Why Is My Labrador Limping? 21 Reasons & When to See a Vet


It is never nice to see your Labrador limping. You may wonder if it’s something minor or something more serious. However, before you whisk your dog off to the vets, you might want a better idea of the cause. So, why is my Labrador limping?

Labradors may limp for a variety of reasons. Minor causes could be simple over-exertion, a thorn stuck in the paw, an insect sting, or an ingrowing toenail. More serious causes can include injury or disease, such as a fracture, sprain, hip dysplasia, spinal cord disease, or bone cancer.

The above are just a few reasons why your Labrador may be limping, but we’ll also explore many more. This will give you a better idea of what could be wrong with your dog.

We’ll also cover how to treat your limping Labrador at home and when you should take your dog to see the vet.

A Labrador with a bandaged paw. Why is my Labrador Limping?

Let’s get started!

Labrador Limping? 21 Causes!

Limping in dogs is quite common. It occurs when your dog cannot walk normally due to pain or weakness. He may walk slow or with difficulty and will usually favor one leg.

There are two types of limping that your Lab may experience. Some types occur gradually over time, whereas sudden lameness happens quickly, usually after an injury. Some cases are minor and can be treated at home, whereas others will require professional medical help.

I found the below really cool 4-minute video on why your dog may be limping. Check it out!

Why is My Dog Limping?

Let’s now take a look at 21 reasons why your Labrador may be limping:

  1. Overexertion. Too much of a good thing such as fetch, intense running, or rough play with other dogs can leave your Labrador sore and hobbling with a muscle strain. However, most dogs will recover quickly after a couple of days of rest.
  2. Injury to paw. Check your dog’s paws for foreign bodies such as a thorn, a piece of glass, or a nail as these can cause lacerations. Look out for your Lab incessantly licking his paw. Burns caused by scorching sidewalks or frostbite can also cause your dog to limp. In extremely hot or cold temperatures, get your Lab some booties or paw protectors.
  3. Toenail injuries. Examine your Labrador for ingrowing or overgrown toenails as these can cause discomfort and pain when they dig into the skin. My dog once had a dewclaw injury, so make sure you also keep these trim.
  4. An insect sting or animal bite. Stings and bites can cause limping. Your Lab may raise his paw if stung by a wasp or bee. Bites from other animals can cause injury and also lead to infections.
  5. 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.
  6. Sprain. A sprain is the result of a stretched or torn ligament or tendon. It can be caused by something as simple as jumping off the couch and landing awkwardly. Your Labrador will be reluctant to put any weight on his paw or leg. 
  7. Hip and elbow dysplasia. Dysplasia is a common hereditary condition causing hip and elbow joints to become loose and move out of position. 11.9% of Labs will suffer from bad hips, and 10.1% will have elbow dysplasia.
  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.
  9. Cruciate ligament injury or disease. This is where damage is caused to one or both of the cruciate ligaments that hold the knee together. Limping is usually the first sign of a cruciate problem and can be caused by turning awkwardly, jumping, or twisting. It can occur suddenly or be progressive.
  10. Luxating patella (dislocated knee). This is when your dog’s kneecap moves out of its natural position. It is common in dogs, but Labrador retrievers are three times as likely as other breeds to have patellar luxation. Your dog may be in pain and won’t want to bear weight on the limb.
  11. Infection. An infection of the paw or leg can cause your dog to hobble. He may lick and chew the site and may need to take antibiotics. Also, to prevent further inflammation, your Lab may be advised to wear the dreaded “cone of shame!”
  12. Lyme disease. This bacterial illness transmitted by certain ticks can cause intermittent lameness. Remember to keep on top of your Lab’s flea and tick prevention.
  13. Degenerative Myelopathy. Older dogs are at risk of this inherited disorder that affects the spinal cord causing a gradual paralysis of the back end. Symptoms are weakness, lameness in the hind legs, and incontinence.
  14. Panosteitis (Wandering Lameness or Growing Pains). This condition affects the long bones of the legs due to painful inflammation. It tends to affect growing large breed pups, aged 5-12 months, including the Labrador. 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. The Labrador Retriever is one of the breeds predisposed. 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. Labrador retrievers are predisposed to the disease, but the genes involved have not been identified.
  17. Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD). Hind limb weakness, paralysis, or urinary incontinence are symptoms of this spinal disease. Dwarf dog breeds having a short, stout appearance are most commonly affected. However, The Lab is one of the larger dog breeds associated with IVDD.
  18. Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis. This is a disorder of the immune system that causes inflamed, swollen, and painful joints. Your Lab will be reluctant to walk or will limp on one or more legs due to the pain.
  19. Diabetic neuropathy. If diabetes is left untreated, excessive glucose can cause progressive weakness or paralysis due to nerve damage. However, this condition is rare in dogs.
  20. Congenital limb deformities. Abnormally developed limbs can cause limping in your dog. These are quite rare, and this study highlighted that little is known about the causes.
  21. Osteosarcoma (bone cancer). 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.

How to Treat a Limping Labrador at Home: First Aid

Knowing how to treat your limping Labrador at home by giving first aid is necessary to help minimize any further injury or pain. Firstly, locate the affected leg, then assess how serious it is and whether your dog needs medical help. So, how do you treat a limping Labrador at home?

To treat a limping Labrador 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 if your Lab is in severe pain, do not attempt any examination.

A Labrador with an injured leg and a first aid kit. How to Treat a Limping Labrador at Home

Check out the below helpful 3-minute video on how to conduct a mini-examination on your dog:

What to Do if Your Dog is Limping

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

  1. Remove any foreign bodies between the toes and clean the wound with anti-bacterial soap. Soak your Labrador’s paw in warm water with Epsom salts to relieve swelling. Then 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 the leg. If you cannot stop the bleeding in 10-15 minutes, take your dog to the vet. Apply a bandage and change daily.
  3. For burned paw pads, soak your Labrador’s foot in room temperature water. If his pad becomes discolored or if the tissue under the pad becomes exposed, contact your veterinarian. Apply antibiotic ointment to the burned pad, bandage, and change daily.
  4. For swelling due to a sprain or bruising, apply ice packs to the area for 15 minutes twice a day. Place your Lab in the bath, and 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. For 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. Confine lame dogs and restrict their activity.

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

When Should I Take my Labrador to the Vet for Limping?

Now that you’re aware of the many reasons why your Lab may be hobbling around, and you’ve provided first aid where appropriate, you may now be wondering when you should take your Labrador to the vet for limping?

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

You should also take your dog to the vet if you are worried about him for any reason, as it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, our dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong if they’ve hurt themselves or are unwell. Don’t worry, though, as hopefully, you’ll be able to use your knowledge gleaned from this article to help you work out why your Labrador is limping.

Although limping in dogs is common for many reasons, it’s not normal. Some causes are quite rare.

Nowadays, there are many options to help a limping dog. Anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers can relieve pain and inflammation. There are also other drugs to improve joint health.

Fractures can be treated with a splint or cast or repaired surgically, depending on the severity. Other treatments are joint supplements, limiting movements, and physiotherapy. With the right treatment, your Labrador will be back on his paws in no time!

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a 5-year-old female German Shepherd named "Willow" and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with my dog and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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