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23 Reasons Your German Shepherd is Limping (& When to See a Vet)

A few months ago, my 6-year old German Shepherd started limping on her back leg. It’s not a pleasant sight to see any dog limping, and if your German Shepherd starts limping on either his front legs or back legs, it’s only natural to wonder if it is a minor issue or something more significant. However, before you rush your dog to the vet, you might want to learn more about why he may be limping in the first place.

German Shepherds may limp for various reasons. Minor causes could be simple over-exertion, an insect sting, an ingrowing toenail, or a thorn stuck in the paw. Injury or disease, such as a fracture, sprain, hip dysplasia, spinal cord disease, or bone cancer, can be more serious causes.

These are just a few of the reasons your German Shepherd might be limping, but we’ll cover a great deal more in this article. This will help you figure out what might be wrong with your dog.

I’ll also tell you how to treat your limping German Shepherd at home and when you should take him to the veterinarian.

German Shepherd Mix with a bandaged leg. Why Is My German Shepherd Limping?

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Causes of German Shepherd Limping

Limping is a common occurrence in dogs. It occurs when your dog is unable to walk normally due to pain or weakness. Your dog may walk slowly or awkwardly, and he will generally favor one leg over the other.

There are two types of limping that your German Shepherd may experience. Some forms occur gradually over time, whereas sudden lameness happens instantly, usually after an injury. Some cases are minor and can be managed at home, while others will necessitate the assistance of a medical professional.

Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Limping…

Why is My Dog Limping? 15 Causes of Lameness in Dogs

Here are 23 reasons why your German Shepherd may be limping:

  1. Overexertion. Too much of a good thing such as fetch, frisbee, intense running, or rough play with other dogs can leave your German Shepherd sore and hobbling with a muscle strain. Most dogs, though, will recover quickly after a few days of rest.
  2. Wounds on the footpads. Check your dog’s paws for foreign objects that could cause lacerations, such as a piece of glass, or a nail. Look out for your GSD incessantly licking his paw. Burns caused by hot sidewalks or frostbite can also cause your dog to limp. In extreme weather, hot or cold, get your GSD some booties or paw protectors.
  3. A thorn or stone stuck in the pads. Again carefully check the pads for a thorn or small stone that may have lodged between the paw pads. Remember to keep the fur around the pads and toes trim to enable you to examine the paws easier especially as some dogs find this area quite sensitive.
  4. Toenail injuries. Examine your German Shepherd for ingrowing or overgrown toenails as these can cause discomfort and pain if they dig into the skin. My GSD once had a dewclaw injury that required surgical removal, so make sure you also keep these trim.
  5. An insect sting or animal bite. Stings and bites can cause limping. Your GSD may raise his paw if stung by a wasp or bee. Bites from other animals can result in injury and infection.
  6. Fracture or dislocation. If the limping began suddenly, a fractured leg or a dislocated bone should be suspected. Remember that broken bones aren’t always visible. A shattered bone will prevent your dog from bearing any weight.
  7. Sprain. A sprain occurs when a ligament or tendon is strained or torn. Something as simple as leaping off the couch and landing awkwardly can cause it. Your German Shepherd will be reluctant to put any weight on his leg or paw. 
  8. Hip and elbow dysplasia. Dysplasia is a common hereditary condition in German Shepherds that causes hip and elbow joints to become loose and shift out of position. Sadly, 20.6% of GSD will suffer from bad hips, and 18.8% will have elbow dysplasia.
  9. Osteoarthritis. This persistent, painful condition is more common in older and larger canines. As a result of cartilage deterioration, it causes joint inflammation. Lameness, stiffness, or trouble getting up are all symptoms.
  10. Cruciate ligament injury or disease. This occurs when one or both of the cruciate ligaments that hold the knee together are damaged. Limping is the most common symptom of a cruciate injury, and it can be caused by turning awkwardly, jumping, or twisting. It can happen all of a sudden or gradually.
  11. Luxating patella (dislocated knee). This is when your dog’s kneecap moves out of its natural position. It is common in smaller breeds, but German Shepherds are one of the larger breeds prone to developing luxating patellas. Your dog may be in pain and reluctant to bear weight on the affected limb.
  12. Infection. An infection of the leg or paw can cause your dog to hobble. He may lick and chew the site and may need a course of antibiotics. Also, to prevent further inflammation, your GSD may be advised to wear the dreaded cone of shame (Elizabethan collar).
  13. Lyme disease. This bacterial infection spread by ticks can result in intermittent lameness. Remember to keep on top of your GSD’s flea and tick prevention.
  14. Degenerative Myelopathy. This genetic condition affects the spinal cord, leading to eventual paralysis of the back end in older dogs. Weakness, lameness in the rear legs, and incontinence are all symptoms.
  15. Panosteitis (Wandering Lameness or Growing Pains). Panosteitis is a condition affecting the long bones of the legs due to severe inflammation. It can affect growing large breed pups, aged 5-12 months, including the GSD. It caused a shifting lameness from one bone to another and can occur over several weeks or months.
  16. Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD). This is a bone disease occurring in quick-growing large dogs, usually between the 3 and 5 months stage. The German Shepherd is one of the breeds prone. Signs will be a slight limp and pain in the affected bone.
  17. Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD). OCD is a disease of the cartilage whereby inflammation causes it to separate from the bone. The shoulder is the most usually affected area, however the elbow, hip, and knee can also be impacted. It occurs when large puppies develop too quickly. Symptoms include limping, lameness, and pain. German Shepherds are predisposed to OCD, however, the offending gene has not been identified.
  18. Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD). Hind limb weakness, paralysis, or urinary incontinence are symptoms of this spinal disease. It is caused by intervertebral disk degeneration and protrusion, which compresses the spinal cord. Dog breeds having a short, stout appearance are most commonly affected. However, the GSD is one of the larger dog breeds associated with IVDD.
  19. Lumbosacral Foraminal Stenosis. A degenerative condition of the lower spine resembling sciatica or a slipped disc in humans. The subsequent narrowing can cause nerve compression resulting in lameness. It occurs in medium-large breeds of middle to older age. Unfortunately, German Shepherd and working dogs are susceptible.
  20. Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis. This is an immune system condition that results in inflamed, swollen, and painful joints. Your German Shepherd will be reluctant to walk or will limp on one or more legs due to the pain.
  21. Diabetic neuropathy. If diabetes is uncontrolled, excessive glucose can cause gradual weakness or paralysis due to nerve damage. However, this condition is rare in canines.
  22. Congenital limb deformities. Abnormally developed limbs can cause your dog to limping. These are pretty rare, and this study highlighted that little is known about the causes.
  23. Osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Bone tumors can grow quickly, causing limping and pain, especially in the legs. Large and giant breeds are more prone to it. Limping can range from mild to severe.

So, if you’re wondering the cause of my German Shepherd’s limping, unfortunately, following a CT scan, she was diagnosed with Spinal Osteoarthritis (no. 9) and Lumbosacral Foraminal Stenosis (no. 19).

However, she is doing really well with exercise modification techniques along with anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication. I also give her YuMOVE hip and joint supplements from Amazon. My vet recommended these, they get good reviews online, and they seem to be working for her.

Below you can see Willow’s CT images showing the affected areas:

CT image of German Shepherd with Spinal Osteoarthritis

What To Do if Your German Shepherd is Limping

If your German Shepherd is limping, you can manage some minor causes at home, such as a sprain, by restricting your dog’s exercise or allowing complete rest for a few days and/or anti-inflammatories and pain killers. For more severe cases such as broken bones, orthopedic surgery may be required.

Let’s investigate this further.

How to Treat a Limping German Shepherd at Home

Knowing how to treat your limping German Shepherd at home by giving first aid is fundamental to help minimize any further injury or pain. Firstly, pinpoint the affected leg, evaluate how serious it is and whether your dog needs medical assistance. So, how do you treat a limping GSD at home?

To treat a limping German Shepherd at home, gently examine your dog starting at the paw. Check the pads and between the toes, and slowly work your way up, looking for cuts or foreign bodies. Gently maneuver the joints for stiffness, but do not examine if your GSD is in severe pain.

Watch How to Conduct a Mini-examination on Your Dog…

What to Do if Your Dog is Limping – 4 Easy to Follow Tips

Here are some easy first aid tips for non-emergency cases, courtesy of VCA Hospitals.

  1. Remove any foreign bodies between the toes. Clean the wound with anti-bacterial soap. Soak your German Shepherd’s paw in warm water with Epsom salts to relieve any swelling. Finally, apply antibiotic ointment.
  2. For cut or torn pads and broken nails. Control the bleeding by applying pressure to the wound with a clean towel and raise your dog’s leg. If you cannot stop the bleeding in 10-15 minutes, take your pet to the vet. Apply a bandage and change daily.
  3. For burned paw pads. Soak your German Shepherd’s foot in room temperature water. If the pad becomes discolored or if the tissue underneath becomes exposed, contact your veterinarian. Apply antibiotic ointment to the burned pad, bandage, and change the dressing daily.
  4. For abscesses. Apply warm compresses to the affected area or soak in a warm Epsom salts bath. If the abscess bursts, take your doggo to the vet to get the wound cleaned and some antibiotics.
  5. For swelling due to a sprain or bruising. Apply ice packs to the affected area for 15 minutes twice a day. Place your GSD in the bath, and swirl the water around his leg, or spray with a gentle hose for 15 minutes twice daily. Flowing water reduces swelling, improves circulation, and helps with healing.
  6. Confine lame dogs and restrict their activity.

Your German Shepherd will have a far better chance of recovery if you provide first aid when appropriate and seek prompt veterinary care if needed.

A German Shepherd with a bandaged paw. German Shepherd Limping

When Should I Take my German Shepherd to the Vet for Limping?

Armed with the knowledge of the many reasons why your GSD may be hobbling around, and you’ve provided first aid where appropriate, you may now be wondering when you should take your German Shepherd to the vet for limping.

You should take your German Shepherd to the vet for limping if he is in extreme pain, has an obvious fracture, can’t get up or move, has excessive swelling in his leg, or is bleeding heavily. If the limping isn’t an emergency, but the lameness has continued for 24 hours, take him to be checked out.

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Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, our doggos can’t tell us what’s wrong if they are unwell or in pain. Don’t worry, though, as you’ll now be able to use your knowledge from this article to help you work out why your German Shepherd is limping.

Although limping in dogs is common for many reasons, it’s not normal. Nonetheless, some causes are pretty rare.

Nowadays, there are many options to help a limping dog. Anti-inflammatories and painkillers can massively help, as they seem to do with my dog. There are also other drugs to improve joint health that you can discuss with your vet.

Fractures can be treated with a splint or cast or repaired surgically, depending on the severity. Other treatments are joint supplements such as YuMOVE mentioned above, limiting movements, and physiotherapy. With the proper treatment, your German Shepherd will be back on all four paws in no time.

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