Just like humans, dogs sometimes break bones, sprain muscles, slip discs or tear ligaments, all of which can lead to the sudden onset of limping or movement difficulties. Torn knee ligaments occur frequently. Muscle strains are less common, but even these can occur while dogs undertake something as simple as climbing stairs.
Arthritis (sometimes referred as osteoarthritis) can also present as a sudden onset of lameness, should a jarring or untoward movement occur. Of course, dogs may chronically suffer from illnesses of lameness as well. Diagnosis and management of these conditions, however, will not be addressed here.
What To Watch For
In most limping cases there will be no external sign of damage. However, limbs may dangle at an unnatural angle when fractured or dislocated. Bones may even pierce the skin. Sometimes bleeding as well as swelling may also occur.
Accidents and other traumatic origins are the most common causes, though slow, chronic degeneration of a ligament or disc, for example, can sometimes lead to a sudden onset of orthopedic pain or lameness.
In all cases:
In cases of severe pain or swelling:
In mild cases:
The cause of a limp can often be diagnosed with just a simple physical examination. However, X-rays and manipulation of the affected area under sedation may also be required. There are even some cases where CT scans and MRIs are needed. Once the underlying cause of the limit is identified or at least certain causes ruled out, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and/or additional medications (ie., antibiotic, anti-fungal) and supplements (ie., glucosamine, omega fatty acids) along with plan for restricted activity.
Living and Management
Never exercise a lame dog. In fact, the dog must be allowed to rest completely for a few days and up to several weeks. When the lameness subsides, continue resting her for at least another 24 to 48 hours. Only then should you reintroduce exercise, and only in a gentle and progressive manner.
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