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My Dog is Limping on Their Front Leg

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. September 2, 2019
My Dog is Limping on Their Front Leg

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A dog limping can be a heartbreaking sight. Lameness in any of a dog's four limbs can occur for various reasons, some of them temporary, others permanent. Looking at the leg which is affected can help us determine which is affecting our animal if we see our dog limping on their front leg. Due to the varying causes, your dog may be limping, but not actually be in pain. The limping may only occur after running, after lying down or many different activities. Equally, the limping may be accompanied by inflammation, wounds or no visible ailment.

If you wonder why your dog is limping on their front leg, let AnimalWised bring you the possible causes. We'll also look at treatment options to know how best to act when we have a limping dog in our care.

You may also be interested in: Why is My Dog Limping on their Back Leg?

Types of lameness in dogs according to cause

If you see your dog is suddenly limping, but have no idea why, it is important to find the cause quickly. When lifting a front paw, they will not be able to set it down on the ground correctly. Although dogs are generally very resilient animals, it is possible they will cry in pain or whine. By looking at symptoms other than their limping, we can help determine the severity of the problem.

There are many different reasons why a dog may be limping. However, there are some general causes which include:

  • Trauma: if a dog has been in a fight with another dog, beaten by an owner or fallen from a height, the impact can cause limping. The extent of the damage could range from a sprain to fractured bones.
  • Foreign body: if the dog walks on something they shouldn't or something falls on them, a foreign body can enter the skin. This can lead to infection, resulting in inflammation and pain, resulting in a dog limping on their front leg. A bite from an animal such as a snake or attack by a porcupine could lead to leg damage.
  • Disease: whether due to a congenital degenerative disorder or a disease transmitted via their environment, there are various health issues which can lead to a dog limping. Genetic factors include osteoarthritis and elbow dysplasia.

Determining the cause of lameness can be tricky, especially if we have not witnessed an attack, fall or similar cause of a dog limping on their front leg. However, one key factor is to look at the development of a limp. You might see a dog suddenly limping when they were perfectly fine only minutes before. On the other hand, a dog might limp progressively, worsening as the problem develops. It can even occur that you have a dog limping on and off, sometimes looking very stiff, others appearing to walk as usual.

In veterinary medicine, lameness in dogs is divided into three main groups according to their origin:

  • Functional lameness: this is caused by a malformation or a mechanical alteration of the joints or bone system.
  • Painful lameness: this is usually caused by an injury or fracture, with the characteristic pain being of a greater or lesser extent according to the clinical picture of the individual dog.
  • Neurological lameness: stemming from a deficit or alteration of the central nervous system, this type of lameness results in musculoskeletal malfunction. It is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as canine ataxia or uncoordinated gait.

Pain is an important determining factor in finding out the type of lameness a dog may have. Sometimes you may see a dog limping, but doesn't seem to be in pain. They may not even show signs of pain when touched. Other times, their pain and discomfort is obvious.

My Dog is Limping on Their Front Leg - Types of lameness in dogs according to cause

My dog is limping on their front leg after laying down

When our animal limps after resting or being asleep, the dog could be suffering from something known as a ‘cold limp’. This is due to the dog's inertia and body posture. The muscles have gone cold and blood flow is not as free moving as before. When the dog stands up and walk, the muscles heat up and blood flow returns to normal. Before this happens, you may see the dog limping when they get up. This can happen on any leg, not just the front one. It is similar to when we have a paresthesia, a condition known more colloquially as a limb ‘falling asleep’.

This type of lameness in a dog's leg shouldn't be worrisome if it is an isolated case. The temporary bad posture would likely explain the reason for the temporary limping. However, if this happens repetitively, it might be due to a developing joint problem. Fluid build up in the joints can dissipate once they walk around, meaning they limp for a while before returning to normal walking. Unfortunately, this can deteriorate further, so it's best to manage it and reduce its symptoms.

My dog limps on their front leg and trembles

If our dog is limping or has a change in gait and trembles at the same time, we need to go to a veterinarian immediately. The trembling implicates a neurological disorder or nervous system problem. These can be aggravated if not treated promptly. These issues can vary in terms of symptoms. Some are manageable and will not serious affect the dog's quality of life. Others can degenerate quickly and may even be life threatening.

We must also take into account whether the tremor is cause by other conditions such as low body temperature, restlessness or even fear. Regardless, it will not hurt the dog to take them to a veterinarian for an examination. They will be able to run diagnostic tests which are unavailable to us at home.

How to know if my dog has a fracture

When we are sure the dog's limp is due to a fall or similar trauma, we need to be very cautious. The dog may want to try to get up and worsen the problem. We will want to examine the state of the leg to see if there are muscle tears, wounds or bone fractures. Doing so, however, can cause the dog to squirm and cause more damage. If we are not completely sure what we are doing, it is best to wait until we can get them to a veterinary medica professional.

It is especially important to urgently take the dog to a veterinary clinic when there are clear symptoms of a fracture. This could be evident pain, the leg being out of place or even a fractured bone piercing the skin. A badly healed fracture is much more difficult to treat than a fresh one and the suffering and pain can be extensive.

My dog lifts their front leg when walking

A dog lifting their front leg when walking might be doing it for a variety of reasons. This is known as an elevated hobble and you will see the dog using the other three limbs to walk so they don't have to place the affected foot on the ground. The dog does not want to put any pressure on the leg because they have a pulled muscle, a broken bone, an injured paw or other cause.

In these cases, we have to asses whether the lameness is temporary or persistent. A temporary problem may be due to a thorn in their paw or similar minor injury. This can be cleared up quickly, although it also needs to be managed for infection or other complications. If the limp does not disappear within a reasonable period of time, it is recommended you go to the vet. If there is pain, then you should take them there immediately.

My dog limps on their front leg, but it doesn't hurt

You will likely wonder if you should go to the vet, even if the dog's limp doesn't seem to hurt. You will need to look at how persistent is the limp, how regularly it returns and how it affects their mobility. You will also need to check for foreign objects or any other clues. If the cause of the limp is obvious and you are able to treat it, then you may not need to go to the vet. If you don't know the cause, you will need to go to the vet to determine it. If you don't it can seriously harm the dog's quality of life.

My dog is limping on their front leg: what to do

If we see our dog is beginning to limp and we know the cause, there are various treatments we can begin. They will depend on the severity of the limp and include:

  • In fractures, the most important thing is to take the dog to a veterinarian. They will be able to assess the severity of the fracture, likely using an x-ray or ultrasound. They will be able to establish the best treatment options. in some cases, this may involve immobilizing the limb and administering an analgesic and/or anti-inflammatory treatment. Multiple or severe fractures may require surgical intervention.
  • If the limp is due to a pulled muscle, it is important for the dog to stay at rest and not to perform any vigorous exercise. This would cause the muscles to be put under stress and could result in further damage.
  • When lameness is due to diseases, whether neurological or pathological, the most important thing to do is determine the root of the problem. Limping on their front leg will only be one of may symptoms which need to be treated or managed.
  • A foreign body causing the dog's limp needs to be extracted. However, this is more easily said than done. If the foreign object is a hook, it could cause more damage if removed improperly. Also, dirt entering the wound site can lead to infection, so they may need antibiotic treatment. A veterinarian will know how to best remove the object and will be able to prescribe antibiotics if necessary. If the wound is only superficial, you can clean the wound site itself and instill measures to prevent infection.
  • For cases of lameness caused by degenerative diseases, the best treatment is prevention. This means providing a suitable diet, giving them plenty of exercise and caring for their joints.

If we see our dog limping a lot, we can try to alleviate the pain by applying a cold compress to the affected limb. This will only be a temporary measure until we can get them to a veterinarian. Do not give them painkillers intended for human use as it could cause serious damage.

My Dog is Limping on Their Front Leg - My dog is limping on their front leg: what to do

My dog has a swollen paw

When a dog is limping due to a swollen paw, it will be due to one of two main reasons. One of them is a sprain or dislocation. In these cases, the joint will be swollen and soft to the touch. We need to help reduce inflammation. We do this by applying a cold compress and keeping the dog off their feet.

After we have this paw problem under control, we will need to take them to the vet. They will be able to determine if the problem is just a sprain or a severe dislocation. The treatment will vary depending on the cause. When the sprain is a muscle problem, it will usually resolve itself faster and cause less pain. With a dislocation, the problem is more complex. The bone will need to be replaced and ligament damage may have occurred. In the latter case, damage could be permanent.

My Dog is Limping on Their Front Leg - My dog has a swollen paw

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog is Limping on Their Front Leg, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

Bibliography
  • Canapp SO. 2007. The canine stifle. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract 22, 195-205.
  • Silva, RF, Carmona, JU, & Rezende, CMF. (2013). Radiographic, arthroscopic and biomechanical characteristics of dogs with anterior cruciate ligament rupture. Veterinary medicine archives, 45 (1), 53-58. https://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0301-732X2013000100009
  • Anna Burke (05.05.2019). Why Is My Dog Limping ?. 2019, from American Kennel Club Website: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-is-my-dog-limping/
  • Angel Duran Segovia. PADS (1): FOR ORTHOPEDIC CAUSES AND DEVELOPMENT DISEASES. 2019, from the Veterinary Institute of Orthopedics and Traumatology Website: http://www.traumatologiaveterinaria.com/index.php?web=divulgacion/009_02.php

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