Is your dog favoring a limb? Many issues can result in a painful limb or paw and cause pets to limp. Our Central Houston Animal Hospital knows you worry when your dog is limping, and we offer information about common reasons why dogs limp and how we address these conditions.

#1: Your dog may have an injured paw pad 

The paw pads are the thick, rubbery part of your dog’s feet that act as shock absorbers, provide traction to prevent slipping, and insulate the paw from heat and cold. Their location makes them vulnerable to injuries such as punctures, lacerations, burns, and hypothermia. The tissue in this area doesn’t hold stitches well, and walking on the injured foot can open wounds and delay healing. Therefore, all paw pad injuries, including minor issues, should be evaluated by a veterinary professional. Treatment involves:

  • First aid — If your dog injures their paw pad, gently clean the area, bandage the paw, and seek veterinary care.
  • Cleaning — We will remove foreign debris and thoroughly disinfect your dog’s injury to prevent infection. 
  • Bandaging — Depending on the wound, we may bandage your dog’s paw. We will provide detailed instructions about treating the area when you need to change their bandage, likely every day.
  • Medication — Antibiotics or pain medications may be necessary, depending on the extent of the wound.

To help prevent paw pad injuries, watch where your dog walks, and remove glass shards and other sharp objects. In addition, don’t let your dog walk on hot pavement, which can burn their pads, and put protective booties on their feet for winter outings.

#2: Your dog may have a torn nail

Torn nails are extremely painful for dogs, and can bleed excessively, since the area has a large blood supply. The dog’s nail wraps around the point of their toe, allowing contact with the ground and irritating the torn nail every time your dog puts pressure on the paw. Treatment involves:

  • First aid — If your dog allows, gently wrap the foot to help control bleeding. Since the nail is painful, many dogs become protective of their paw, so take care to avoid injury.
  • Nail removal — Once you have applied the first aid, you should bring your pet to our hospital. We will evaluate the torn nail, and gently remove damaged tissue. In some cases, we may need to sedate your dog for this step.
  • Cleaning — We thoroughly clean the exposed tissue to help prevent infection.
  • Bandaging — We usually bandage the paw to keep the area clean and dry, and will provide detailed instructions about bandage changes.
  • Medication — Pain medication may be necessary to help alleviate your dog’s discomfort.

You can help prevent torn nails in your dog by keeping their nails trimmed. 

#3: Your dog may have osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive degenerative disease that causes cartilage deterioration in joints and affects about 25% of dogs. Some dogs will limp, while others show signs such as stiffness after resting, decreased willingness to play, and difficulty navigating stairs or jumping on and off surfaces. Treatment involves:

  • Weight management — If your dog is overweight, we will devise a weight loss strategy to help them safely lose the extra pounds.
  • Activity modification — High-impact activities, such as running or jumping, should be limited to prevent further inflammation and pain.
  • Rehabilitation exercises — Low impact, consistent exercise helps build muscles around the joint to increase joint stability and mobility.
  • Pain control — Medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, are frequently used to help alleviate OA pain.
  • Joint supplements — We may recommend joint supplements such as chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Surgery — In some cases, surgery is necessary to remove damaged tissue and stabilize the joint.

OA can’t be prevented, but keeping your dog at a healthy weight can decrease their risk.

#4: Your dog may have a developmental orthopedic condition

Developmental orthopedic diseases, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and shoulder osteochondrosis, commonly cause lameness in young, large- and giant-breed dogs. The cause appears multifactorial, including genetic factors, over-use, and diet. Treatment involves:

  • Weight management — Dogs should be kept lean to prevent excess strain on the affected area.
  • Rehabilitation exercises — Low-impact daily exercise encourages joint health and mobility.
  • Pain management — We may prescribe medications to decrease inflammation and control pain.
  • Surgery — A surgical procedure determined by your dog’s condition may be needed.

Not all developmental orthopedic conditions can be prevented, but feeding your dog appropriately for their life stage can decrease their risk.

#5: Your dog may have a tick-borne disease

Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis, can cause your dog to limp. These diseases are transmitted when an infected tick remains attached to your dog for 24 to 48 hours, and typically cause mild lameness that may affect more than one limb. Other signs may include fever, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes. Treatment involves:

  • Antibiotics — Tick-borne diseases are usually susceptible to a certain antibiotic class and typically require antibiotic treatment for weeks to months.
  • Supportive care — Some pets need intravenous fluids or pain medication to help address the problem.

Tick-borne diseases can be prevented by checking your dog thoroughly after being outside, and providing year-round tick prevention medication. Ticks commonly attach under the tail, in the ears, groin, and armpits, and between the toes. A vaccine is available for Lyme disease. 

If your dog is limping, contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team, so we can identify the cause and develop an appropriate treatment strategy.