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

“My Dog Is Limping, But No Pain” – What You Should Know

Updated: November 18th, 2019

Summary

If you find yourself thinking “my dog is limping but no pain is there,” think again. Limping is a sign you should take seriously.

Here’s a little story loosely based on many visits over the course of my career: a client comes in with their dog for a routine checkup. I note a pain response when I examine their hips and ask the client “Has she been in pain?” and the client answers “Well, lately, my dog is limping but no pain is there. It’s just a limp, not pain.”

Oops. That’s a total misunderstanding of what limping means.



I don’t understand how this misunderstanding came about, but enough people have it that I need to be really clear:

There are almost no medical reasons for a patient to limp without being in pain.  OK, maybe a couple, but these are incredibly rare.

Do you limp if you are not in pain? Of course not. Neither do dogs.

Dogs limp because it hurts them to bear weight on the affected leg.

Pain Signs

When I conduct an orthopedic exam in limping dogs, I will 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!

So 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 another.

That’s not true. Dogs in pain are not necessarily vocal.


For more useful information, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide


When a dog gets a sudden onset of acute, sharp pain, he or she may yip or yelp.  This is most common with sharp, sudden pangs of pain.

But chronic pain, extended over time? It’s very unlikely that dogs will make noises to indicate their pain.

Other signs often will tell you when a dog is in chronic pain. For example one sign of pain is the dog’s overall activity, and sometimes a decrease in activity (being “more sluggish”, or “tired”). One way we know that activity level is a good indicator pain status is because giving a pain reliever increases activity.

Here’s a good article with more pain symptoms described.

Addressing Pain

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. Then I proceed from there, depending upon what I find.

Many times I will prescribe Apocaps (which can be used as a mild anti-inflammatory), or a reduced dose of NSAIDs. If things are more severe, anti-anxiety meds and other steps like acupuncture or considering palliative radiation and pamidronate.

See this for my most recent pain medication and natural pain relief advice.

Best,

Dr D



Further Reading

Brown DC, Boston RC, Farrar JT. Use of an activity monitor to detect response to treatment in dogs with osteoarthritis. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2010 Jul 1;237(1):66-70. doi: 10.2460/javma.237.1.66

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Leave a Comment





  1. Paul on April 25, 2019 at 5:48 am

    I have a little girl that limps. Even had xrays done on her and vet didn’t find anything. Still limps though 🙁

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on April 25, 2019 at 7:19 am

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for writing, and we’re sorry to hear about your girl. Have you thought about consulting with another veterinarian? It can be a good idea to get a second consult if your current vet is unsure of what is wrong with your girl.

      You can find another vet in your area through the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) 🙂

      If you do decide to get a second consult, don’t forget to take your dog’s x-rays and medical history with you so that the vet has your dog’s history, and some data to work with 🙂 You may not be able to get the original copies of your dog’s results or tests, but you can ask for copies of them 🙂

      Also, if your girl is limping, make sure to ask about pain management. She may not be vocal about being in pain as Dr. Dressler writes in the article above, but it may help increase her quality of life in the meantime 🙂

  2. lower back pain exercise routine on July 4, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening.
    I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this short article together.
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  3. Abby Rose on January 27, 2018 at 10:09 am

    Did you ever figure out what was wrong with your dog? This is happening right now with my dog and I am very scared.

    • Christian Vanderbeck on February 17, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      We had this happen with our dog. He tore an ACL and had a luxated patella. It didn’t HURT per se but his knee cap was loose and felt very uncomfortable and strange. It required surgery.

      He will need an MRI most likely, if the vet suspects this is the issue

  4. Karl on May 4, 2016 at 12:44 am

    Dogs are very good at hiding their pain. They also can’t speak to us to tell us what’s wrong. A dog may just learn to live with a chronic pain because they might not know how to communicate it to us in any other way. That’s why dog owners have to be especially alert for subtle changes in their dogs behavior, like limping, reduced activity, sluggishness, loss of appetite, etc.

    My dog was diagnosed with arthritis in her knee when I noticed he was limping on her back leg. I didn’t think twice about taking him to the vet because I didn’t want to make him suffer if it was avoidable! The arthritis diagnosis meant that we’ve had to reduce his activity and I give him supplements to promote joint health. I also use the Ortocanis dog knee brace to help support her knee, it being better stabilized means it moves less and he’s in less pain. It’s still pretty flexible and allows for range of motion, so it was perfect for him.

    Hope he stays in such good shape for years to come..

  5. Susan Kazara Harper on June 1, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Gianna, I hope she’s better, but if not and shes still limping please get her to the vet to be checked. Good luck!

  6. Gianna Rossi on May 28, 2015 at 6:58 am

    My dog was jumping on the couch like many other times..she cried for a second..which she usualy does many times if u bumb into her almost not even touching her she never liked to be picked up …she’s been like that for7 years and very healthy..but spoiled..this time she’s limpin..she still jumps on couch goes up and down stairs but dosen’t put weght on that leg..i touched all her leg paws and she dosen’t cry..I’m stil lworried…i’m by my son watching the kids till Saturday ..idon’t know what to do..beside the limpin she’s fine..still worries me..its only been sincelast night..i feel its not serious because she usualy crys if you bump into her ..and for thisshe jus tcryed one time when it happened and than nothing…she’s a yorkie

  7. annette on May 17, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    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 on May 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

      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

  8. Sabrina on February 2, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    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.

  9. Jade on November 23, 2012 at 10:25 am

    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?

  10. lesley harris dog toby on October 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    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 ????

  11. Rahul on August 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    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

  12. Micah Pearson on July 6, 2011 at 9:09 am

    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?

  13. Kim Daley on February 21, 2011 at 4:57 am

    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.

    • DemianDressler on March 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm

      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

  14. Lisa Doyle on September 7, 2010 at 9:46 am

    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

  15. Cyndi on September 7, 2010 at 9:37 am

    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.

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