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Health & Wellness

Reasons why dogs limp and when to see the vet

Don’t reach for aspirin to treat your dog’s limping.

For some pups, dog park adventures are usually full of chasing their friends, several rounds of frisbee catch and running laps in the fresh air. After all of that exertion, it’s no wonder your pet is naturally exhausted. 

But after a big day of dashing around, you might also notice your pup limping. There could be several reasons they might have difficulty walking, some more serious than others. Keep reading to learn the most common causes of limping.

What’s causing my dog to limp? 

“Dogs limp because they’re in pain,” Dr. Elizabeth Devitt, DVM, a general practice veterinarian and veterinary consultant for Fetch, says. “A healthy dog can bear weight on all four limbs.” 

Lameness (aka limping) can stem from something minor, like a broken nail, torn pad or insect bite, to major issues, like a torn knee ligament, broken bone or infected limb joint (or affected nerves around a limb joint). Older dogs might limp because of arthritis or back problems, while younger pups might have developmental issues. 

If a torn knee ligament or hip dysplasia is the cause, it'll probably only affect your pup's rear legs. 

Should I take my dog to the vet if they’re limping?

Take your dog to the vet’s office immediately if they can’t put any weight on their leg, show extreme pain (this could include crying out), have swelling or injury and are reluctant to move or eat. If your pup is still limping after a day, take them to the vet. 

“I can’t emphasize enough that lameness is a sign of pain,” Dr. Devitt says. Limping isn’t a typical behavior (even after a long day at the park) and should be recognized as your pup needing care. 

RELATED: Fetch pets: a paralyzed dog walks again after surgery and therapy

Can I give my dog aspirin for a limp?

Even though you want to relieve your dog’s pain, you shouldn’t give them human medications (like aspirin) as they’re often toxic to dogs. Instead, take your dog to the vet’s office immediately to receive a proper treatment plan.

How to treat a limping dog at home

Rest is important for treating lameness. You’ll also want to avoid other normal activities, like taking them on walks or letting them use the stairs or jump on furniture. If an insect bite has caused the limp, it can be soothed using an ice pack wrapped in a towel and applied for 5 to 10 minutes.

Minor wounds that aren’t deep or actively bleeding can be cleaned using mild soap and warm water, but don’t use alcohol on a dog’s open cut. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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