Reasons your dog is limping

You know the heart-sinking feeling. Your dog is happily playing in the backyard, and suddenly limps back to you. Whether they didn’t land properly after catching a frisbee, or developed the limp for seemingly no reason, you are concerned whether your furry pal has a debilitating injury, or simply overdid things. Your primary care veterinarian can determine the injury severity, and may refer you to a specialist if they diagnose a debilitating condition. AVES’ board-certified veterinary surgeons are skilled in a variety of orthopedic procedures to help pets return to normal activity, and enjoy a pain-free future. 

A dog will limp for many reasons. Here are three common orthopedic conditions that may be to blame, which our AVES team can diagnose and treat. 

Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) disease

Your dog’s CCL, which is similar to a human anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), helps stabilize their knee joint. Chronic, silent deterioration can weaken the CCL, leaving it vulnerable to injury. A wrong landing after catching a frisbee, or pivoting to chase a ball, may cause a sudden CCL tear, making the condition seem like an acute injury. Dogs with a CCL injury typically cannot bear weight on the affected back leg, although some may have less severe signs, particularly if the tear is incomplete.

Many surgical procedures can correct an unstable knee joint after CCL injury, but tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) is considered the gold standard treatment, particularly for larger and more active dogs. We most often recommend TPLO, which typically offers the best long-term outcome for dogs with CCL injury, and minimizes their chances of future arthritis. During a TPLO, our surgeons realign the tibia’s proximal portion (i.e., the top portion of the tibia below the knee) to create a more stable knee joint that no longer requires a CCL for normal function.  

Medial patellar luxation (MPL)

Your dog’s patella (i.e., kneecap) normally glides up and down in the femoral groove, a depression at the bottom of the femur (i.e., thigh bone), as they walk or run. In dogs with MPL, the patella deviates to the inside of the leg when the knee is flexed, which causes discomfort. Affected dogs typically hold the leg up when the patella is dislocated, and walk normally when the patella is normally positioned. 

A combination of musculoskeletal abnormalities, which may include a shallow femoral groove, tibial malformation, quadriceps muscle tightness, and a longer-than-normal patellar tendon, are often responsible for interfering with proper limb alignment. MPL treatment typically requires a combination of surgical procedures to correct a dog’s individual musculoskeletal defects, and re-establish proper patellar alignment. Surgery may include deepening the femoral groove, reconstructing soft tissues surrounding the knee joint, and moving the tibial crest (i.e., the bony prominence where the patellar tendon attaches below the knee joint). Our orthopedic surgeons will choose the combination of procedures that will best address the cause for your dog’s MPL.

Hip and elbow dysplasiaWhy is my dog limping?

Hip and elbow dysplasia involve abnormal development of important weight-bearing joints that leads to arthritis, pain, and limping. These conditions most often affect large-breed dogs, who often experience bilateral problems (i.e., disease in the right and left legs). 

The ball-and-socket hip joint is composed of the femoral head (i.e., the ball) and acetabulum (i.e., the socket) on each side of the pelvis. Hip dysplasia leads to a shallow acetabulum and flattened femoral head, so the two bones no longer fit together to form a smoothly functioning joint. The elbow is a complex joint composed of three bones—the humerus, radius, and ulna. Elbow dysplasia involves multiple developmental abnormalities of these bones, which interferes with normal articulation. In both cases, abnormal joint loading leads to joint deterioration.

While mild cases of hip and elbow dysplasia can often be managed with medications and physical therapies, severe cases that cause pain and limping require surgical correction. Our board-certified veterinary surgeons often perform joint replacement procedures—total hip replacement (THR) and total elbow replacement (TER)—to replace damaged joints with new, pain-free joints that allow pets to live more fulfilling lives.

Serious orthopedic conditions require a specialist’s experience and expertise. Our board-certified veterinary surgeons can offer your limping dog the best chance for a full recovery, and minimize their chance of long-term problems. Contact us if your primary care veterinarian has diagnosed an orthopedic issue in your pet.