Walking can be uncomfortable and if the object is not completely removed, it can lead to infection.
  • Burns, frostbite, or wounds can hurt and can cause a dog to limp and/or lick at his paw persistently.
  • Injury of any part of the leg (bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, or nerves), such as broken bones, dislocations, sprains, trauma to the joint, and injuries to the spine can all cause limping in various severity, from moderate to severe. A torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) is quite common in medium to large canine breeds. Limping is a prominent symptom.
Dog with injured leg

Joint Disease

Wear and tear on the musculoskeletal system and the joints can cause limping of any limb that is affected. Some common medical issues include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD)
  • Osteoarthritis is a common age-related issue in older dogs. It can affect any limb and even the bones of the neck and bones of the vertebrae.
  • Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) affects particularly younger dogs and causes abnormal cartilage development.
  • Luxating patella is more common in smaller breeds. Affected dogs exhibit intermittent limping that is caused when knee caps slide in and out of the groove in the femur.

Infection

  • Lyme disease – a tick-borne infection in which limping is one of the important symptoms.
  • Skin infections of the paws, such as interdigital pyoderma, abscesses, pododermatitis, etc.

Diseases Affecting the Bones

  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy and panosteitis are conditions that commonly affect large breed puppies. Affected puppies walk with a limp because of the pain.
  • Certain types of cancers, like osteosarcoma, affects the bones. Large breeds of dogs have higher risks of developing the problem.

What To Do

Severity – How serious is it?

If you notice your dog favoring a limb, you should first assess how serious the problem is.

Watch your dog walk and identify which leg is affected. Can your dog put some weight on the leg when standing still? Does he carry it when walking? How about your pet’s steps, are they shorter than usual? Does the problem leg ever touch the ground?

Duration – How long has the problem existed?

When did you first notice the limping? Did it occur suddenly or gradually? Is there any sign of trauma? Does the limping become worse at certain times of the day or after any form of activity?

Limping caused by trauma or injury is usually behind sudden limping, while gradual onset may be associated with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, Lyme disease, or hip dysplasia.

How to Treat a Limping Dog at Home

Examine each of your pet’s paws for any signs of injury or pain. There could be a foreign body embedded in there or an injury. If you don’t find anything wrong, slowly move up to your pet’s wrists, ankles, elbows, knees, and hips for any signs of abnormality.

If you can’t find any obvious signs of breaks or dislocations, and your dog can hobble, there may be no need to place a splint on the leg. Let your pet rest by confining him to a crate or a small room to restrict his movements for several days. Close monitoring for the next few days is necessary to see if the limp worsens or there is the development of swelling or inflammation that needs prompt veterinary attention.

Treating Non-Emergency Limps In Dogs

Treating a non-emergency limp on a dog at home

Foreign body – If your dog’s limping is caused by a foreign body, try removing it. Make sure that the object is completely removed. Next, clean the wound using antibacterial soap. If there’s swelling, soak the affected foot in warm water with Epsom salts. After a few minutes, use a clean towel to wipe the wound dry before applying an antibiotic ointment. If there’s a foreign body, not getting all of it out may possibly cause a serious infection. Insect bites, bee stings, animal bites, and other minor injuries could also cause limping. Bee stings should be removed carefully to avoid squeezing the venom out of the sac and causing further problems.

Injured paw pads or broken nails – If there’s bleeding, you should control it first before treating the problem. Use a clean towel to apply pressure to the wound. Applying an ice pack can encourage constriction of blood vessels in the area. If bleeding doesn’t stop within 10-15 minutes, you should take your pet to an emergency vet clinic.

Bruise or sprain that is accompanied by swelling – Apply ice packs to the affected limb for 15 minutes twice a day. You could also place your dog in a tub and use a hose to spray the affected leg for 15 minutes twice a day. Flowing water can significantly enhance circulation while reducing the swelling and promoting healing.

Abscess – Apply a warm compress to the abscess or you could soak the affected area in warm water with Epsom salts. When the abscess ruptures, it’s a good idea to bring your pet to the veterinarian so the wound be can be cleaned thoroughly and appropriate medications can be given.

What NOT To Do: Giving any over-the-counter medications (like aspirin,  ibuprofen, or aspirin) without being advised by a veterinarian.

What to do with mild cases of lameness

Apply a cold compress to the swollen joint to reduce inflammation. If after more than 24 hours there is still inflammation and/or the dog still exhibits pain, change to a warm compress and call your veterinarian. There may be a need to bring the dog in for an evaluation.

Rest is very important to the healing process. A lame dog should never be allowed to exercise or engage in some form of physical activity. He needs time to rest completely, for several days or weeks, depending on the recommendation of your veterinarian. When re-introducing exercise, do it in a gentle, gradual, and progressive manner. Persistent or worsening lameness should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian.

When Is Limping In Dogs An Emergency?

Dog with leg trauma being examined by a Vet

Severe cases of trauma caused by dislocation or fracture may have limbs dangling at an abnormal angle or bones piercing the skin. There may be swelling as well as bleeding. The possibility of nerve damage does exist.

What to do if There is Trauma

  • Don’t move your pet dog. There may be a need to restrain your pet so you can check for any problem, such as dislocations or broken bones. You can see it by the angle and stability of the affected limb. If there is severe pain or swelling but the dog is still able to walk on three legs, take him to the vet immediately. A small dog may need to be gently carried. In general, lameness in weight-bearing parts is unlikely to be a fracture.

When Does a Limp in Dogs Require Immediate Veterinary Attention?

  • Limping persists for more than 24 hours
  • There is severe pain and/or swelling
  • You suspect a fracture
  • The dog is unable to stand
  • The affected limb continues to be dragged while walking

Conventional Therapy For Limping In Dogs

  • Steroids – A steroid injection may be recommended by your veterinarian if the cause of lameness cannot be established. However, steroids can have side effects with long-term therapy.
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – This group of medications can help ease swelling and inflammation. However, continued use can lead to serious side effects, including damage to the kidney and liver, as well as stomach ulcers.

The risks of potential side effects of any of these treatment options warrant a professional consultation and should only be given to dogs when recommended by the veterinarian.

How To Treat A Limping Dog At Home Using Natural Remedies

These natural remedy treatments are recommended by holistic veterinarians for home treatment of limping in dogs.

Herbs

St. Johns Wort – applied to a sore joint

Cayenne topical cream – used as a tincture or applied directly to the affected area; it’s used to increase circulation to a painful spot.

Yucca – stimulate the production of hormones that possess steroid-like properties.

Bromelain, parsley, or garlic – possess anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to ease the inflammation associated with chronic arthritis and other inflammation in the body.

Massage

Massage the affected joint using cinnamon or peppermint which are ‘warm oils’, causing the joint to become warm. Massage enhances the blood circulation to the area, promotes healing of damaged tissues, soothes the patient, and helps restore range of motion.

Acupuncture or Acupressure

You can consult a veterinary acupuncturist or you might try some forms of acupressure techniques that you can do at home.

Supplements

  • Omega fatty acids – possess anti-inflammatory properties
  • Vitamin C – Anti-inflammatory and collagen protector
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin – joint supplements that promote healing and alleviate symptoms of inflammation in the joints

In some cases of limping dogs, the problem may not be obvious or can easily be treated at home. In these situations, you should seek assistance from your veterinarian. Some problems that cause limping in dogs cannot be diagnosed without x-ray or blood work, and some will require surgery. A tick-borne disease won’t heal without appropriate medication. A broken leg caused by osteosarcoma needs prompt and aggressive medical intervention or your dog is going to die. Less traumatic injuries can be treated at home with the proper methods and care.

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By: Merliza Cabriles, D.V.M.

Contributing Professional

The Animalista professional contributors are comprised of licensed Veterinarians and certified Veterinary Technicians who have been vetted by our team and have either authored or reviewed this content for accuracy. 

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