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21 Causes of Golden Retriever Limping (& When to See a Vet)

Watching your dog limp is not a pretty sight. And if you don’t know the specific cause or extent of the damage, you might assume the worst. Before you take your dog to the veterinary ER, you should know the actual cause as the reason your Golden Retriever is limping, whether on his front legs or his hind ones, can be pretty minor.

Golden Retrievers may limp due to a thorn stuck in the paw, an ingrowing toenail, an insect sting, or over-exertion. More serious causes can include disease or injury, such as a fracture, sprain, hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis, spinal cord disease, or bone cancer.

The reasons above are a few among many, which we will explore in this post. I’ve written it to cover almost every reason for your Golden Retriever’s lameness. It will help you identify the potential cause of your dog’s limp, so you can take appropriate steps to help him.

For this, we will cover how to treat your limping Golden Retriever at home and when you should take your dog to see the vet. Let’s begin!

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Why Is My Golden Retriever Limping? A Golden Retriever with a bandaged paw.

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Why Is My Golden Retriever Limping?

Limping in dogs is quite common and occurs when your dog cannot walk normally due to weakness or pain. Your dog may walk slowly or with difficulty and will usually favor one leg. Limping may occur on your Golden Retriever’s front legs or back legs.

There are two types of limps that Golden Retrievers have: The gradual limp and the sudden limp. The gradual limp can be noticed increasing across a long period, while the sudden limp is often seen immediately after an injury or accident.

The reasons I have compiled for Golden Retrievers’ limp include both the ones that result in sudden limp and progressive ones. Let’s look at these 21 potential reasons for your Golden Retriever’s limp:

1. Paw Injury

Check your dog’s paw for a thorn, a piece of glass, or a nail. Such foreign bodies can cause lacerations. If this is the reason for your dog’s limp, he will be licking his paw incessantly.

Burns caused by scorching sidewalks or frostbite can also cause your Golden Retriever to limp. Get your dog some booties or paw protectors in extremely hot or cold temperatures.

2. Overexertion

Too much of a good thing, such as fetch, intense running, or rough play with other dogs, can leave your Golden Retriever sore and hobbling with a muscle strain. However, most dogs will recover quickly after a couple of rest days.

3. Injuries To Toenails

Examine your Golden Retriever for ingrowing or overgrown toenails, as these can cause discomfort and pain when they dig into the skin. My dog once suffered a dewclaw injury, so make sure you also keep these trim.

Find Out More Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Limping In This Video…

Causes of Limping in Dogs

4. Insect Sting or Animal Bite

Your dog might be limping because his paw has been stung. Stings and bites on the paw aren’t rare, especially in the summer. Aside from insect bites, animal bites can also cause a limp. Early detection is vital because bites can lead to infections.

5. Sprain

A stretched muscle or torn ligament can result in a sprain. Almost any active dog can sprain his leg because activities as simple as jumping can lead to awkward landings. If your Golden Retriever sprains his foot, he will hesitate to put weight on it for a while.

Golden Retriever With Injured Paw

6. Fracture

A broken leg should be suspected if the limping occurred suddenly. Broken bones may not always be visible. Your dog won’t be able to bear any weight down on a fractured bone and will be in pain.

7. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Dysplasia is a common hereditary condition causing hip and elbow joints to become loose and move out of position. Statistics of hip dysplasia (and other joint conditions) have been collected by the OFA for almost 50 years, and around 20% of Golden Retrievers will have abnormal hips.

Although the disease is progressive and irreversible, around three-quarters of Golden Retrievers with hip dysplasia can live a comfortable life with ongoing management, such as exercise modification and anti-inflammatory and painkilling medication.

“My dog has slight hip dysplasia and along with ‘little and often walks’ and Galliprant® medication she almost leads a normal life.”

World of Dogz

8. Osteoarthritis

Older and larger dogs are more at risk of this chronic painful disease. It results in joint inflammation caused by cartilage deterioration. Signs include lameness, stiffness, or difficulty in getting up.

My dog Willow has osteoarthritis of her lower spine. Her initial symptoms were lameness of the rear leg and difficulty getting up.

However, it is managed pretty well (along with her hip dysplasia) with prescribed medication, and exercise adjustments. 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.

CT scan of dog showing spinal osteoarthritis. (Cause of limping)
My dog’s CT scan showing her osteoarthritis

Willow also has a good orthopedic dog bed. She has the Big Barker, which is the only dog bed clinically proven to reduce pain and joint stiffness. I’ll admit, it’s pricey, but it comes with a 10-year guarantee, so it virtually lasts your dog’s lifetime. In any case, I’m more than happy to pay for something that eases my dog’s discomfort. You can read my comprehensive review here.

9. Luxating Patella (dislocated knee)

Luxating patella is when your dog’s kneecap moves out of its natural position. It is one of the most common orthopedic conditions in dogs. Many small breeds are prone. However, many larger breeds, including the Golden Retriever, are now affected. Your dog may be in pain and won’t want to bear weight on the limb.

10. Cruciate Ligament Injury or Disease

A cruciate ligament injury damages the ligaments that hold the knee together. It is similar to a sprain but is more serious. If the ligaments weaken due to a disease, the limp is gradual. If they are torn because of a sudden twist or jump, the limp is sudden.

11. Degenerative Myelopathy

Older dogs are at risk of this inherited neurologic disorder that affects the spinal cord causing a gradual paralysis of the back end. Symptoms are weakness, lameness in the hind legs, difficulty rising, loss of muscle in the rear legs, and incontinence.

Sad Golden Retriever. Golden Retriever limping.

12. Infection

An infection can cause pain in your dog’s paw or leg. This can make it harder for him to walk straight and he may develop a limp. If you notice inflammation and find your dog licking or chewing the site, he may need a course of antibiotics. Use a pet cone to prevent further chewing and consequent worsening of the infection.

13. Lyme Disease

This bacterial illness transmitted by certain ticks can cause intermittent lameness. Remember to keep up to date with your Golden Retriever’s flea and tick prevention.

14. Panosteitis (Growing Pains)

This condition affects the long bones of the legs due to painful inflammation. Panosteitis in dogs tends to affect growing large breed pups aged 5-12 months, including the Golden Retriever. A shifting lameness from one bone to another is caused and can occur over several weeks or months.

15. Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)

This is a bone disease occurring in fast-growing large dogs, usually between 3 and 5 months old. Golden Retrievers aren’t as likely to suffer from Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy as other predisposed breeds, including the Labrador, German Shepherd, or Rottweiler, but it is not out of the question as some medium-sized breeds are prone, such as the Pitbull.

Similar to panosteitis, signs will be a slight limp and pain in the affected bone.

16. Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

OCD is a cartilage disease whereby inflammation causes the cartilage to separate from the bone. The shoulder is most commonly affected, but it can also appear in the elbow, hip, and knee. It occurs when large puppies grow too quickly.

Limping, lameness, and pain are symptoms. Golden Retrievers are predisposed to Osteochondritis Dissecans, but the genes involved have not been identified by scientists.

17. Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD)

Large and small breeds can get disc disease which can occur anytime.

Hind limb weakness, paralysis, or urinary incontinence are symptoms of this spinal disease. The signs vary depending on the severity of the spinal cord damage and which disc along the spine is impacted.

Golden Retriever. Limping causes in Golden Retrievers.

18. Diabetic Neuropathy

If diabetes is untreated, excessive glucose can cause progressive weakness or paralysis due to nerve damage. However, this condition is rare in dogs.

19. Immune Mediated Polyarthritis

This immune system disorder causes inflamed, swollen, and painful joints. Your dog will be reluctant to walk – or he will hobble on one or more legs due to the pain.

20. Congenital Limb Deformities

Abnormally developed limbs can cause limping in your dog. These are pretty rare, and this study on three dogs’ congenital deformities of the distal extremities highlighted that little is known about the causes.

21. Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer)

Bone cancer is more common in canines than in any other species. Bone tumors can rapidly grow, causing limping and pain, particularly in leg bones. It’s more prevalent in large and giant breeds. Limping can vary from mild to severe.

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Treating a Limping Golden Retriever at Home

Knowing how to treat your limping Golden Retriever at home by giving first aid is necessary to help minimize any further injury or pain.

  • Firstly, locate the affected leg.
  • Then assess whether your dog needs medical help.

To treat a limping Golden Retriever 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, bruises, or foreign bodies.

Gently manipulate the joints for stiffness, but do not attempt any examination if your dog is in a lot of pain.

Watch How to Examine Your Dog’s Limp In This Video…

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

Here are some simple first-aid tips for non-emergency cases. This advice is from an abstract courtesy of VCA Hospitals:

  1. Foreign bodies between the toes. Remove the object and clean the wound with anti-bacterial soap. Soak your dog’s paw in warm water with Epsom salts to relieve swelling. Then apply antibiotic ointment.
  2. Cut or torn pads and broken nails. Control the bleeding by applying pressure to the wound with a clean towel and raising the leg. Take your dog to the vet if you cannot stop the bleeding in 10-15 minutes. Apply a bandage and change daily.
  3. Burned paw pads. Soak your Golden Retriever’s foot in room-temperature water. Contact your veterinarian if his pad becomes discolored or if the tissue underneath becomes exposed. Apply antibiotic ointment to the burned pad, bandage it, and change it daily.
  4. Swelling due to a sprain or bruising. Apply ice packs to the area for 15 minutes twice a day. Place your dog in the bath, swirl the water around his leg, or spray with a hose for 15 minutes twice daily. Flowing water reduces swelling, improves circulation, and helps with healing.
  5. Abscesses. Apply warm compresses to the affected area or soak in a warm Epsom salts bath. If the abscess bursts, take your dog to the vet to clean the wound and get antibiotics.
  6. Lame dogs. Confine lame dogs and restrict their activity.

Your Golden Retriever will have a better chance of recovery if you provide first aid when appropriate and seek prompt veterinary care.

When To See The Vet

If your Golden Retriever’s limp is accompanied by a yelp and doesn’t resolve itself, then you need to see the vet. In general, if any of the following are present, it’s time to get your dog some help:

  • Moderate to severe swelling
  • A broken or dislocated limb
  • A limb that feels hot to the touch
  • Lameness in combination with a fever

FAQs On Why Your Golden Retriever Is Limping

Final Thoughts

Now you know the 21 reasons why your Golden Retriever might be limping. Despite being common in dogs, limping is far from “normal.” It is an attempt to offset the pain caused by walking normally.

Your dog cannot tell you when he is hurt, but what you have learned in this post can help you determine the type and the extent of the damage. If you notice him start limping suddenly, look for an injury. If you notice a limp developing gradually, assume an internal issue is at play.


  • Sharon Waddington

    Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Find her on Linkedin!