Two Reason Why Your Dog Could Suddenly Start Limping


Has your dog suddenly started limping, have a little catch in his step, or walk on three legs? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then two common problems may have occurred.

First, your dog may have injured his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).

The cruciate ligament is a cross-shaped structure in the knee joint that is designed to stabilize the knee in a front to back direction. Damage to this structure causes instability and a forward motion of the tibia relative to the femur. This condition is called an anterior drawer sign. The presence of the anterior drawer sign on an exam is diagnostic for damage to the cruciate apparatus. Your dog may “toe step” or limp usually but then sprint after a squirrel, or play rough when he gets excited about something. Then he will return to his abnormal gait and seemingly not want to use the injured leg.

ACL injuries are one of the most common injuries in dogs. All breeds are affected, but young, athletic dogs have a higher incidence. Obesity is also a common factor that predisposes pets to excessive strain on these ligaments.

Another common condition that your dog may have is a Luxating Patella, which is an unstable kneecap.

This condition usually happens in small dogs due to an anatomically shallower groove for the patella/knee cap to slide through. Over time, the inner side of the femoral groove wears down and just cannot hold the patella in place. The cartilage surface eventually wears down and becomes painful as the condition progresses. This condition is also prevalent in pets with increased curvature of their lower leg bone (tibial curvature). This abnormal curvature places undue strain on the patellar ligament, and it cannot hold the patella in its groove. A corrective bone surgery may be necessary to repair this even before a repair of the patella can be considered. 

When a dog suffers from a luxating patella, it will pop in and out of the femoral groove as he flexes his knee and straightens it.  Sometimes this is noticed by owners when their dog becomes unable to jump in their laps or on the couch anymore the way that they used to. He will suddenly limp and/or only use three legs.

If your pet experiences either of the conditions above, x-rays are an essential tool in helping us determine the severity and extent of the disease. Both conditions may respond temporarily to anti-inflammatory medication and restricted activity, however, both usually require some type of surgery to stabilize the knee.

If left alone, the initial pain from the trauma will appear to improve over a week or two, but the knee will be noticeably swollen, and arthritis will set in quickly.

There are many procedures available to repair the knee. Dr. Robinson has the orthopedic experience to correct many of these cases and can also help you determine if a specialist is needed. Let us help you decide which method is the best fit for your pet.  Contact us today for an appointment.


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