Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

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My Dog Is Limping, But No Pain

Today’s column will look at the limp in your loved dog.

First and foremost, we need to realize that sometimes what our mind tells us is not the most reliable information.

What am I talking about here?

Well, in times of stress, for example when  dealing with a dog cancer diagnosis or other pet-related trauma or illness, we tend to use “rules of thumb” to give us the info we use to make decisions.

Rules of thumb are not very good data sources.

Very frequently, a dog lover will be in the exam room at my veterinary hospital, and explain the following:  “Well, my dog has been limping, but is not in pain or anything.”

And my thought is, “What in the world…..??”

Here’s why I have this thought.  There are almost no medical reasons for a patient to limp without being in pain.  Ok, maybe a couple, but these are incredibly rare.

99% of the time, the reason why a dog limps is that is hurts to bear weight on the affected leg!  You do an orthopedic exam and these dogs, and get a pain response somewhere (foot, hock, shin, knee, thigh, hip, pelvis or back…or foot, wrist, forearm, elbow, bicep area, shoulder, or neck/back).  These dogs hurt!

But what’s the problem here?  Why do guardians believe that if a dog is limping, there is no pain?

It could be that there is the idea that there is no vocalization (whining, yelping, etc.). In other words, dogs who hurt make some noise or other.

That’s the rule of thumb being used- dogs in pain are vocal.

And this idea is true, but only part of the time.  When a dog gets a sudden onset of acute, sharp pain, often there will be a yip or yelp.  This is most common with sharp, sudden pangs of pain.

But chronic pain, extended over time, does not do this.  As a matter of fact, you can look at the overall activity of a dog and sometimes a decrease in activity itself (“more sluggish”, “tired”) is a sign of pain!  Here’s a good article about how a pain reliever increases dog activity.

And a relevant post for more on pain detection …!

When I am faced with a limping dog in my hospital, I always advise taking the steps to figure out the cause of the pain.  Many times I will prescribe Apocaps, a reduced dose of NSAIDS, and if things are more severe, Tramadol and other steps like acupuncture or considering palliative radiation and pamindronate, depending on the cause of the problem.

For more on topics like these, check out The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

Best,

Dr D

About the Author: Demian Dressler, DVM


Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM is known as the "dog cancer vet" and is author of Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity. Visit his blog and sign up free to get the latest information about canine cancer. Go to http://www.DogCancerBlog.com.

  • Cyndi

    I was adviced by George that just because our dog was limping, slightly, on the leg with a possible soft tissue sarcoma, it did not mean he was in pain(just 2 days ago). So…as I wait for my shipment, I will put him back on the Tramadol prescribed by our vet. Limping is a sign of discomfort, if I understand this post.

  • Lisa Doyle

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    I just had to put my beloved Ginger to sleep last night after a very brief fight with Hemangiosarcoma. This morning I saw your article and amazingly the Lab in this post is the spitting image of my Ginger! I just wanted to let you know how helpful your book was to us . . . especially the last chapters about letting go. I miss her terribly! She was more than just a pet, she was my constant companion through thick and thin. Ginger, I will carry you in my heart always!!
    Lisa

  • Kim Daley

    Dear Dr. Dressler. I had to put my beloved Roz down in January to lymphnoma. We battled it 2 years. Just want you to know that your book had helped so much. I miss her every day. Just wanted to say thank you.

    • http://DogCancerBlog.com DemianDressler

      Dear Kim
      I am so sorry to hear about Roz. I should point out (and you probably know this) that two years is way above what most dogs with lymphoma achieve. As hard as the loss is, you gave Roz many dog years, and beat the odds by a large margin.
      Best,
      Dr D

  • Micah Pearson

    When we took our dog in to the vet for the first time as a puppy, the vet noticed in her back foot that some bone wasn’t aligned correctly or something was popping in a way that it shouldn’t…can’t remember specifically what it was she said. She asked us if we noticed her limping and we didn’t. Now today she is limping with this leg and is jumping around and wrestling with our other dog like normal and at times doesn’t limp, then she will go back to limping.

    Is this something we need to get checked out?

  • Rahul

    Hello,
    Doc I am new in this situation. I took my baby English mastweiler to vet they gave pain killer for observation but she still limps on her left hand. I am really concerned. I love her a lot I can’t see here like this before this she was very playfull which she is still but after some activitie she limps again. When she is playing she is good but after again the same thing. She use to like sleeping under my bed so I removed bed and I am using just matters but I dong know what shld I do. Plz help me. She is only 5 months and she is 61 pounds, is she over weight.
    Thank you

  • lesley harris dog toby

    Hi doc

    my dog is a black lab and for the last few days he has been limpingon his right front leg i think it is artharities but he cant put pressure on it at all but dise not yelp with the pain.

    Can you please help ????

  • Jade

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    I’m a proud owner of a very sweet 3-legged pitbull terrior. He’s not very old. We adopted him like that from a local animal shelter when he was approx. 5-7 months old and cants be older than 5 years now. Last night he seemed to be fine, no limping or anything, just his happy normal self. When we woke up this morning he could barely get out of bed and when he did he fell and struggled to get back up. I noticed he was limping pretty bad. Being as he doesn’t have his front right leg, he doesn’t have an option to not walk on his front left leg, which is the one he seems to be having a problem with. He doesn’t yelp or show that he’s in pain but I am worried that there might be a bigger problem than what is being appeared. Do you think it would be wise to bring him into the vet right away?

  • Sabrina

    Dear Doctor Dressler,

    My pit bull mix has been limping for the last few days.
    He limps all through the house, but he.doesn’t whine or yelp.
    I’ve tried pressing on his foot, hip, thigh, and foot. I’ve inspected
    his foot thinking maybe somethings stuck in there, no signs of anything.
    The weirdest thing is that when I take him outside he uses the leg with no problem, runs and drags me around the yard. It’s really oddthat
    he’s not whimpering when I apply pressure because he’s a whiner.
    I’m calling the vet tomorrow because its been over 48 hours
    and the only time he uses his leg is when he’s outside.
    But, I would really appreciate some advice from you also.
    Thanks so much.

  • annette

    My dog limping on back legs and lazy wont jump up things and shacking more than normall..yesterday i at to carry him in the house…hes eating but tacking his time..hes a 6 year old staffy..and really worried about him plz help..i phoned my local vet and said see what hes like over the weekend..

    • Dr. Demian Dressler

      Dear Annette,
      I am not sure that watching and waiting is a very good idea. I hope you were able to get proper care for your dog?
      Dr D