Why is My Dog Limping? 15 Causes of Lameness in Dogs

August 13, 2015

Dog limping, often referred to as canine lameness, is one of the most common reasons for animal hospital visits. One day you are playing fetch with your little guy in the backyard and the next day your dog is suddenly limping around the house and whimpering. If you've ever wondered why your dog is limping, read on for the top causes of canine lameness.


Dogs limp for many reasons. The simple explanation is that your dog is limping because he or she is either unable to or refuses to put their full weight on the affected limb. But, of course, what is causing your dog to limp is not so simple. The video below highlights 15 reasons why your dog might be limping:

  1. Overexertion. Dogs can over-exert themselves during a fetch session, rough play, or a run in the park can cause overexertion. Muscle soreness affects them just like us. In these situations, dogs will usually recover quickly.

  2. Something Stuck in Paw. Imagine going outside without shoes on - running around on the grass, in the woods, and all over your neighborhood. The bottoms of your feet are bound to get dirty, right? This is what your dog does every single day! If your dog is limping or putting up his paw, it could be due to a laceration or having something stuck in between his paw, such as a burr, thorn, or even rock. In some long-haired dogs, even their own fur can get matted between their toes. 

  3. Toenail Problems. If your dog hasn’t been to the groomer in a while, or is not walking on concrete regularly (which helps file the nails), there is a chance that an ingrown or overgrown toenail is digging into his or her skin. This can cause discomfort (i.e. limping) and, in severe cases, may need a veterinarian to help file the nail down. On the other hand, if your dog just came from the groomer and is limping, it’s also possible that their nail got cut too short. 

  4. Animal or Insect Bites. Venom from spiders can be poisonous and affect the neural system and Lyme disease from ticks can cause the limbs to fail. Animal bites that are not infectious can also be dangerous because of the puncture wounds. If your dog has been bit by another dog on the leg, for example, this could injure the joints and cause limping. 

  5. Underlying Scar Tissue. If your dog has ever broken his leg or had surgery, scar tissue may be the culprit. Even if the dog’s leg was properly splinted (and he got surgery if needed), there may still be scar tissue and/or the bone may have set in a position that is slightly different than before. This is especially true for cases where there are complex fractures that requires plates and screws to structure the bone. 

  6. Infection. An infected wound, incision, skin, or nail bed can cause pain and limping. Infections should be treated right away as they can worsen and become harder to treat.

  7. Injury (Pain). Dogs are active creatures, and with activity comes the possibility of sprains and strains. Leg injuries are one of the most common causes of limping in dogs. Injury should be suspected if the onset of the limping was sudden. Sometimes the limping subsides in a day or two, and sometimes it persists if the injury is more serious. 

  8. Panosteitis (Wandering Lameness). This condition tends to affect growing large breed puppies (age 5-12 months). There is a tendency for pain and lameness to move from one limb to another over the period of several weeks or months. Symptoms usually disappear by the time the dog is 20 months old.

  9. Dislocated Knee (Luxating Patella). A luxating patella is a fancy term for a dislocated knee; it occurs when a dog’s kneecap moves out of its natural position. The effect of this condition varies from complete unwillingness to bear weight on the limb (causing severe lameness) to mild to moderate instability without any accompanying pain. Certain breeds, such as Yorkshire Terriers and toy breed dogs, are predisposed to luxating patella. The condition is also hereditary, so if your dog’s parent(s) had it, chances are your dog may too. Many small dogs live their entire life with luxating patella and it never results in arthritis or pain, nor does it interfere with the dog’s life. In other cases, it can manifest into a more serious condition, which can require surgery or treatment. A dislocated knee can also be caused by an accident or other external trauma.

  10. Dysplasia. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia are common conditions in dogs which can cause limping. Dysplasia is a hereditary condition that causes the joint to become loose and subluxate. To learn more about this condition, check out our blog post on Hip Dysplasia in Dogs and also make sure to check advice from our veterinary adviser, Dr. Borostyankoi, on Dysplasia: A Vet Shares Ways to Ease the Pain

  11. Old Age/Osteoarthritis. As dogs get older, their musculoskeletal system naturally becomes weaker. They are unable to run, jump, and play the way they used to. Their mind does not always want to listen to their body, so they may attempt to play beyond their abilities. Osteoarthritis and can be effectively addressed with a preventive care regimen. For more information on senior dogs and how to care them, make sure to check out our section on Aging in Dogs and Tips to Cope with Senior Dog Hind Leg Weakness.

  12. Fracture/Broken Leg. Fractures and broken bones are not always visible to the naked eye, and can happen due to trauma. When a dog is suffering from a fracture, it will be unable to bear weight on the affected limb. Check out our recent blog post for everything you need to know about broken legs in dogs.

  13. Nerve Damage. This can cause the front leg to become paralyzed, causing lameness when walking, usually the foot will drag on the ground. Nerve damage is often present in dogs that have diabetes mellitus. 

  14. Degenerative Myelopathy. DM is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. Initial symptoms include weakness and lameness. The disease can eventually progress to paralysis. 

  15. Tumors/Cancer. You should always monitor your dog for any unusual lumps or growths. Most of the time, lumps are not harmful, but in some cases they can indicate cancer. Bone cancer, which is especially prevalent in larger breeds, can grow rapidly and cause limping, pain, and even death if left unchecked. 


Treatment for dog limping varies depending on the severity and cause of the limp. In the next section, we discuss how to determine the severity of the limp, but the actual reaction you have, especially if the onset of the lameness was sudden, can make a huge difference.


Dogs may suffer from a weak musculoskeletal system for a number of reasons, but there are definitely steps you can take to keep them strong. Read our post on 5 Ways to Make Your Dog's Bones Stronger for nutrition, supplementation, or if you've got a dog limping (back leg).

For strong bones and healthy joints, Boneo Canine, is definitely worth discussing with your veterinarian. This all natural bone and joint supplement for dogs is not like traditional joint supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin or MSM products because it also adds in bone support. 

Check out this video to learn all about how the benefits:

Why is My Dog Limping?