Causes Of Limping On Front & Back Legs

Updated February 20, 2024

We’ve written a guide to the common causes of limping in puppies and dogs. This companion page is designed to help you narrow down the possibilities based on which leg is lame.

Causes of Limping On A Back Leg

Causes Of Limping On A Front Leg

  • Angular limb deformity
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Biceps tendon injury
  • Carpal sprain
  • Arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Bone Cancer
  • Sprains
  • Muscle Tears
  • Grass seeds and other foreign bodies
  • Pad, Nail and Skin Problems

Which Leg Is A Dog Limping On?

Our video shows the characteristic head bob of a left foreleg lameness. The ‘up’ phase of the head bob is in time with using the affected leg so that the upward movement takes weight off the leg. However, it’s often easier to see the head drop. Here’s how:

  • Get the dog trotting towards you from a distance of 10 to 20 metres
  • Start by watching the head and counting the rhythm: “up, down, up, down, up, down etc”
  • Now keep counting the rhythm and shift your gaze to the legs
  • The leg that is in use when you say “up” is the leg the dog is limping on

Dogs are notorious for not limping at the vet so if you bring along a video like this it helps a lot! There’s no easy way to explain how to tell which back leg a dog is limping on but the vet should be able to tell from the video and examination.

Do Dogs Fake A Limp?

Believe it or not, I get asked this question a lot. The answer is no: a limp always means something and it is almost always caused by pain. Now visit Why Dogs Limp to learn more!

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. 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.

26 Replies to “Causes Of Limping On Front & Back Legs”

  1. Hello,
    I have a two year old border collie, who is very active and enjoys open hillsides (Scotland). After a few days of long hill walks recently, she has started to pull up her rear left leg after resting; the length of time that she holds it up for correlates well with prior activity levels, and can range from seconds up to a minute. X-ray at the vet and mobility check of knee (while under) showed nothing. Loxicom for the last three weeks; the first two of which she was housebound with short walks on lead round garden. My question is how long would one advise, typically, to bring the dog’s activity level up to normal (though the new normal is more restricted on endurance activity)? I ask, as the third week (this last week) was spent ramping up time of exercise off lead – and her ‘lameness’ has returned. Second question – is ultrasound a good alternative to MRI for looking for strains / sprains? Kep is insured, so we’d be happy with asking for either, or both. Many thanks.

    1. Hi Ross. I have no experience with MRI, but at this stage we would often order a CT to look for subtle changes to the joints and bones. If this were negative, a skilled ultrasonographer can often identify ligament and tendon damage. This is what is likely to be wrong with your dog given the recurrence after a relatively short period of rest. Your choices are a longer course of meloxicam and rest (4 to 6 weeks) or as you suggest, further diagnostics or referral. Make sure at the same time that your dog is close to their ideal weight as excessive weight has a surprisingly large influence on sporting injuries in young dogs.

      1. Andrew, thank you for your reply. Much appreciated. A good point about weight, and worth me keeping in mind. She’s at a steady 14.5 kg, and I can even ‘clamp’ my hands around her loin (left & right hand finger and thumb tips touching). I like the idea of a CT, to be sure, and I am pleased that you say a skilled ultrasonographer should be able to spot ligament and tendon damage. Thank you again.

  2. My 12 year old dog is limping on the real left side. She was diognosed 5 weeks with diabetic. What could be the cause

  3. We have an almost 11 month old Goldendoodle pup, not fat who started to limp on his left front leg a day or so ago. He has no pain with palpation to his leg. He does use the leg to hold his toys, put it on your lap when wanting affection or to be pet and will run or walk on it, but if he is sitting or standing he will lift it up almost all the time when stationary. No injury or trauma to the leg that we saw or know of prior to this, also no wounds found.

    1. Hi Matt. There is no reason to be alarmed yet if it’s only been happening for 24 hours. It’s also worth pointing out that dogs with a limp probably almost always have pain, it’s just that they don’t demonstrate it in any obvious way. My advice is go to the vet but unless they find something, they are likely to treat for a soft tissue injury and that will almost certainly be effective.

  4. Hi. I’ve got a 7 year old staffy. 2 months ago she fell off the sofa and hurt her front left leg. We went to the vets and they gave her anti inflammatory tablets for 4 weeks which didn’t seem to do much. After a while she stopped limping. 2 months on she has now started limping again. It’s very odd tho cos she will run after a ball fine and some days walk on 4 legs properly,but after rest she’s limping alot again. I’ve put her on joint care but it’s not working very well. Does anyone have any ideas on what it could be.

    1. Hi Kira. The most likely reason it’s happening is simply because Staffies are not good at listening to their body! Limping is always most obvious after rest, but when a dog gets excited (such as when chasing the ball) they forget about the limp and run like there’s nothing wrong. The answer with these dogs is usually to enforce a period of leash-only activity as you can’t trust them to make the right decision on how much to use the leg during the recovery phase. Good luck.

  5. Hi I have a 6 munth old labradoodle x Fletcher that has a knee injury going for xray shortly vet suspects a fractured knee can I have your option on the best tretment opshens for this pleas

    1. Hi Natasha. The only common fracture of the knee of a young dog is avulsion of the tibial crest. You can find it on the sister page: Help! My dog is limping. There is a x-ray of a typical repair. Other than that, will have to wait and see what the x-rays say. Hopefully there isn’t a fracture at all but feel free to get back to me once you have more information.

  6. Hi Andrew, we have a Labrador, almost 4, who has recently started limping on his front left leg. Previously healthy and durable. Checking his pads, paws, reveals nothing. He doesn’t appear to be in pain at all. Grabbing all of his legs and feeling all the way up reveals nothing also. He walks once, sometimes twice, a day. Yesterday the limp was intermittent, but after his second walk, this morning the limp is a bit more pronounced. He is still eating and still a very happy dog. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Chris. It honestly could be anything at this age but thankfully he’s still a bit young to worry about osteosarcoma. Some of these are just soft tissue injuries (eg sprains) that do get better when managed properly.

  7. My 7 year old staffy, pulls up lame in the back leg after doing strenuous exercise(chasing at full speed) she is fine after her morning runs but she now limps a few steps after laying down for long periods and then puts her weight back on it after a few steps.

    1. Hi Jayde. She’s very young to be having this happen. I suspect she’s either starting to have problems with her cruciate ligament or early onset arthritis (or possibly both as they are often related).

  8. Hi I have a 5 month old labrabor and over the last few weeks have noticed a slight limp on her front leg, it doesn’t seem to borrow her at all when I feel her leg and there is no obvious cause. When she first gets up from lying down her limp is very noticeable but gradually she stops limping. Wondering if it could be something more serious like elbow dysplasia? Or maybe just a strain? Any advice would be muchly appreciated

    1. Hi Danielle. It’s certainly a concern when are young Labrador starts limping on the front leg. Although it may be an injury, it is definitely a stitch in time to see a vet before trying to wait it out at home. It may just be an injury from too much vigourous play but yes, elbow dysplasia you have correctly identified as the greatest threat. Good luck.

  9. Hi. I was wondering if you might have an idea what is causing our 18 month old kelpie mix to limp. It’s her front left leg and it is a result of overuse. It started a week ago after she spent a day running around a lot and playing with another dog. I have felt/massaged the entire leg and she doesn’t bat an eyelid or indicate that she’s in any pain, but she doesn’t really bare any weight on it. Most of the time she does use it but holds it out to the side slightly, as if the problem is in her shoulder, and hobbles. And sometimes she hops around on three legs.
    She still wants to run around and play like crazy and when she’s caught up in the moment, you can’t tell that she has a limp really. She seems completely unconcerned about her leg and we are really struggling to get her to rest. It does seem to improve after rest.
    I found this article really helpful thank you, and was wondering if she may have a biceps tendon injury or a carpal sprain. I know it’s difficult without seeing her but I wondered if you would get any ideas from my description or if you would be able to suggest the best course of action to take with regards to vets and how strict we should be with making her rest. We are really hoping that we don’t have to cage her as she would be so bored and miserable.
    Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    1. Hi Emily. I think you are spot on with the most likely diagnoses in a young, active kelpie. However, you should definitely get your vet’s opinion as these are only the most likely answers, not the only ones, and also because the use of anti-inflammatories usually speeds up healing. You shouldn’t need a cage but it might take an extended period of rest to resolve the problem.

  10. Any help greatly appreciated.
    My daughter rescued a 3 1/2 year old ‘we think’ American Bulldog x in July of this year (2018). First week seemed OK, jumped onto the bed and then off he yelped. Began limping front right leg. Rested as much as possible, stopping zoomies etc very difficulty,. One week course of anti inflammatorys. Then X-rays and another course of anti inflammatory’s. Still limping. Vet said couldn’t find anything wrong, but could be an old injury, my question is wouldn’t an old injury show up on XRay? My daughter is hesitant to walk him. He can weight bear, jump up, no cries or yelps of pain.

    Doesn’t seem to limp as much walking around the house or yard only for walks (which he looks loves). Help?

    1. Hi Jenny. Foreleg lameness can be very frustrating, especially when xrays are negative. I have three pieces of advice:
      1. Go back and see the vet again. They probably didn’t xray every part of the joint for cost reasons but it may be worth it now. It’s often more obvious on the second physical where the problem is as well.
      2. Consider carpal sprains. These are easy to spot if you look, as the affected carpus won’t fold neatly back along the radius/ulna without the dog resisting due to discomfort. The other one is used as comparison.
      3. If no joy, get a second opinion or ask for a referral. Don’t put up with it- every dog is fixable.

      1. Thank you so much Andrew,

        Will see what happens at tomorrow’s Vet visit!
        If they are not capable, I will then find another Vet.

      2. Was told by one of the Vets that it could be a torn ligament or tendon, but would require a CT or MRI. Rest and short walks etc, basically what I thought. If the CT wasn’t over $1,000 I’d get it done, but can’t afford at the moment. Will watch carefully and rest as much as possible.

  11. Is it always necessary to have an X-ray if a dog is limping? Our 5 year old dog limps for a few minutes when she gets up after resting. Is it possible to treat or check without the expense of an X-ray?

    1. Hi Jo. Good question- the answer is “not always necessary, but often advisable”. I’ve actually written a whole article on deciding to do vet tests here.
      Essentially, it comes down to your attitude to risk. It’s perfectly fine to make an assumption that the problem is minor and just treat the symptoms, as long as it’s an informed decision. Vets in the first instance will always recommend X-rays because if they don’t, and the problem ends up being something that needed a diagnosis to control it, they will be negligent. However, many cases don’t need investigation or X-rays don’t end up being helpful.
      Having said all this, I do advise X-rays in your case. Your dog isn’t of an age where limping is expected to happen. If it’s arthritis, for example, proper management now will mean a slowing down of disease progression. The best thing is to talk it over with your vet.
      Good luck!

  12. My dog is seeing our vet tonight because of her limping. Her back right leg seems to be the one. She had a hip Xray for dysplasia about 16 months ago and was found not to have that. So now we want something we can do for her to help her.

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