Have You Ever Been Stumped About Why Your Dog Is Limping?

Limping can mean many things, Here's how we're helping diagnose Corona, our senior Lab.

Last Updated on May 13, 2015 by Dogster Team

Corona is our 17-year-old Lab mix, who’s doing quite well. I’ve written about her before, when I transitioned her from an outdoor dog to an indoor dog. She got lucky with some amazing genes, and she has amazing energy for a dog her age. My veterinarian in Minnesota called her “the wonder dog.” She still has a lot of strength.

A few weeks ago, we noticed her limping, and deliberately lifting her left front leg and putting weight on her right front leg. We didn’t see or feel anything unusual in the leg, and we took her into the vet. We’re just beginning to know this vet after our move, but I had liked her manner and approach after she treated Zorro a few weeks ago.

The vet first watched Corona walk down a hallway. Sometimes it was difficult to tell whether Corona was favoring one leg or both. Then the veterinarian did a thorough hands-on exam. She carefully felt both front legs and paws, and she gently moved the joints. She didn’t feel anything suspicious, such as lumps.

Next, she felt along the spine, particularly the upper spine. She explained that because the leg muscles articulate into the spine, inflammation in the spine could be causing the limp. I remember thinking, “I’m a yoga teacher — I should have thought of that!” Sometimes, I forget what I know about human anatomy. I do know, from personal experience and from working with yoga students, that muscle injuries (particularly ligament tears) can take a long long time to heal, especially in older people. Corona has already lived longer than most dogs get to live.

The vet did one more thing that was very interesting — she gently lifted and lowered Corona’s head. The vet was looking for signs of pain, which might indicate inflamed spinal discs. Corona didn’t cry out during the exam at all (and has never cried out at home), but she definitely looked uncomfortable and resisted when the vet raised her head.

The vet suggested this course of action. We did a full blood panel (which was stellar), and the vet prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (chewable pills) for the next two weeks. If Corona did not improve in the next few weeks, an X-ray would be the next step, to take a closer look. In addition, we were given these instructions:

1. Limit movement — really limit movement

In this case, we had to retrain our own brains. I thought that limiting Corona to the sun porch would do the trick, but as I said, she is energetic and up and down quite a bit. When she didn’t seem to be improving, I called the vet. They told me I needed to be stricter and keep Corona in her kennel all day. If this is an inflamed disc, that’s the only way that it can begin to heal.

2. Raise food and water dishes

The vet told us to raise our dog’s food and water dishes, so that she didn’t have to strain her neck (and aggravate that possible injury) when she was eating or drinking. I found yet another creative use for one of our six cat carriers!

3. Use a harness instead of a collar

Again, I learned a lot. I’m more familiar with cats, and am not that aware of options for dogs. But when the vet told us to get Corona a harness instead of a collar, it suddenly made perfect sense. It’s less strain on her neck and upper back. She adapted to it immediately. (Again, quite a difference from cats.)

4. Take very short and limited walks

This involved more learning and awareness on my part. I did shorten her walks, but I did not realize how limited her movement really needed to be. It’s tough with her, because she acts energetic. She wants to go go go, and I need to help her really tone it down.

When I called the vet because Corona didn’t seem to be improving, they said she really should be going just right outside the door, and walking as little as possible. Since we don’t have a fenced yard, and since we do have a lot of predators and she’s not trained off-leash, I take her out on her leash and harness and I really make it very short, with as few steps as possible. It’s very different from our previous long walks! (And part of me wonders if I helped aggravate this possible injury with my love of walking and her love of walking and being outside.)

I don’t think this has been too hard for her, surprisingly. I think it’s been harder for us, because we’re so used to seeing this dog bounding around and we have to remember that she shouldn’t. She really needs to stay as still as possible. We haven’t completely figured this out yet, but we’re hoping that it is indeed inflammation that can be managed, and not something more serious like cancer.

If the current course of action doesn’t bring improvement, then we’ll be back to the vet and figure out what’s next. Corona seems happy and interested in everything, as usual, even given her very limited time outside.

Has your dog had a limp? What did you do to treat the problem? How did it turn out?

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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