What causes a dog to start limping without warning?

Published 6:06 am Wednesday, October 10, 2018


K9 Corner

“What causes a dog to start limping without warning?” a visitor asked me this past week.

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The question brought back memories of one of my standard schnauzers years ago, who bolted out the back door and raced to the very back of my yard only to return as quickly as she could holding one leg protectively off the ground.

The first thing I checked was the pads of the foot involved. (I always suspect an acorn or burr wedged between the pads as the cause of discomfort.) This time I found something hard and somewhat sharp stuck into the tender skin between the pads. I knelt down for a closer look, using my fingernail to try to dislodge the object.

I was shocked when I realized that the dog had driven a roofing nail all the way into the foot with only the head visible — if you looked carefully. It was time to see the veterinarian in a hurry. It took a pair of pliers to extract the nail and I was surprised at the lack of blood after the procedure. I asked about tetanus and learned that there was no anti-tetanus serum for dogs but since the nail seemed new and was removed within an hour and the hole was flushed out, there was little chance of tetanus.

Split and broken toenails or nails that have been allowed to grow long enough to curl under the foot can also cause the dog to limp. If your dog will allow you to trim or file its nails, this can be a home remedy. However, in most cases, when the dog is already limping, it will not allow the owner to handle its feet, so it is time to head for the clinic or the groomer.

Another cause can be chemical. In winter the chemicals used to melt the ice on the sidewalks will burn the skin of the dog’s feet. Chemically treated lawns in the summer time may have the same effect. Washing the feet as soon as you return from a walk may be all that is needed to keep your dog happy and running on all four paws.

Too much exercise without sufficient conditioning can cause sore muscles, stresses and strains just like humans. If you are planning to take extended walks or jogs on warm days, start gradually and allow your dog’s feet and muscles to harden.

Then there are the medical reasons that will cause the dog to limp. It can be as common as a fracture, or a bacterial infection at the junction of the skin and toenail, other times it can be a symptom of a disease.

Sometimes rest is all that is needed to cure the limp. Sore muscles respond quickly to enforced rest in a dog crate. However, persistent limping should be evaluated by the doctor so don’t put it off.