Any dog owner would be concerned to see their dog limping, but it can be especially alarming to see a puppy limp. Their young age and generally healthy bodies don’t lend themselves easily to the idea of a limp, which typically comes with age. So what could be the problem? The truth is there are a number of causes for limping in puppies, but there is also some natural unsteadiness that comes with being a puppy.
Because puppies are still growing, their joints are wobbly and unstable. This is part of why it is important not to overexert a puppy. Those loose joints move awkwardly and sudden movement could chip the cartilage lining. That said, there are valid medical reasons why your puppy could be limping.
Typically, a limp is the result of a dull, achy pain your puppy is experiencing. A short and sharp pain would result in your puppy holding the leg up, refusing to put any weight on it. This differentiation is important when describing the problem to your vet. You may also find it beneficial to take a video of your puppy’s limp at home as it can be difficult for your vet to recreate symptoms in a clinical setting.
Doing so can also help determine which leg is causing the pain, a task that can sometimes be more ambiguous than it would seem. Front leg pain will result in your puppy’s head nodding down when the good leg hits the ground, while back leg pain displays as the hip jerking upwards when the bad leg is lowered.
Causes of Limping in Puppies
There are a number of causes for your puppy to be limping, some less severe than others. In fact, the most common cause of puppy limping is a simple muscle sprain or strain, which can be treated with rest. Try letting your puppy disengage in activity for some time to see if the problem improves and if it doesn’t, take him to the vet for a checkup.
If your puppy is displaying generalized or shifting lameness, or limping on more than one leg, the problem is likely the cause of poor nutrition, also known as nutritional osteodystrophy. This bone disease is often the result of an all-meat diet or a diet lacking in minerals.
A more severe cause could also be trauma. A puppy’s bones are still soft and developing so even mild trauma could result in an injury such as fractures or breaks. If your puppy’s leg is at a strange angle or he won’t bear any weight on it, you should seek immediate care from a vet.
Inherited problems are also a consideration for some breeds. Such conditions may include:
- Hip Dysplasia: Misshapen hip joints restrict movement – causing rubbing, pain, and inflammation with every step the dog takes. While common in older dogs, canine hip dysplasia is hard to diagnose in puppies given the loose movement of their joints.
- Elbow Dysplasia: Very similar to the above, elbow dysplasia in dogs is the result of anatomical misalignment that causes pain and inflammation.
- Luxating Patellas: Also known as wobbly kneecaps, luxating patella in dogs is a common problem is small and toy breeds. The knee can “lock” in the wrong position causing pain and resulting in a limp.
- Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease: Typically, this disease affects just one joint and is most commonly seen in small dog breeds. The blood supply to the puppy’s growing hip joint decreases too early, causing the head of the thigh bone to crumble and disintegrate.
- Asymmetrical Growth: Usually, all bones grow at the same rate allowing the puppy to develop strong, straight legs. However, if one bone is growing faster than the others, the result is bowing of the leg and a limp.
While most puppies will recover quickly from any small injuries which resulted in a limp, if you notice the limp is persistent, you should see a vet to rule out a more serious condition. It is important, however, to resist the urge to give at-home pain relief to your puppy. A puppy’s body is still developing and his kidneys are vulnerable. If your vet deems pain medication appropriate, he or she will provide explicit instructions for administering the relief to your puppy.