Causes of Limping in Dogs

It’s important to remember that dogs can experience pain and injury, and recognizing why they’re limping can facilitate prompt veterinary attention. Effective treatment of a dog’s condition by a vet isn’t achievable if the precise origin of the limp remains unclear. This article will explore the three most common reasons for dog limping – arthritis, hip dysplasia, and dislocated or herniated discs.

It is interesting how many people have never heard about some of these conditions affecting your dog’s health. Even more, conditions could lead to an animal being unable to walk without pain, which this article does not cover. However, people should still be aware of them when they happen across them on the internet or elsewhere. Here are some of the conditions that can cause pain:

  • BAR Patella (knock knees)
  • Hiatal hernia -Cushing’s Disease
  • Cushing’s syndrome -Pyometra (uterine infection)
  • Fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy in dogs
  • Legg-Perthes disease in dogs
  • Eosinophilic organisms (e.g., whipworms)
  • Luxating patella (a kneecap that pops out of place and causes limping)

This article will focus on three specific conditions that can cause pain and lead to a dog’s limp: arthritis, hip dysplasia, and slipped or ruptured discs, which are widespread.


Dogs are susceptible to arthritis, much like people. Arthritis can result from age or other conditions that cause changes in a dog’s joints. Whenever the cartilage that covers the ends of bones wears down, osteoarthritis can develop in these areas. Arthritis can also occur when bony growths form at the edges of joints.

Bone spurs and arthritis usually develop in the hips, spine and knees of an affected dog. Still, they can also affect other areas such as the shoulders or elbows.

Signs of osteoarthritis include:

  • Lameness with little or no provocation.
  • Stiffness after periods of rest.
  • The licking or biting of one or more joints.
  • Gradual loss of weight even with a good appetite.
  • Limping, especially after periods of rest.

Osteoarthritis usually affects dogs’ back legs but can also affect their front legs. As arthritis progresses, your dog may be unable to use one or more limbs.

Hip Dysplasia

One of the most common causes of a dog limp is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is developmental arthritis usually affecting large dog breeds with deep and narrow pelvises. This condition affects breeds like German shepherds, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Dobermans.

Dogs with hip dysplasia have an abnormality in the structure of their hips that lead to pain, loss of function, and arthritis. The canine hip is a ball-and-socket joint that allows dogs to sprint and change directions quickly when chasing prey or running from danger.

In hip dysplasia, the socket part of the joint is too shallow when the dog’s leg swings back and forth while running or walking, and the ball portion of the hip slips in and out of its socket, which causes pain.

Dogs with hip dysplasia are often diagnosed between 6 months to 3 years of age. The condition becomes progressively worse over time, causing arthritis and pain. Dogs with hip dysplasia may walk stiffly, oddly hold their legs, avoid long walks or climb stairs, seek out soft beds to lie on, or act depressed.

Signs of hip dysplasia include:

  • Walking with the hind legs wide apart.
  • A bunny-hopping gait while running.
  • Reluctance to climb stairs or get in and out of cars.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia can be relieved with medication. Still, advanced arthritis is not reversible once it affects a dog’s quality of life.

Disc Problems

Dogs can develop slipped or ruptured back discs that can cause pain and a dog’s limp. Intervertebral disk disease is one of the most common causes of back problems in dogs’ hind legs.

In a normal spine, disks are made up of separate cartilage bones to cushion them while allowing flexibility for movement. If a dog’s spine develops a bulge or herniates these disks, the result can be pain and loss of mobility.

Dogs with intervertebral disk disease have problems walking because it hurts to put weight on their back legs. They may also drag their feet or step with an arched back that looks like they are trying to hold their backside off the ground. The dragging of feet can lead to sores on the paw pads, which might require treatment by your veterinarian or veterinary hospital.

Treatment for intervertebral disk disease varies depending on its severity and how it affects a dog’s quality of life. Mild cases may not need surgery but could benefit from medication that reduces pain and inflammation. Severe cases might need surgery to remove the disk material, which can cause nerve damage if it presses on nerves around your dog’s spine.


Don’t put off the limping treatment in dogs because these signs are often caused by severe conditions that require prompt veterinary attention. If you think your dog is suffering from a limp, have your veterinarian examine it to determine the cause of its pain and whether treatment is needed.

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