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Why Is My Labrador Limping? 21 Causes & 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 vet, you might want a better idea of the cause. So, why is your Labrador limping, whether on the front legs or back legs?

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

The above are just a few reasons your Labrador may be limping, but we’ll also explore many more. This article 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. Let’s get started!

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

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Why Is My Labrador Limping?

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

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.

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 rest days.

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 Labrador to limp. Get your dog some booties or paw protectors in extremely hot or cold temperatures. These XSY&G Dog Boots from Amazon will do just the trick as they’re made from high-quality leather with anti-slip soles.

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. Insect Sting or Animal Bite 

Stings and bites can cause limping. Your Lab may raise its 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. 

Learn More About Why Your Dog May Be Limping In This Video…

Why is My Dog Limping? 15 Causes of Lameness in Dogs
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7. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia 

Dysplasia is a common hereditary condition causing hip and elbow joints to become loose and move out of position. According to the OFA, 11.7% of Labs will suffer from bad hips, and 10% will have elbow dysplasia.

“My dog has slight hip dysplasia and along with ‘little and often walks’ and Galliprant® medication she virtually 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 from a lying position.

However, she manages it 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 excellent reviews online, and they seem to work for her.

My dog's CT scan showing spinal osteoarthritis
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 joint stiffness and pain. 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 a bed that eases my dog’s discomfort. You can read my comprehensive review here.

9. Cruciate Ligament Injury or Disease 

This is where damage is caused to one or both 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)

Luxating patella 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 Labrador to Limp. He may lick and chew the site and may need to take antibiotics. Also, to prevent further inflammation, your Lab may need 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. Panosteitis 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 to Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy. 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 Osteochondritis Dissecans, 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 among the larger dog breeds associated with IVDD.

18. Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

This disorder of the immune system causes inflamed, swollen, and painful joints. Your Lab will be reluctant to walk – or he will hobble 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 pretty rare, and this study on the congenital deformities of the distal extremities in three dogs 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.

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How to Treat a Limping Labrador at Home

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 whether your dog needs medical help.

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 do not attempt any examination if your Lab is in severe pain.

Learn More on 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 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 Lab’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. If you cannot stop the bleeding in 10-15 minutes, take your dog to the vet. Apply a bandage and change daily.
  3. Burned paw pads. Soak your Labrador’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 Lab 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 Labrador will have a better chance of recovery if you provide first aid when appropriate and seek prompt veterinary care.

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

FAQs On Why Your Labrador Is Limping

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it – 21 reasons why your Labrador may be limping. Unfortunately, our pups can’t tell us what’s wrong if they’ve hurt themselves or are unwell. Don’t worry, though, as now, you’ll be able to use the knowledge gleaned from this article to help you work out why your Labrador is limping.

Although limping in Labradors is common for many reasons, it’s not normal. Some causes are pretty rare. But nowadays, there are many options to help a limping dog. Anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers can relieve pain and inflammation, and other drugs can improve joint health.

Depending on the severity, fractures can be treated with a splint or cast or repaired surgically. Other treatments are joint supplements, limiting movements, and physiotherapy. Hopefully, with the proper treatment, your Labrador will be back on his paws in no time.

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  • 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!