Lameness in Dogs

Almost all dog owners have seen their dogs limp. Although it is not always alarming and not always a cause for panic. There are likely thousands of reasons your dog could suddenly become paralyzed. Some are certainly more problematic than others, but in general, a single visit to the vet is often enough to find the diagnosis. Lameness can occur in dogs of any age, breed, size, and level of health, so don’t be surprised if your athletic young dog is limping. Since there are so many causes, we cannot cover all of them, but we can certainly address some of the most common ones.


Injuries are likely the most common causes of lameness in dogs, and they range from very minor to fairly severe. Injuries are most commonly noticed when they start suddenly, especially during or after physical activity such as running or jumping. Muscle and tendon strains from overexertion or minor impact are common in younger dogs with less life experience (we all know a dog who would jump off a cliff because of a frisbee). More severe injuries are torn ACLs (called CCL or Cranial Cruciate Ligament in dogs), fractures, and dislocations also occur. Whatever the cause, if your dog becomes lame after physical activity, a veterinarian should be seen. Our dogs are stubborn creatures, so what looks like a small limp could be a sign of serious injury.

Osteoarthritis or Arthritis

Like humans, dogs develop musculoskeletal weaknesses as they age. No matter your dog’s health, osteoarthritis can occur. This is very common and often results in limping or stiffness in the bones and joints, most noticeable when our dogs have difficulty moving. Osteoarthritis or arthritis is usually treated by a veterinarian with a workable plan for aging dogs.


Hip and elbow dysplasia are relatively common conditions in dogs regardless of breed. Although some dogs are genetically more susceptible to the disease, dogs of almost every shape, size, and history have been diagnosed with it. The disease is characterized by the malformation of the elbow or hip joint, making them very uncomfortable to sit in the joint. It can come on easily with no symptoms, or as a very severe case that requires surgery to provide comfortable mobility. Dogs are often diagnosed with it early in life when they are symptomatic for showing lameness that doesn’t seem to improve after cage or other training. Without surgery, these diseases will last for life. However, many dogs are able to live comfortably and lead normal lives with alternative treatments.


Large breed young dogs, such as German Shepherds and Great Danes, are prone to this disease. The cause is unknown and treatment varies, but all dogs eventually outgrow panosteitis. Panosteitis can appear as a minor limp or total lameness in any number of legs. Sometimes the lameness moves from leg to leg over a period of weeks, always as acute pain with no injury. Panosteitis is a strange disease that has not yet been fully analyzed.

Paw Problems

Injury to the paws can also cause a dog to become lame. Many times when we think there is a problem with the leg, it is simply a problem with the paw. Torn pads, broken toenails, broken toes, and even splinters or bee stings can cause a dog to exhibit acute lameness. If your dog begins to limp, it’s always a good idea to check its paws for injuries before immediately assuming it is the leg. Although rare, panosteitis can also appear in the paws of affected dogs.

Alice White

Written by Alice White

Alice White, a devoted pet lover and writer, has turned her boundless affection for animals into a fulfilling career. Originally dreaming of wildlife, her limited scientific background led her to specialize in animal literature. Now she happily spends her days researching and writing about various creatures, living her dream.

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