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We have a small (~10lbs) female dog who is probably 12-15 yo (the adoption center didn't know exactly how old she was when we got her 6 years ago). She's generally in good health and quite active for her age.

Six weeks ago we took her on a not very strenuous hike and the next day she started limping on her right front leg, and she's been limping, sometimes less, sometimes more, since then. She doesn't seem to be in pain - she still walks around and jumps. She seems to limp more after walks.

We took her to the vet a couple of times.

The first time, about five weeks ago, they checked her for painful or abnormal spots on that leg, but couldn't find anything obviously wrong.

The second time, about two weeks ago, they found a hardened piece of sap between the pads of that paw, which they removed. The area was slightly irritated and we thought that was going to fix it, but she's still limping slightly on the same foot.

The vet didn't think it was necessary to take x-rays at either of these visits.

Would an x-ray still be useful? What else could we do to understand the cause and try to fix it? Can this kind of long term, low level limp cause any other side effects if not understood and treated?

BTW, we've been taking her on hikes since we adopted her, and she enjoys the outdoors. This is the first time she's had any problems after a hike.

Update: after a few weeks, the limp went away by itself and Lucy is now back to her old self, going on long walks or hikes without any problem.

I still don't know what caused the limp in the first place, or why it went away, but I'm going to assume that it wasn't anything serious.

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  • I might try a different vet, or a different approach. I haven't owned a dog in a very long time myself, but I have friends with several dogs, and each time one has started to limp, it ended up being bone cancer starting in that leg.
    – Allison C
    Jul 13, 2023 at 14:19
  • Limping by itself will not cause significant side effects. Understanding the cause may or may not be helpful. X-rays may or may not be helpful; you need to decide whether it's worth the investment and whether the information produced is likely to change your treatment plan. At that age, arthritis seems likely but that may just be because at my age, arthritis seems likely.
    – keshlam
    Jul 14, 2023 at 5:14

3 Answers 3

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I'm not a vet, but I'm the (former) owner of a senior dog. He had similar issues - and there's a lot of similarities to the problems he had.

One of my vets suggested videoing his gait, which was helpful. At about 12-13 we got told to limit his walks (though practically, he was cutting back on the distance himself, so... we didn't.). In our case it was an old injury (from a previous owner dropping him as a puppy), arthritis and general old age. I don't think we ever did an xray for the leg tho.

I'd suggest a few things

foot inflammations take time to heal

The second time, about two weeks ago, they found a hardened piece of sap between the pads of that paw, which they removed. The area was slightly irritated and we thought that was going to fix it, but she's still limping slightly on the same foot.

Assuming she's bare foot, keeping the paw clean and dry helps. We used to wipe after every walk and apply iodine solution when/if there was inflammation. Those little single application iodine q-tips are great for that

I also knew a dog that wore booties on one foot cause apparently it was sensitive and she would limp otherwise. If your dog's out in the outdoors booties are a good idea, though I'm entirely familiar with the 'fun' of training your dog to accept it (and ours never did).

If its not just the foot, and you're suspecting muscle issues or such massaging your dog can help. I can't find the youtube video I was recommended (its been years!) but there's a few similar ones around.

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We had a similar problem with our dog once she got into her senior years. Our dog was bigger and overweight, so that could have contributed to the problem.

We noticed a slight increase in limping when our dog ran or jumped on hard surfaces like a street or gravel road, but ultimately we never found a simple cause we could avoid.

However, there are things you can avoid to help your dog.

  • Don't overexert her. Keep on walking her regularly, but not on long hikes. Try to limit play times to games that don't require running or jumping. We have collected some ideas here.
  • Try to avoid any situation where your dog has to jump down. Many people allow their dogs on the sofa, but for a small dog the jump down can result in their joints having to catch a lot of force. Try building her a step with a turned over crate or sturdy box.
  • Swimming is often used in physio therapy to strengthen patients while taking it easy on the joints. If your dog likes swimming and you have the opportunity, encourage her to do it more often. You could also conduct your own physio therapy by making her walk through a kiddy pool filled only so the water doesn't reach her chest.

If this is an acute inflammation, you should expect her to limp for several more weeks and you should encourage her to rest for 4 more weeks.

If this is age-related arthritis, you need to take it into consideration for the rest of her life. She won't be able to manage long hikes and you should plan on returning her home earlier or carrying her over difficult terrain and long distances. You should also keep an eye on her body language. Some dogs hide discomfort and pain until it's too much to hide anymore. A hanging head and tail indicate that your dog isn't in her best mood anymore or exhausted from the long walk, so you should stop before you notice any obvious signs of pain.

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This sounds exactly like my case. My dog is 9 now and I noticed a similar problem. She had very infrequent limping when she was younger, which might just have been sporadic and had a direct recent cause to it. I was persuaded she had an old injury. As she turned 8, I started making her follow me on the bike, and the limping increased. This has happened after a long hike as well.

I had an X-ray performed on her at the occasion of a teeth cleaning, but the vet did not find anything and told me literally "This is normal for a dog this age. Running alongside the bike is a lot for her now. It might be that there is an old injury, it might not be as well. They all have a bit of limping when they age."

And then one day my dog saw a cat and projected herself front, I held her back with the leash, and the limping immediately started. I understood that the limping on the bike was probably increased by her straining against the harness : she was pulling me like a husky when she was excited and wanted to run.

The vet recommended me to give her MSM (organic sulfate, I really recommend it, I take some myself and so does the vet) and be more careful. I stopped the bike, and my dog has not limped since now that I think about it. But I know that it will happen again eventually...

Based on my experience, I advise that now you give her a day a proper rest when you gave her a day of hiking. I noticed that my dog values her resting time more with age.

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