why does my dog limp only sometimes
Is it a hind leg? If it's occasionally limping on a hind leg, the likely explanation is that your dog has a luxating patella, or a kneecap that slides in and out of place. If they have issues with the ligaments in their knee, or the anatomy of their joint is defective (whether from birth or due to injury) it can cause this to happen. They'll be walking fine one minute, limp for a few steps until they can pop it back into place, and then they act as if nothing happened. It's definitely important to consult a vet about this, as it can progress and cause more serious issues, such as complete lameness. The earlier you address an orthopedic problem, the better!
Here's a quick look at some common causes of lameness, where they happen, and some other risk factors. I'll go into more detail about these below as well as help you understand how you can examine your dog to see if you might need to see the vet immediately or if you could wait a little bit. Trauma or injury в This could happen to any kind of dog on any of their legs and could include muscle sprain, cuts, insect bites, or в on the more serious end в fractures.
Be careful when working with an injured animal! Avoid moving them unnecessarily, and be aware that they may bite out of pain. See below for information on how to examine your dog to find out if you need to go to the vet. Pano (panosteitis) в This condition is caused by bone inflammation and usually affects puppies between six and nine months old. It is more common in medium or large breeds. All of the sudden, the dog may start limping without any other injuries. There is no cure, but your vet can consult on managing the pain and changing the dog's diet to alleviate symptoms. HOD (hypertrophic osteodystrophy) в This bone disease mainly occurs in the front legs of young, rapidly growing, large breed puppies two to eight months old. The dog may have symmetrical lameness in the front legs, have a fever, be lethargic, and lose weight. See a vet to learn how to manage your dog's pain. OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) в This condition most often affects a dog's shoulder. The main symptom is lameness, which can vary from dog to dog in severity.
Treatment is usually through surgery or symptom management and rest в your veterinarian can advise. Elbow dysplasia в Usually only the front legs are affected by this disorder, and its onset can either be sudden or gradual. The dog may also display symptoms intermittently. Other symptoms include mobility changes or irregularities in the affected limb. Your vet can consult on whether it needs to be treated through surgery, lifestyle changes, or a combination of both. Hip dysplasia в This condition only affects the rear legs and often begins when the dog is young. Look for signs that the dog is avoiding putting weight on its back legs or using its hips (like gait abnormalities or a reluctance to run or go up stairs). There are a variety of treatment options depending on your dog, the severity of the condition, and its age. Your vet will be able to advise. Ruptured anterior (or cranial) cruciate ligament в Roughly the equivalent of an ACL tear in a human, this injury affects the hind legs and often happens when the dog accidentally twists on their hind leg.
The dog will appear lame and hold their leg off of the ground. It may be treated with a kind of surgery called tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), depending on the size of your dog. Luxating patella (dislocated kneecap) в This condition only affects the rear legs, with pain evident in the stifle or knee-cap area. Affected dogs may skip or hop when they run. It often affects small breeds like Yorkies, toy poodles, and dachshunds. It can be treated through surgery, though your vet may opt for non-surgical care. Bone cancer в Cancer of the bone is more common in large breeds, though it can be found in any dog. Dogs may become lame or develop fractures after even slight injuries. Other symptoms include fatigue, tumors, or loss of appetite. Bone cancer is an aggressive illness в see your vet immediately if you suspect your dog is affected. Arthritis в As in humans, this condition is more common in senior dogs, who will show a reluctance to jump out of the car or walk up stairs. The dog will walk more slowly and have pain in the mornings.
You may also notice weight gain, sleeping more, less interest in playing, and a change in attitude or alertness. Treatment includes weight loss, symptom management, and lifestyle changes. Lyme disease в Dogs will gradually develop an unexplained limp two to five months after being exposed. They may also have a fever, feel lethargic, have swollen joints and lymph nodes, and lose their appetite. Your veterinarian will be able to treat it through antibiotics. Valley fever в This is a fungal disease found in the Southwest that generally affects very young or very old dogs. Lameness is a symptom of the disseminated disease. Other symptoms may include a fever, harsh cough, lethargy, or depression. For treatment, the dog must take anti-fungal medications. Neurological disorders в A slipped or out of place disc in the spine could put pressure on nerves in the spinal cord, which may cause the dog to become lame. The vet will need to examine your dog carefully to determine if the cause of your dog's lameness is orthopedic or neurological.
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