Seven causes of lameness in dogs

4th September 2016

At Bollington Veterinary Centre we regularly see dogs walk into the consulting room with a limp, and during the course of the conversation we begin detailed investigation of what might be wrong. We’ll ask all sorts of questions as we start our investigation.


Questions we may ask

  • How long? – we need to know when the problem started to work out if the lameness is acute or chronic in nature.
  • Same leg? – is it always one leg that’s affected, or does it move from one leg to another. This may sound an odd question, but we do diagnose conditions with a ‘shifting’ lameness.
  • Time of day? – is the limp present all the time, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, or does it progressively get better or worse throughout the day?
  • How bad? – how would you score the lameness out of 10?
  • Exercise? – does going out for a short walk make it better or worse?
  • Pain? – apart from the lameness, do you notice other signs of pain such as yelping, licking or chewing?

We then start our clinical examination where we feel the muscles and joints and try to look for any signs or features that will tell us more. It’s only after this that we start thinking of using other tools to help. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we might suggest taking some xrays, blood tests or joint samples.

What causes lameness?

  1. Arthritis – degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis is diagnosed or treated on a daily basis at our surgery. This condition is usually associated with ageing, though it can also occur after injury and infection. Signs to look out for might include a general stiffness in the mornings or perhaps difficulty getting into or out of the car.
  2. Ligament injury – perhaps one of the most common ligament injuries we see is a torn or inflammed cruciate ligament. The cruciate ligaments are vital to the strength and normal function of the knee joint. Problems in dogs often occur suddenly when exercising, with the dog suddenly yelping as it chases a ball and then instantly goes lame. We may also see it develop progressively in some breeds.
  3. Cartilage damage – there are some breeds that are particularly at risk of injury and damage to the cartilaginous joint surfaces. A degenerative disease called osteochondrosis (or OCD for short) affects young dogs and needs diagnosing and treatment to reduce the chance of long-term problems.
  4. Hip dysplasia – stiffness or lameness in the back legs of some breeds may alert us to a problem with the hip. We’ll need to take xrays to confirm he diagnosis. Surgery is sometimes available to help improve the condition, but in most cases the condition is managed with diet and painkillers.
  5. Fractures – an acute lameness following an accident is often associated with broken bones. Younger animals can get damage to the growth plates in their long bones where surgery is nearly always essential to prevent a long-term defect. We’re very lucky these days to have access to some excellent surgeons, who’ll in most situations be able to solve the problem. If our team at Bollington Veterinary Centre can’t repair the damage, we’ll be able to refer you to a specialist.
  6. Pad injuries – cuts and penetrating wounds are very common in the summer. Look for signs of bleeding, blisters or cuts on the pad surface. You might notice your pet licking or chewing excessively at the pad itself. In the winter, salt and grit can be extremely irritating and a lick injury may result.
  7. Infected nails – dogs seem to be particularly susceptible to nail-bed infections. If you see your dog constantly licking at one nail, with the hair around the nail being wet or pink in colour, let us know. Some infections can be stubborn to clear and may result in the nail having to be removed.

If you notice your dog limping, it’s almost certainly because there is pain. Call us to make an appointment, as in many cases, the quicker the problem is diagnosed and treated, the sooner it will improve.


Call us if your dog is lame >