Limping or Lameness

Earlier you went out to do some grocery shopping. You return home to find your pet unable to walk on all fours. One of its leg is raised and gets really angry whenever you want to touch it. What happened?

Limping or lameness is an abnormality from the ordinary gait. Although it is common for pain to be present, a pet may be lame but be pain free. Your vet will easily recognize lameness based on observing your pet’s movement and behaviour.

For painful limping, the source will usually be one of the following: bone, muscle, joint or nerves. A combination of the affected parts may be present in some cases.

When you notice a swelling on the fingers of your pet, it could be caused by minor trauma, local infection, or foreign body (pollen, thorn, or glass shard).

Other forms of lameness only appear during changes in stance or gait, such as improper positioning or placement of the limb (also known as the leg) during movement.

CAUSES

Bone Problem

Cancer, cyst, fracture, panosteitis (bone inflammation), osteomyelitis (bone marrow inflammation), hypertrophic osteodystrophy (bone malformation)

Muscle/Ligament Problem

Infection, inflammation (lupus), muscular dystrophy (muscle malformation), Achilles tendon injury, vascular compromise or thrombosis (blood clot)

Soft Tissue

Cancer, infection from foreign body, trauma or injury, snakebite, dog bite, insect bite/sting

Joint

Infection (Ehrlichiosis and other blood parasites), immune mediated (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis), developmental disorders (in-born  or breed-related problems like hip dysplasia in German Shepherds), degenerative joint disease (joint destruction from aging), dislocations, osteoarthritis

IS YOUR DOG SUSCEPTIBLE TO BREED-RELATED PROBLEMS?

Hip Dysplasia (when hip joint/s poorly form):

German Sheperd, Labrador, Goldren Retriever, St Bernard, Mastiff, Great Dane, Rottweiler, Chow, Boxer, Bassett Hound

Ununited Anconeal Process (or just a fancy term meaning an elbow problem):

St. Bernard, Bassett hound

Legg – Calve – Perthes Disease (painful thigh bone head destruction):

Toy poodle, Pekingese, West Highland White terrier, Yorkshire terrier, Pomeranian, Chihuahua

Knee dislocation (yes, even if they don’t play Basketball)

St. Bernard, Newfoundland

(Lorenz, M.D. and COrnelis, L.M., 1993. Small Animal Medical Diagnosis, 2nd edn. Philadelphia, PA: JB Lippincott)

WHY YOU NEED TO BRING YOUR PET TO THE VET

Of course, the only way to see if there is a fracture or not is an x-ray. Depending on your circumstances, an x-ray can help rule out if it is a bone problem or just a sprain.

For trauma patients or pets who were involved in vehicular accidents, it could be extremely painful to move your pet from the site to your car. A dog in pain will always bite, even if you were together for a decade. Carefully attaching an Elizabethan collar will help you to retrieve your dog easily from the ground.

To transport a dog with an obvious broken leg, use improvised tools. For small dogs, a laundry tub or batya will do. For medium to large breeds, a large plank of plywood will help. Be sure that the material is stable and could be lifted easily by people.

If there is bleeding, apply gentle pressure once an e-collar is secured. Rush to your nearest vet.

WHEN YOU CAN’T FIND A VET AT THIS TIME

If your pet is still bright, alert and responsive but lame, a 24 hour observation period will do. Discourage running and jumping. Allow the pet to rest in a small room where it will be forced to sleep. If the lameness is gone the next day, it should be fine. If it returns again, a visit to the vet is a must.

If your pet is in pain, do not touch the affected leg when it bares its fangs. It is a clear message that it will not hesitate to bite you. Securely and carefully attach an Elizabethan collar around its neck, before transporting it to your nearest vet.

You can’t use a pain killer immediately because it will just mask the pain and may hinder a reliable physical examination at the vet. Also, a high dose of pain killers are always poison to your pet’s kidneys. Kidney function can not be restored to 100% once damaged. So please spare those Alaxan and Ibuprofen.

For every case of lameness that persists for more than 24 hours, you need your vet’s help to perform a checkup and run some tests to identify the cause of your pet’s problem. Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for lameness.

PREVENTION

If your pet is predisposed or has a generational history of bone problems (parents, grandparents, etc), an every 3-6 months orthopaedic exam and x-ray will help in identifying the problem in its early phase.

If your pet is not predisposed, an annual whole body x-ray can be requested to your vet for a complete orthopaedic evaluation.

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