Blue Cross blog

Why is your pet limping?

Posted on 03 Sep 2012


What does it mean if your cat or dog is limping? And what should you do? Blue Cross chief vet Caroline Reay reveals more about this problem and what causes it… 

Dogs and cats are natural athletes and good mobility is vital for everyday activities, such as chasing a ball or climbing a tree. 

But they can suffer injuries just like their human counterparts. And diagnosis can be hard, especially with soft tissue injuries which don’t show up on X-rays. 

Diagnosing the problem 

When their pet starts limping, owners often suspect a broken bone or something stuck in the foot. 

Animals with broken bones usually won’t use their leg at all and foreign bodies such as grass seeds in the foot often cause sudden obsessive licking of the area (as do cuts, broken claws and allergies). 

Usually vets can easily diagnose broken bones but may need an X-ray for confirmation. 

Ligament injuries and arthritis are other common causes of limping. Arthritis can dramatically worsen for a few days and then improve. 

If your vet thinks this is the cause they may suggest rest and prescribe painkillers rather than immediately X-raying, as arthritis may not show up well on X-rays.

Ligament injuries are also hard to see on X-rays, but may be found by checking for abnormal movement of the joint with the patient relaxed under anaesthetic. 

Specialist techniques such as arthroscopy (using a camera to see inside the joint) or CT imaging may be necessary. 

What to do if your pet is limping 

If your pet is limping, rest never hurts and helps healing. That means no jumping – even on to the sofa – and no stairs. 

Dogs can have short lead walks of five minutes while cats should be kept indoors with a litter tray. Put overweight pets on a diet, as weight loss produces a huge improvement in mobility. 

Use mental exercise to tire an active animal instead. Swap the feeding bowl for food toys, or hide food around the house for your pet to seek out. You may have to give them clues! 

And it’s a myth that it’s never too late to teach new tricks – you can turn a forced rest into an opportunity for you and your pet to develop new skills. 

Finally, follow your vet’s advice and try to be patient. Never give your own painkillers to your pet. Physiotherapy is often worthwhile, but soft tissue strains and sprains may take weeks to heal. 

If you’re having pet problems and you need some advice, we may have the answer. Have a look through our range of free pet care factsheets. 


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