Why Is My Overweight Dog Limping?

Why is my overweight dog limping?
Why is my overweight dog limping?

Dogs are fine-tuned machines. Purposefully bred for agility, speed, and strength, allowing a dog’s joints to handle immense stress — until they gain weight.

The most common cause of an overweight dog limping is joint pain. A weakening of the joints causes inflammation and pain. When a dog’s joints aren’t cared for through regular exercise, balanced nutrition, or weight management, degenerative joint problems can develop.

But, an overweight dog’s limping can be from more than joint inflammation. Additional causes include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Paw pad injury
  • Muscle strains
  • Bone fractures
  • Cancer
  • Torn nail
  • Bacterial infection

To begin diagnosing the seriousness of an overweight dog limping, consider three questions:

  • How long has your dog been limping?
  • How severe is the limp?
  • Is your dog showing more symptoms?

This article guides you through each question to help identify the severity of your dog’s injury. By the end, you’ll better understand the treatment, and how to prevent future issues by focusing on regaining your dog’s healthy weight.

Causes of overweight dog limping. A French Bulldog sits on the third stair, looking up at the rest of the way to go.
Stairs are tough on a dog’s hips and joints. Weight gain only increases stress.

Why is my overweight dog limping?

To start diagnosing a dog’s limping, take a ground-up approach. Determine which leg is causing the limping, and examine the nails and paw pads first.

Determining the affected leg can be challenging.

When a dog’s limp is severe, determining the affected leg is easy since they avoid placing pressure on the limb. But mild limps can be much more challenging. 

To identify if a dog’s front or hind leg is the cause of a limp, look for the following mannerisms. 

Front-leg pain

Watch your dog’s head movement when taking a step. The head will lift when stepping down, then lower when weight is placed on the leg.

Common front-leg injuries include:

  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Wrist injury
  • Carpal hyperextension
  • Nerve damage
  • Osteosarcoma (cancerous tumor in the bone)

Hind-leg pain

With hind-leg pain, dogs shift their weight forward, removing weight from the back end. The tail and hip can lift when the painful leg bears weight with steps.

Common hind-leg injuries include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Ruptured ACL
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Achilles tendon rupture
  • Fracture or dislocation
  • Luxating patella

With the front or hind leg isolated, lay your dog down and examine the paws. Look for a fractured or loose nail, then a cracked paw pad. Often, objects can become lodged between a dog’s pads.

When nails or pads are the sources, a dog should show signs of pain, frustration, or irritability during the examination.

With no signs of trauma to the paws, ask these questions, next:

How long has your dog’s limping persisted?

Like people, overexertion or a wrong move in dogs can cause acute pain in joints and muscles. Acute pain should subside quickly. 

When limping last days or weeks, worsening over time, it becomes chronic pain. At the onset of chronic pain, seeing your veterinarian is essential.

Once you recognized when your dog’s limping started, try to recall what activities could have caused the discomfort

A strained muscle or ligament is possible when you notice your overweight dog limping after a run or walk. Stairs, jumping up on furniture, and playing can also cause injuries in overweight dogs.

If your dog was inactive before the injury, how was the weather? Aching joints are common during cold and rainy weather, especially when a dog suffers from osteoarthritis

How severe is the limp?

A dog’s limp is either mild or severe. When mild, the leg is still in use, but with caution while placing weight on it. Mild pain will still allow mobility, just slower and uncomfortable. Always watch to ensure mild pain doesn’t grow into severe pain. 

When dogs limping is severe, they show reluctance to place weight on it and have an exaggerated limp. A dog may still attempt to put some weight on the front of the paw to aid with walking.

Many dogs hide pain and injury

Don’t forget that dogs still have the DNA of a hunting pack of wolves. In their ancestral genes, a sign of weakness from injury can mean banishment from the pack or a threat from predators.

The best time to monitor your dog is when rising from sleep or a nap. When alone — or unknowingly being watched — a dog can show more exaggerated signs of pain. 

Is your dog showing more symptoms?

Behavior is the best tool dog parents have for diagnosing our dogs. Consult your veterinarian immediately when any of the following symptoms show along with limping:

  • Not eating or drinking water
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Aggression towards others or animals
  • Howling or whimpering
  • Limb dragging
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Excessive panting
  • Vomiting
  • Swaying when walking or disoriented

Treatments for overweight dog limping and joint pain

If you’ve discovered your overweight dog’s limping is from joint pain caused by excess fat, it’s time to get your dog back to a healthy weight.

As you nurse your dog’s injury, you can begin to focus on a weight-loss diet. Start by determining how many calories your dog consumes daily, then reference their caloric intake versus the recommended diet for their weight.

A weight-loss diet will consist of roughly 30% fewer calories. You can switch to healthy snack alternatives for dogs who expect several treats daily, like fruits and vegetables.

Once healed, start your dog on a weight loss exercise routine. Dogs need a minimum of 30-minutes of exercise daily, including walks and playtime.

Medical treatments for dog limping

Your veterinarian can prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory when a dog’s pain is mild with no severe symptoms. Common FDA-approved anti-inflammatory drugs are:

  • Carprofen
  • Deracoxib
  • Firocoxib
  • Grapiprant
  • Meloxicam

A veterinarian may suggest joint-health supplements like Dasquin Advanced for long-term health. Joint supplements provide nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and methylsulfonylmethane to stop the enzymes that break down cartilage — the cushioning in your dog’s joints.

Final thoughts

The health risks of obesity in dogs extend beyond joint pain and limping. An overweight dog is at risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory problems, kidney disease, and certain types of cancer.

Studies have even shown obesity decreases a dog’s lifespan by as much as two and a half years.

What steps should you take to keep your dog healthy?

  1. Feed your dog a well-balanced and nutritious diet.
  2. Track your dog’s daily caloric intake.
  3. Take your dog on daily walks, runs, or trips to the dog park.
  4. Play with your dog at home twice daily for 15 to 30 minutes.

As dog’s age, their risk of developing hip dysplasia and joint conditions increases. Our dogs need a healthy adult life to live a happy, pain-free senior life.

Did you find the cause of your overweight dog limping? Please share this story to help others. And keep us updated on your dog’s weight-loss progress.

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