Lameness can occur in any dog at any age. It refers to a dog that is
unable to use one or more limbs. Common causes include:
- Young Dogs/Puppies: Problems and abnormalities during early
growth stages and injury
- Adults: injuries
- Older dogs: Arthritis or a degenerative joint disease
Below are more detailed explanations of each possible cause.
Causes and Related Treatment
Approaches for Dog
Nutritional and Electrolyte Deficiency
Nutrition deficiencies and imbalances can result in lameness. If
this is the cause, symptoms will appear slowly and get worse over time.
Electrolyte imbalances include soldium, calcium and potassium. Vitamin
deficiencies result from malabsortion which is where the body does not
absorbe or utilize nutrients. Low electrolyte levels will reduce
the capacity of muscles ot properly move or to maintain mass.
- Diagnostic Tests: Nutrition problems are detected with blood
tests. The tests will
check nutrient levels and how the organs are functioning.
- Treatment: A veternarian will recommend supplements and a
change in diet. The conditionwill require monitoring until normal
levels are achieved.
- Prognosis: Once the underlying condition is addressed, the dog
gradually. Some muscle atrophy may not be reverssable.
The circulatory system suffers
vascular blockages which can limit blood flow. One condition,
fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) as an example, is a spinal cord
stroke where spinal discs move and block the flow of blood. Its'
onset can be due to an accident with a higher incidence in large breeds.
- Diagnostic Tests: A veterinarian will perform a spinal myelogram
CT scan test
using dye and will take a thorough medical history. The CT scan can
elminate other possible causes such as tumors or diseasees.
- Treatment: Some releif might be possible with aspirin or
medications such as steroids.
Tumors and Growths
Growths and tumors put pressure on nerves,
nerve sheaths or the spinal cord. Tumors or growths can be malignant
(cancerous) or benign (not cancer). Most cases occur suddenly
- Types of cancerous growths include:
- meningioma (benign brain tumor in most cases)
- Breeds Affected:
- Golden Retrievers
- Doberman Pinschers
- Brittany Spaniels
- Irish Wolfhounds
- Gordon Setters
- Diagnostic Tests: Either X-Rays or a MRI. The MRI will indicate
the size and exact tumor location
- Treatment: Any tumor will be biopsied for analysis in the lab. If
surgically possible, tumors can be removed with the area treated by
radiation. In cases where there is a bone
tumor, treatment can include pain medications and the use of
biophosphates which help maintian bone mass.
Neurological Problems and Disorders
Dogs suffer many of the same problems seen in humans including
and seizures. One disorder referred to as "old dog vestibular disease"
impacts a nerve which connects the brain to the inner ear. Problems can
start slowly or occur in as little as a few days. The prognosis
depends on the ability of the veterinarian to address the underlying
cause of the disease.
- Diagnostic Tests: Blood and imaging tests used to rule out other
- Treatment: Medications to address problems such as seizures or a
medication called anipryl for cognitive dysfunction
Degenerative disease refers to the break down of nerves, ligaments,
bones and muscles. Osteoarthritis
is the best known of the degenerative
joint diseases. Theses types of disorders occur slowly unless a
dog suffers an injury. Depending on the cause, surgery to strengthen or
replace joints can stabalize the hindquarters and reduce or eliminate
lameness. Often degenerative diseases can be slowed down or
delayed, but not cured.
X-Ray of Dog Lameness
X-Ray of a
Dog with Lameness. Shows A
Painful Left Leg Extension. and Sub-Luxation.
Photo Credit: Washington State University
Unlike diseases that occur when a dog is older, hip
dysplasia tends to
start between age 5 months and 8 months. One common feature of hip
dysplasia in dogs is hindquarter dog lameness.
- Diagnostic Tests: Imaging tests such as MRI, CT scan or X-Rays
- Treatment: Depends on the underlying cause of the dog lameness.
- Surgery: ligament repair, hip replacmenet, joint replacement
- Physical Therapy
- Weight Loss to reduce stress on the bones and joints
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Nutraceuticals: glucosamine
Infectious and bacterial agents can cause issues such as ear
or infections that affect the spine or nervous system (e.g;
meningitis). Insects such as ticks can introduce toxins that cause
botulism and tick paralysis. Lameness symptoms appear quickly after the
infection takes hold. The prognosis depends on the disease. Those
that can be treated with medications can lead to a recovery in a period
of weeks to months.
- Tests: Blood tests are used to monitor white cell count levels.
Other diagnositc tests include spinal taps, MRIs, X-Rays and CT scans.
- Treatment: Illness and symptoms are management with rest and
fluids. Medications that target specific infections are used:
- Anti-fungal drugs
- Anti-viral drugs
Metabolic and Endocrine Diseases
Several glandular disorders such as problems in the thyroid,
parathyroid and adrenal glands can result in dog lameness. These
diseases can cause diabetic neuropathy, poor carbohydrate metabolism,
electrolyte imbalances and low circulation. Diabetic neuropathy is a
disorder that causes inflammation, toxic hormone levels and muscle
fiber malfunction. Some of the issues could be caused by old age
itself, which effects endocrine gland function (higher incidence in
Symptoms can be acute (come on suddenly) or slowly in the case of
tumors which are negatively impacting gland function.
- Diagnostic Tests: Imaging tests such as X-Rays and CT scans.
Endocrine hormone levels are tested with blood and urine tests.
Medically Induced Causes
Some medications have dog lameness as a side effect (call
Iatrogenically induced) or complicaiton of treatment. For example the
widely used steriod prednisone, or pain reliver tramadol can cause
lamdeness in dogs. Symptoms can start immediately after or shortly
after taking a medication. Hindquarters leg function should
return once medications are eliminated or adjusted.
- Diagnostic Tests: A veterinarian can diagnose a itrogenic effect
after taking a medical history
- Treatment: Change medications or reduce the dosage
As you could imagine any injury to muscles or bone can result in dog
leg lameness. This includes aging related bone issues that result from
a decline in calcium absorption, slipped discs or vertebrae and
fractures that affect the pelvis or spine. Symptoms usually appear
- Diagnostic Tests: Imaging tests such as X-Rays
- Treatment: A veterinarian will seek to stablilize any problems
with surgery. Medications can help to control pain. Physical therapy
can help during recovery and to improve movement.
When the Cause Cannot Be Determined
In many cases a veterinarian will not be able to make a specific
diagnosis of dog lameness symptoms, called an Idiopathic cause. When
this is the case a
veterinarian will seek to address symptoms and keep the patient as
comfortable as possible. The pet parent and veterinarian will need to
review the cost of treatment and the dogs quality of life when making a
There are many health issues and challenges that can occur along
lameness. These problems and potential solutions include:
Dog Lameness Support Problems and Soltuions
||Use dog diapers and cover the
dog bed with a waterproof cover
|Elevated furniture and beds
||Purchase a dog ramp
|Difficulty climbing stairs
||Buy a special sling which will
support the dog when climbing stairs
|Slipping on floors
|Add carpeting or rugs that will
|Reluctance to walk or exercise
||Change activities to meet your
|Cannot lean down to drink or eat
||Elevate dog bowls