Guidelines for evaluation.

By Seth Ganz, DVM, DACVS

Board Certified in Surgery

Most of us have hurt an arm or a leg at some point, and our pets can also experience similar orthopedic issues. Fortunately, some problems will resolve on their own, but some can require intervention. As surgeons, we evaluate patients every day for limping. 

Lameness is most often a result of pain coming from somewhere within the limb. Occasionally, lameness is from a mechanical issue without pain, or from a source away from the limb, like a pinched nerve in the neck. Here are some guidelines for pet owners with pets that are limping. 

First of all, it is never wrong to have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian – and subsequently by a board certified surgeon if necessary – if you notice a change in the way that they are walking. Most self-resolving injuries are strains or sprains of soft tissue that tend to come on suddenly, be worse at first, but then resolve within hours to days. If your pet is suddenly not putting any weight on the leg, especially if there seems to be “looseness” to the limb, or if trauma was witnessed, emergency evaluation is appropriate. Less severe limping that is not improving within a week should also be checked out.

There are some patterns of limping that are suggestive of certain conditions. 

  • Patellar luxationis a common condition in small dogs and tends to produce a “skipping” motion where one or the other hind limb comes up off of the ground for a few steps intermittently. 
  • Hip dysplasiais more common in larger dogs and produces a swaying hind end, stiffness, “bunny hopping” with the back legs moving together during running, causing the dog to not want to jump up, or being able to keep up with other dogs. 
  • Cranial cruciate ligament diseaseis a very common cause of limping in dogs and typically causes a noticeable classic limp on a hind leg, or sometimes in both. 

These conditions often benefit from evaluation and treatment by a surgeon. Typically, a pet owner feeling a leg to try to determine what the problem is, does not help with a diagnosis and can be dangerous for both pet and owner. 

As my clients always tell me, you’ll hope not to have to see me, but we’re here if you need us!