Help! My Dog Is Limping

why dogs limp

This isn’t just a catalog of limping dogs. By knowing the leg problems that dogs get you have a better chance of preventing some, identifying others and taking them all seriously.

I’ve gone back through our records, found the top 20 with pictures. The list below is sorted into ‘puppy’, ‘adult’ and ‘common’ problemsVisit this page to see which problems happen in the front or back legs and how to tell which leg is sore.

Continue reading “Help! My Dog Is Limping”

All About Dog Breeding

mother and puppy

Know what a BYB is? That’s what some people call a ‘backyard breeder’. They see ‘BYB’s as poorly educated breeders of unhealthy pups totally motivated by money. In other words, no better than puppy farms.

I have to tell you, there are certainly people like that here in Adelaide, and the new laws on dog breeding can’t come soon enough to help get rid of them. But there’s another side to this story. Some of the best-bred dogs in Adelaide come from backyard breeders. And it’s not just me saying it; sensible dog trainers say the same thing.

Continue reading “All About Dog Breeding”

Help! My Dog’s Legs are Weak or Slipping

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ What to do

When A Dog Has Back or Spinal Problems

  1. Sudden loss of control of the hind legs is a life threatening emergency
  2. Keep affected dogs as still as possible until a vet can examine them
  3. Home care or surgical options exist, & dogs can go on to live normal lives

Now dive deeper…

Have a look at the video below and pay close attention to how Rickey is walking. That’s not a limp caused by a sore leg. To a vet, that’s an emergency. If your dog ever starts walking like this, especially after a jump or fall, keep them very still and see a vet immediately. Their life may depend on it.

What Is Ataxia?

Rickey is ataxic. That means he’s lost some control over how his legs are moving, and it’s a hallmark of neurological disease. Something is interfering with his nervous system’s ability to move his legs.

Later I’ll give you a long list of possible reasons for ataxia, but one cause stands head and shoulders above the rest…

Intervertebral Disk Disease

Intervertebral disks are the flexible pads that sit between the spinal vertebral bones in the back. They act both as joints and cushions, and are yet another marvel of nature. IVDD is when the disk fails, and although it’s often called a ‘slipped disk’, that’s not really what happens in dogs.

Rickey’s disk didn’t slip, it burst after he jumped off a chair. In Type I IVDD, the disk itself degenerates and the ring of fibres that holds it together weakens. Eventually it gets weak enough that a sudden compressive force, usually from jumping off furniture, causes the outer fibres to split and the inner disk content to be violently expelled.

Dog IVDD spine

The bad news is that when it ruptures, contents of the disk often travel towards the spinal cord. That’s Rickey’s xrays showing which disk is the likely culprit. You can see that the spinal canal containing the cord runs just above the disk. What we can’t see on the xray is that some of that disk material is now pressing on the spinal cord hard enough to stop the flow of nerve signals.

Which Dogs Are At Risk

IVDD is mostly associated with certain dog breeds. These include:

  • American Cocker Spaniel
  • Basset Hound
  • Beagle
  • Bichon Frise
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chihuahua
  • Corgi
  • Dachshund
  • Dandie Dinmont Terrier
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • French Bulldog
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Poodle (Miniature and Toy
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Shih Tzu

What all these breeds have in common is a genetic defect called chondrodystrophy. The same thing that causes their cute body shape also causes premature degeneration of intervertebral discs. IVDD is always more common in overweight dogs of these breeds.

In our clinic, IVDD also occurs in very excitable and energetic dogs of any breed. This may explain an increased prevalence observed in male dogs. There is a higher risk in desexed (neutered) females that could be explained by increased weight.

Why Is IVDD Serious?

Rickey was lucky; his cord injury was only partial, his owner brought him straight down and he responded well to treatment. All three of these factors can easily go the other way.

  • Disks can rupture with enough volume or force to totally and permanently disable the spinal cord
  • Movement of the spine can cause more and more disk material to press on the cord until paralysis ensues
  • Some dogs don’t respond and need advanced referral surgery

If a dog has lost all voluntary movement and pain sensation to the hind legs, there’s still a chance that rapid surgical decompression can save them. However, if paralysis can’t be reversed there’s not much hope for quality of life. I know from bitter experience that no matter what people say about how good their dog is on a cart, the reality of their life is very different.

Neurological Lamenesses In Dogs

I can’t stress enough that the diagnosis must be confirmed by a vet. Many diseases of the nervous system can look exactly the same, such as:

Visit this page for non-neurological causes of lameness in dogs.

Dogs with IVDD often have back pain at the time of the spinal injury, shown by arching of the back, shivering and lethargy. It’s especially important to be aware of signs of the disease in susceptible breeds such as the Dachshund, Beagle, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso or Pekingese. Sometimes the main problem is pain from nerve root compression, not neurological dysfunction.

Confirmation of the diagnosis is only possible with advanced imaging such as CT scans or MRI. However, in most cases the combination of the history and examination plus plain x-rays are enough for vets to be confident. X-rays such as Rickey’s often show a narrow disk space and/or calcified disk material visible in the spinal canal.

There are two options for treatment:

1. Conservative Treatment

For dogs with mild to moderate signs, and no further worsening, conservative treatment is often very successful. However, I have personally seen too many dogs get worse with poorly managed conservative treatment.

The theory behind cage rest is that if the dog is kept extremely still, the disk material will stop moving and the body is able to wall off and repair the damage. Dogs must be confined in a cage that is only just big enough to fit their bed plus food and water.

The only times a dog should be allowed out of the cage for at least the first two weeks is while being held to go to the toilet. Yes, it sounds cruel, but if the dog is near the owner, they are usually happy enough. The consequences of failure are just too serious to take chances.

A vital part of conservative treatment is close monitoring by the owner and vet, with the readiness to change course quickly if necessary.

2. Surgical Treatment

Surgical referral is best if a dog is severely affected, has repeated episodes, or fails to respond to conservative treatment. The option of referral is always available even in milder cases even if only for a second opinion and advanced imaging.

Long-term management

Rickey responded well and will eventually be able to return to a normal life. However, he’s always at risk of a recurrence so we’ve made a few changes:

  • Weight loss: he wasn’t fat but we want him as thin as is comfortable
  • No high impact activity: walking is good, running and jumping are bad
  • No access to furniture: an example would be settling in a crate at night to stop a dog jumping on the bed

Rickey’s case was successful for more than one reason. When his owner rang for a Saturday appointment, we were already booked to 5:30pm and the nurse, to her credit, didn’t hesitate to slot him in, even though it was ‘only a leg problem’. Who could have guessed over the phone how much danger Rickey was in?

Now Read: The Link Between Neutering & IVDD In Dachshunds

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! My Cat Was Hit By A Car

cat car injury

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

What To Do If A Cat Is Hit By A Car

  1. Do not chase if runs away- follow without adding stress
  2. If severely injured, protect your hands when picking up
  3. Lift injured cats wrapped in a blanket if possible
  4. Take straight to a vet to check for internal injuries

Now dive deeper.

First, how to tell if a cat has been hit by a car…

The Signs Of Road Trauma In Cats

Cats get a variety of symptoms depending on which area has been damaged. They include:

claws after road injury
  • Frayed nails (see picture)
  • Greyish smudges on the hair
  • Poor leg use or limping
  • Breathing heavily from chest trauma
  • Hiding or lethargy from pain

These three stories might help explain better how cats can get injured by cars.


Lily came to us after arriving home one evening unable to walk on her hind leg. Somehow she’d managed to get over a high fence to get home.

Like most cases, the car injury was not seen, and she didn’t seem too bad at first.

We examined her and apart from a very painful hip region she was in reasonably good shape. We placed a drip and took two full-body X-rays.

The half-serious name we give this view is a ‘Cat-o-gram’. It quickly shows in two views a survey of all the important structures likely to be damaged in road trauma. These are: spine, pelvis, hips, thigh bone (femur), lungs, abdominal wall, bladder and diaphragm (see below).

We took extra views of her hip confirming a dislocation. These can usually be easily put back in so we anaesthetised her to do just that.

However, in this case the hip just wouldn’t stay in and kept coming straight out again. She needed surgery.

The next day we operated and found the soft tissues around the hip had been so badly damaged there was no way of reconstructing the joint. The only option was what we call an “excisional arthroplasty” or “femoral head and neck excision”. We removed the top of the femur, and made an artificial soft tissue joint.

It won’t be perfect, but she’ll have normal mobility and will be pain free. Once she heals you’ll have a hard time telling she isn’t like other cats. Here she is after surgery.


Charlie is a sadder story. He came in one morning after being missing for a while. He didn’t seem too bad but his owner thought he wasn’t himself and brought him in for a check.

cat sacral fracture

When we examined him two things struck us straight away. His tail was paralysed, he was leaking urine and his bladder was too large. Fearing the worst, we anaesthetised him to take this X-ray.

There is a fracture (arrowed) diagonally through the sacrum (the part of the spine attached to the pelvis). The amount of separation, and his symptoms told us that the spinal cord nerves had all been severed at this point.

The saddest thing was knowing that although he looked OK, and a despite paralysed tail being no big deal, he would never be able to urinate by himself again.

I’ve tried in the past to keep these cats going, but the nursing care is nearly impossible to do well. I always regretted not making the right decision early enough. I advised immediate euthanasia to spare him any further suffering, and thankfully his owner agreed.

His owner, who loves his cats, has since rescued a cat from a local shelter. I hear he’s an inside cat now.


Tux is a kitten who was found by one of our clients on a local road. We started looking after her and she seemed fine at first. She had a good appetite, put on weight and generally enjoyed her lucky break.

After a few days we noticed her breathing was becoming laboured so we took the X-rays you can see here. When you compare them to Lily’s earlier images you can see that there is no clear division  between the chest (black) and the abdomen (mostly white). In other words, you can’t see the diaphragm and it all looks a mess.

This plus the fact that she was found on a road led us to the diagnosis of a diaphragmatic hernia. This happens when a cat is run right over, and the abdominal pressure ruptures the diaphragm, forcing abdominal organs into the chest space. Cats can usually breathe well enough at first, but fluid and adhesions form making it harder and harder.

This is the main reason why all cats suspected of being in a car accident must have X-rays. They also get ruptured bladders and abdominal hernias at the same time.

Despite Tux’s tiny size and the high risk, Dr Claire successfully operated. Tux’s liver and intestines were put into their rightful place in the abdomen and the tear in the diaphragm was sutured.

Update: Tux came in one year later, this time with a tail degloving injury, which required tail amputation. She’s very lucky; most cats with tail-pull injuries also lose urinary and faecal control like Charlie.

This only repeats what we always say: cats who get hit by cars keep getting hit, unless the owners get them away from cars.

Do Cats Have Nine Lives?

Of course they just have one. We say they have nine lives because:

  • Cats are curious and exploratory, making serious injuries common
  • Cats are very resilient to trauma, and often survive things other species wouldn’t
  • There are lots of cats. In the old days people probably never knew which stray cat was which
  • They keep getting injured- cats don’t usually learn from car accidents

The most common cause of death in cats is still the motor vehicle. But there is some good news. It’s definitely getting better as more and more cats are kept inside. And not all cats die; amazingly, if cats find the strength to get home, vets can usually save them.

These feline patients were al hit by cars. Their stories are typical of the sorts of injuries and recoveries we regularly see.

To completely prevent car injuries requires cats either staying inside or only going outside in enclosed cat runs. Many people let their cats out during the day, and in quiet streets with unadventurous cats this is usually OK. It does seem that most (but not all)  accidents occur at night.

However, being outside without supervision also puts cats at risk of FIV infection (cat AIDS). Please ask us about vaccinating against this extremely common disease.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.