What Causes Chronic Limping in Young Dogs?

 |  Jun 30th 2008  |   9 Contributions


I have a three-year-old Lab who limps quite
frequently, and the pain seems to be in his front
leg or paw. It is most evident when he is
walking downstairs. I have mentioned this to my
vet repeatedly and he says it could be muscle
strain and to not walk him for a few days. That
doesn't help. I have him on chondroitin but to
no avail. This is continual. What can I do to
get this diagnosed properly? Do you suggest an
MRI?

Thank you!

Val
Newtown Square, PA

Soft tissue trauma (muscle strain or a mildly injured joint) is the most common cause of limping in young dogs. This sort of injury usually is caused by rough play, over-exertion, or landing incorrectly after jumping.

Limping caused by soft tissue trauma generally improves after a few days of rest. I have seen cases in which dogs were not rested properly. This can lead to recurrent injuries and chronic limping.

However, it sounds like you have rested your dog appropriately on more than one occasion. I have a hunch that something else is going on.

Young, large-breed dogs such as Labrador Retrievers may suffer from a number of different problems that can cause chronic limping. Syndromes that may be contributing to your dog's limping include elbow dysplasia and cartilage defects in the elbow, wrist or shoulder. He may have suffered significant trauma to a joint early in life that has resulted in arthritis. As well, several other less common causes could be causing the problem.

I recommend that you have a vet perform a very thorough evaluation of the affected leg. He or she will check for swelling, pain, joint laxity, and other symptoms that can help identify which area of the leg is affected. If your dog exercises heavily just before the exam, the problem spot may be easier to identify.

Once the problem has been localized to a specific area, the next step is to take X-rays of the area. (If the problem can't be localized, consider taking X-rays of all of the joints in the limb.) In most cases X-rays provide a definitive diagnosis. This, in turn, will allow you to treat the problem appropriately.

There are instances in which X-rays do not lead to a diagnosis. In these cases, the next step is arthroscopy or advanced diagnostic imaging (CT or MRI). However, I recommend that that you start with simple tests and work your way up if necessary.

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