My Pet is Limping...What do I do Next?
One common cause for veterinary visits for dogs and cats is limping. Whether it is a front leg, a back leg, or appears to shift from limb to limb, scheduling a visit with your pet’s veterinarian is the best first step to take to determine the cause and appropriate treatment for the ailment at hand. Many causes for lameness exist, some more obvious and recognizable than others, and it is important to obtain the most accurate diagnosis before beginning treatment.
Your veterinary nurse or technician will first take a detailed history of your pet’s problem to help the doctor determine the best diagnostics to perform. This will likely include questions about when you first noticed the issue, which body parts appear to be affected, if the limp is related to exercise, and if your pet has had any previous musculoskeletal injuries. Based on the information you provide to these and other questions, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and recommend any additional diagnostics he or she will need to accurately diagnose the problem. The most common first-line tests include radiographs and bloodwork, which will help rule out infectious, inflammatory, anatomical, and traumatic causes.
Some causes of limping that are seen often include partial or complete ACL tears, torn toenails, luxating patella, Lyme disease, and soft tissue injuries. Other causes such as a penetrating foreign body in the paw (thorn, cactus spine, etc.), fractured bones, or cancerous tumors can be seen as well. Treatment for ACL tears and luxating patella often includes surgery to stabilize or correct the anatomical structure of the components of the knee joint. Lyme disease, however, once positively diagnosed is treated with antibiotics and supportive care. A torn toenail likely will need to be cut very short and cauterized, while a penetrating foreign body may need to be surgically removed or treated with antibiotics and antibacterial soaking. In many cases, anti-inflammatory medications are indicated to help reduce pain and swelling. Your vet may recommend performing bloodwork to ensure that your pet’s internal organs are healthy enough to handle an anti-inflammatory medication. This is why it is very important to perform thorough testing--to ensure that the appropriate treatments and therapy are started safely to help your pet recover as soon as possible.
In the end, limping is a common reason that animals visit their veterinarian. If you notice your pet is having trouble getting around, or seems painful in one or more of their limbs, do not hesitate to call your local vet clinic and schedule an appointment. The sooner your pet can be seen and diagnosed, the sooner treatment and pain management can be started and the quicker your furry friend can recover from their ailment.