There are a great many reasons why you might limp. Maybe your foot went to sleep while you were sitting, and you find yourself limping for a few moments while circulation returns. Perhaps your limp is more serious, due to a fractured bone or a torn muscle. Or you might have suffered tissue damage to your foot, having cut it on something. Similarly, there are many reasons why your dog might develop a limp. The trick is to know when it's serious enough to require a trip to the veterinary clinic.
Cause and Effect
In many instances, there's a cause and effect style of identification with limping. If your dog limps after vigorous exercise, they might be experiencing something as simple as a strained ligament, which can usually be corrected with rest. The cause of limping is not always so obvious to identify though. It's sensible to physically inspect the limb that is troubling your dog.
Are there any signs of injury on the foot or leg in question? This could be a cut or even something sharp still embedded in their footpad. Be sure to inspect all their nails, including the dewclaw (located further up their leg). You're looking for signs of a torn or infected nail, but not all injuries are quite so visible.
The presence of their coat makes identification of any swelling slightly difficult, so delicately run your fingertips along the length of the problematic limb. Check for areas of localized inflammation—any lumps or masses that should not be there. There may not be any apparent reason for your dog's limping, so what could be causing it?
Possible Reasons for Limping
In addition to tissue damage or strained muscles and ligaments, limping can be due to a number of reasons. There are more serious potential causes, such as a tumor (malignant or non-malignant) or an autoimmune disease. There could also be a bone fracture, a bacterial infection, or even a degenerative disorder such as osteoarthritis. Your dog's behavior while you inspect their foot and leg can also be telling.
Your Dog's Behavior
Your dog may express discomfort while you're inspecting them for injuries. This can be a sign that their issue is causing them pain, and they may also vocalize (whimper). Extreme pain can even trigger aggression as you try to assess their leg. In short, when your dog's limp does not appear to be causing them pain and fades within a short period, then it's likely that your dog's injury was minor and temporary (such as a strained muscle or ligament). When limping persists, is associated with an obvious physical injury, or is accompanied by clearly evident pain and distress, you need to take your dog to the vet.
Your vet will perform a range of diagnostic tests to determine the precise cause of your dog's limp, allowing them to perform appropriate treatment. This can vary significantly, and it's totally dependent on identifying the cause of the injury. Make an appointment at a vet clinic, such as the Animal Emergency Clinic, if your pet has a limp.