Causes Of Limping On Front & Back Legs

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

  • Patellar luxation
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Cruciate ligament rupture
  • Neurological causes
  • Arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Bone Cancer
  • Sprains
  • Muscle Tears
  • Grass seeds and other foreign bodies
  • Pad, Nail and Skin Problems

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!

Andrew

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.
        Regards,
        Jenny

      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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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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