Leg pain in dogs can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Symptoms may include:
- Reluctance to jump, run, walk, get in the car, or use the stairs
- Stiffness after resting or walking (very common in older dogs)
- Slow walking
- Swollen joints or legs
- Holding up the leg/refusal to bear weight
- Excessive licking of one leg
- General slowing down
- Loss of muscle mass
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF LEG PAIN IN DOGS?
There are many reasons that can cause a dog to limp, be lame or appear to be in pain. These causes depend on whether the front or back leg(s) are affected by the pain.
DISEASES OF THE FRONT LEGS
- Dysplasia of the elbow or shoulder
- Abnormal bone growth
DISEASES OF THE HIND LEGS
- Hip dysplasia
- Legg-Calve-Perthes disease
- Patella luxation (kneecap)
DISEASES THAT CAN AFFECT BOTH THE FRONT AND HIND LEGS
- Bone tumors
- Herniated disc
- Problems with the nerves
- A problem with the muscles
- Panosteitis (or growing pains - inflamed outer surface of the longer bones of the leg)
- Osteochondrosis (a condition that causes a problem with cartilage)
- Cruciate ligament injury (hind legs only)
- Achilles tendon injury (hind legs only)
- Claw injury
- Wounds (also on the paw pads)
- Muscle strain
- Dislocated joints
- Broken bone(s)
WHAT CAN I GIVE MY DOG FOR LEG PAIN?
Dogs are excellent at hiding their pain from owners. Even if the pain seems minor, be sure to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to understand the underlying condition before attempting to treat or relieve leg pain.
It is an emergency if the dog is in severe pain, if he is unable to put his leg down, if it is swollen, if the limb feels hot or dangles (indicating a dislocation), or if he has an obvious, severe wound. The veterinarian will advise you on what to do after determining the cause of the pain. Recovery may mean only a few days of rest for a sprain, or it may involve surgery for a broken bone. In either case, the sooner a veterinarian is seen, the better the prognosis.
Treating without professional advice can be dangerous: Never give a dog over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, which are intended for humans, as they can be fatal to dogs. There are some general measures and home remedies for leg pain that you can use if your dog seems stiff or is in general pain, or if there is a long-term condition.
GENERAL LEG PAIN OR LAMENESS IN YOUNGER DOGS
When a dog is younger than 7 years old, the most common cause of leg pain, limping or lameness is actually overexertion. This can be especially true in puppies, which do not reach the end of puberty/development until they are over 1 year old. A general rule of thumb is that puppies (under 1 year of age) need about 5 minutes of exercise per month until they are fully grown. For example, when they are 3 months old, they can be walked for a maximum of 15 minutes twice a day. At 4 months of age, it can be up to 20 minutes twice a day, etc.
COMMON LEG PAIN OR LAMENESS IN OLDER DOGS
Most commonly, leg pain in older dogs is due to osteoarthritis. This condition usually affects the knees, elbows, shoulders and hips. A good way to help a dog when he first shows signs of osteoarthritis (or the veterinarian diagnoses it) is to obtain a joint care product with ingredients such as glucosamine, turmeric, fish oil and calcium fructoborate. All ingredients can help significantly alleviate the symptoms of joint pain and discomfort.
Also, put rugs on laminate floors to keep feet from slipping and causing more damage to joints, don't throw toys too high, and shorten walks.
The easiest way to maintain your dog's leg and joint health is to keep his weight under control. Excess weight puts tremendous stress on joints and can cause your dog unnecessary pain.
You may be able to tell if your dog is overweight just by looking at him, but there are also signs that can help you decide if he really needs to lose weight. Different breeds of dogs have different amounts of body fat. So, if you're not sure what weight is ideal, ask your vet for a weight determination. Simple aids to determine excess weight are: Check to see if you can feel the dog's ribs and spine. If you stroke the belly or back, you should be able to feel the bones easily. If the bones are buried under the fat, it is likely that the dog is overweight. However, if the bones are too prominent, the animal could be underweight.