10 Myths About Limping

Dog on couch

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.WalkaHound.com).

Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

Dogs presented for limping are very common in my surgery practice. Here are 10 classic misconceptions I hear from clients that ultimately prolong recovery.

Myth #1: “My dog is holding his leg up so I think he hurt his foot.”
Fact: When a dog holds the leg up or is limping, it could be because of anything in the leg. It could be a problem with a tendon, ligament, joint, bone or muscle. And it could be related to any part of the foot, ankle, knee or hip.

Myth #2: “My dog has been limping on and off for three months. I think he has a pulled muscle.”
Fact: Many clients believe that their dog is limping because of a pulled muscle. In reality, a pulled muscle is rare in dogs. Don't wait to see your veterinarian when your dog is limping.

Myth #3: “My dog has been limping on and off for a year, it's no big deal right?”
Fact: Allowing him to limp on and off for a year is a big problem because it can lead to arthritis, weak muscles and poor range of motion – not to mention ongoing pain.

Myth #4: “My veterinarian gave my dog pain medications for his limping and now he's fine.”
Fact: Just because he is better on pain medicine, doesn't mean the issue has resolved. The medications are just masking the pain, which means that he can get worse because he is now using the injured leg. Learn how straining an injured leg can lead to amputation.

Myth #5: “My dog was diagnosed with a dislocated kneecap, but he doesn't seem to be bothered by it and isn't in any pain. He's fine right?”
Fact: Ignoring a dislocated kneecap is not good because it invariably leads to arthritis and could possibly cause a torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament).

Myth #6: “My dog seems very uncomfortable in his hind end, but my veterinarian took X-rays that look good, my veterinarian still wants to treat? Shouldn't we wait?”
Fact: Dogs can have decent hips on X-rays but be uncomfortable. Or they can have terrible looking X-rays yet seem fairly comfortable. We should always treat the dog, not the X-rays.

Myth #7: “I'm adopting this really cute dog! He looks healthy so he doesn't need an exam right?”
Fact: Before you adopt a dog, you should research the breed for common medical issues and specifically common orthopedic problems, which could mean thousands of dollars in surgery. Always take your prospective pet to a veterinarian for a thorough exam. Click here for the new puppy checklist.

Myth #8: “My dog limps once in a while, but it's not because he is in pain, he still runs around and never cries or whimpers.”
Fact: The reality is that your dog doesn't want to put full weight on his leg because he knows it would hurt. Dogs do not need to cry or whine to be in pain. In fact, most of my lame patients don’t cry despite their lameness.

Myth #9: “My dog started to limp. My veterinarian did an exam on all of his legs, took X-rays and found nothing, I don't need more tests right?”
Fact: Occasionally, a dog limps because of a neurological problem such as a slipped disc, immune mediated diseases or a hormone disease such as Cushing’s Disease.

Myth #10: “I give a pain medication to treat my dog’s arthritis, that's enough right?”
Fact: Anti-inflammatory drugs or pain medications are not a treatment or a cure for arthritis. They merely mask the pain. Treating arthritis requires other modalities such as joint supplements, weight loss and special food.

This list is not exhaustive, but does cover some of the most common assumptions I hear on a daily basis. Hopefully, dispelling these myths will help you help your dog.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Sunday, October 19, 2014