You’ve noticed your dog is limping – a gradual hobble that has developed over time – and you’re wondering “What should I do?” Maybe it’s a small limp that’s always there, an on-again/off-again limp, or a limp that seems to be worse in the morning, when the weather’s cold, etc.
The most immediate answer to the question of what you should do is: don’t ignore it! Limping in dogs, even if it comes and goes or doesn’t appear to bother them that much, is a big deal.
But it can be hard to understand the cause. A quick Google search for “limping in dogs” pulls up a plethora of articles presenting an overwhelming number of possible causes.
No matter the cause, your dog’s limp warrants a trip to the veterinarian. This article will help educate you on the most common causes of a gradual onset limp in dogs, so you have more info to help your veterinarian get to the bottom of it. First, let’s get clear on what we mean by “gradual onset.”
Gradual Onset vs. Sudden Limping in Dogs
There are two types of limping in dogs: sudden and gradual onset. As you might suspect, sudden limping happens quickly, and is usually the result of an injury or trauma, like a broken bone or hurt paw.
Gradual onset limping, on the other hand, occurs slowly over time and is usually the result of a chronic condition. Just because your dog has a gradual limp does not mean you should put off taking a trip to the veterinarian. Many of the chronic conditions that cause a gradual limp are much more treatable the earlier they’re caught.
3 Common Causes of Gradual Onset Limping in Dogs
If your pup has a gradual limp, joint disease is a common culprit. Here are 3 common joint diseases that cause gradual wear and tear on the joints and musculoskeletal system, leading to that hobble you’ve been noticing over time.
Arthritis (also called osteoarthritis) is one of the most common degenerative diseases in dogs. In fact, by the time a dog reaches 8 years of age, they have an 80% chance of having arthritis. Arthritis is the painful degradation of the cartilage that lines the ends of bones inside your dog’s joints. It can cause limping, difficulty getting up or climbing stairs, and general slowing down and stiffness.
Some people believe that only large purebred dogs are at risk for arthritis. While it’s true that breeds like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers are diagnosed more frequently, small and/or mixed-breed dogs are also at risk.
While there is no magic cure for arthritis, keeping your dog at a healthy weight and avoiding weekend warrior syndrome (exercising your dog hard on the weekends and not at all during the week) are two simple things you can do to lower the risk and acceleration of the disease. If your veterinarian does diagnose your dog with arthritis, TopDog Health offers a host of resources to help you and your pup cope, including 3 stretches for arthritic dogs, do’s and don’ts of exercising an arthritic dog, and foods to avoid if your dog has arthritis.
If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis, it is paramount to add a joint supplement to their diet. TopDog also has one of the most complete joint supplements on the market featuring patented absorption enhancers that help your dog’s body absorb nutrients more effectively. Another easy addition to your dog’s diet that will improve their symptoms is Flexerna Omega, a potent natural anti-inflammatory that is 300x more effective than fish oil.
The mere mention of hip dysplasia has the ability to strike fear into the hearts of many dog owners, and not without reason. This painful joint condition can drastically reduce your beloved pet’s quality of life, causing limping, general stiffness or slowing down, reluctance to go on walks, etc.
Hip Dysplasia is a developmental orthopedic disease that directly affects the hip joints in dogs. Normal, healthy hip joints have a ball and socket that rotate freely. The ball part of the joint is the head of the femur while the socket (known as the acetabulum) is found on the pelvis. There are two of these ball and socket joints, one for each leg (same as in humans). In hip dysplasia, if both of these hip joints do not match up in form and shape, it causes your dog to develop a limp, sometimes due to the abnormal growth of one of the joints.
If your dog develops severe hip dysplasia, your veterinarian may recommend a surgery called Femoral Head Osteotomy as a last resort or salvage procedure. To help guide you through the entire process, TopDog Health has created an absolutely free 50-page Guide to FHO Surgery and Recovery, which helps ensure your dog receives the best results possible.
Cruciate Ligament Disease
Cruciate ligament injury is the most common orthopedic condition in dogs. Cranial cruciate ligament disease is the sudden (acute) or progressive (gradual onset) failure of the cranial cruciate ligament, which is similar to an ACL tear in people. When this ligament breaks, the stifle (AKA knee) becomes painful, unstable, and prone to arthritis – causing a limp.
CCL surgery is the most common orthopedic surgery performed in dogs and is said to make up 85% of all dog orthopedic surgeries performed every year. Given that this is such a common injury, several procedures have been developed over the years to repair the ligament. If your veterinarian does diagnose the cause of your dog’s limp as a torn CCL, you can read everything you need to know about cruciate surgery here.
The Bottom Line
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: if your dog has a limp, don’t ignore it. Dogs are extremely stoic when it comes to pain, and just because it doesn’t seem to bother them that much doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. You are their #1 advocate. Schedule a veterinary appointment to get to the bottom of your pup’s hobble and provide them with the help they need to be their happiest, healthiest selves.