If your pet has recently developed a limp, you may be wondering (and worrying) what it could mean, and whether it’s serious. Pets don’t have the capacity to tell us when something is wrong like humans do, so limping can seem like an especially difficult symptom to understand. Fortunately, there are multiple possibilities for why your pet might be limping—some more serious than others—so understanding what could be causing the limp is key for deciding how best to proceed with treatment. In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at some common causes of limping in pets and discuss how each one should be dealt with accordingly.

Causes of limping in pets

Pets limp for a multitude of reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL)
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Anatomical abnormalities
  • Joint dislocation
  • Muscle sprain or strain
  • Tick-borne disease
  • Torn nail
  • Wound on the paw or leg
  • Nerve damage
  • Bone fracture
  • Cancer

How to assess your pet’s limp

Pets can develop an acute or chronic limp that has varying degrees of severity. If your pet begins limping suddenly but then is fine after a few steps, they likely do not require any treatment. Pay attention to which leg your pet is limping on, along with how they act. For example, if your pet is limping on a hind leg in a toe-touching manner but does not seem to be in much pain, they likely have torn their cranial cruciate ligament. Or, if your pet’s lameness shifts from leg to leg and sometimes disappears completely, they may have a tick-borne illness like Lyme disease. These conditions require veterinary treatment, as does a limp that results in no weight being put on the affected limb or one that worsens over time. 

When a limping pet needs emergency treatment

When your pet begins to limp, you can try to restrict their activity for a few days to see if they improve. However, some limping conditions require immediate treatment, largely because of concurrent problems. If your pet has a severe limp and any of the following signs, seek emergency veterinary care:

  • Vocalization (e.g., howling, yowling, or growling)
  • Trembling
  • Behavior changes (e.g., hiding, refusing to move, or being aggressive)
  • Bleeding
  • An obvious fracture or dislocation
  • Dragging the limb
  • Large swelling on the affected limb
  • Lethargy
  • Disorientation
  • High fever
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble breathing

When in doubt about the severity of your pet’s limping, contact our team. We will triage their condition to determine the best course of action in caring for your furry pal.