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What to do if your dog is limping or refuses to walk/run

What to do if your dog is limping or refuses to walk/run

  • 1. What happened to Pax
    • 2. How to assess a dog who is limping or refuses to walk/run
    • 3. What to do for ongoing or chronic mobility issues
      • 4. First aid for your dog's acute lameness and injuries
        • What happened to Pax

          Today’s writing has been prompted by my recent experience with Pax’s very unlikely injury that could be called “Elon Musk Syndrome”, but let me explain. Those of you who have been following Pax online, have most likely seen him running, sprinting, or rocketing on a trail or beach. He is well known for his beach take-offs and in general, it makes me happy to see him happy.

          I have always been quite mindful of switching up his exercise, and not taking him to beaches too often, because he has a tendency to overdo it when chasing the waves. I am a big proponent of varied exercise, similar to a varied diet, mixing up activity patterns is one of the best ways to ensure that dogs stay healthy for many years to come.

          However, life is a never-ending chain of learning, and this week, I was apparently ready for a lesson. Usually, I try to take at least one day off on the weekend, and this time, we decided to visit Gabriella, my friend and also the creator of FleaHex and TickHex, our all-natural flea and tick control products for dogs.

          Gabriella lives in a remote part of Maui’s East Coast, where the jungle looks like it came right out of a scene from the movie Avatar. Part of our trip was a stop we made at Red Sand Beach, one of my very favourite places. Pax visited this beach a year ago as a puppy, in fact, he learned how to swim there with a great degree of respect for the water.

          Pax the dog running in the ocean


          This time, fully grown and seasoned by the island’s ocean swell, he could not get enough, springing back and forth, “body surfing” into the waves, wild and happy as could be. After an hour or so, I could see Pax resting more, and I assumed he was just tired. I noticed the same behaviour the following day, and I knew something was wrong.

          The next day was my birthday, and thinking Pax should be recovered, I took him to the beach to have a good start to the day. But this time, instead of rocketing off into the distance, he ran one short lap, looked at me with a questioning expression on his face and laid down on the sand.😟

          My heart sank!

          As a vet, I knew how many things could be wrong and when I found no cuts or thorns, I proceeded to do a full exam from his back to his muscles, joints, tendons and feet. I was puzzled by finding nothing, which worried me. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure it out.

          In the meantime, people were calling and texting me with birthday wishes and I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. I was upset about Pax, because he was strong and healthy, and I could not find the cause of his obvious discomfort.

          But then I noticed that he was licking his feet and I looked in between his toes, finding a barely visible separation of the skin from the foot pad – the result of rocketing on the red sand beach.

          The sand is different there, it is composed of very coarse and abrasive lava rock, and Pax’s ludicrous acceleration mode (thank you Elon Musk for coining the term) caused him to “burn” his hind footpads. In other words, Paxi Maxi burned his “tires” and got what I now refer to as Elon Musk syndrome.

          I was relieved, because this was the best-case scenario, as blistered foot pads usually heal fast.

          Now, a few days later, Pax is back to normal and I have one extra piece of knowledge to share with you and prevent this from happening to your dogs.

          This recent experience also prompted me to put together a step-by-step approach to examining your dog when they are limping, or refusing to run, which I am enclosing for you below.

          How to assess a dog who is limping, or refuses to walk/run

          Step 1 - Is the onset sudden or chronic?

          Acute sudden onset is often better, because problems that come on fast also heal fast – with the exception of serious ligament injuries, cartilage tears, or fractures. Chronic ongoing problems are generally a sign that the recovery and healing process has been hindered, or stopped altogether and that recovery will be slow in most cases. Chronic injuries also lead to muscle weakness that exacerbates the problem, leading to more inflammation and muscle tightness.  

          Step 2 - Which leg is affected?

          Remember that when a dog favours the injured leg, the opposite extremity falls to the ground faster, the same way you would if your leg were sore. Sometimes it is difficult to determine which leg is affected, especially when your dog has injured his back, or is weak due to a chronic injury, or age-related weakness and arthritis.

          Step 3 - The foot

          3a) Check your dog’s feet, look for thorns, cuts, swelling, blisters, and do not forget to examine the junction of the skin and the foot pad around the full perimeter of each pad.

          3b) Check the space in between each toe.

          3c) Examine the nails and nail beds for any signs of injury. Dogs often “kick their toe” and injure their nails. Click here for more instructions on such injuries.

          3d) Feel along all toes on each foot and observe if your dog is sensitive and reacts. (Note that some dogs do not like their feet touched in general, and you must use your judgement to determine if the reaction is abnormal. This is one of the reasons why you should teach your dog to have their feet handled from an early age)

          Step 4 - The joints

          Any joint is composed of two or more opposing bones. The most vulnerable parts are the surface cartilage, the ligaments, and the joint capsule. Getting the exact diagnosis is usually more complex, but examining your dog’s joints one by one may help you determine where the problem is located.

          Ideally, move each joint separately, look for signs of heat, inflammation, discomfort and swelling. Often it helps to compare two opposing joints on each leg, and look for differences, for example, in the event of a cranial cruciate ligament injury of the knee.

          Registering swelling and discomfort is a good indicator to rest, and consult your veterinarian if there is not a noticeable improvement within two to three days.

          It is worth mentioning that most people are terrified of the word arthritis, and while it is true that many cases are usually long-standing and chronic, the term stands for “joint inflammation” and it doesn’t necessarily need to be serious.

          Step 5 - Tendons and muscles

          Many people assume that muscle and tendon injuries happen accidentally after slipping, falling, or sliding however, such injuries are equally the result of lack of strength, flexibility, and too much tone.  

          You may have seen a body builder who can’t even raise his arms because he is so tight. Keeping your dog flexible, stretching and massaging the tense parts, and flexing and extending joints regularly is key to injury prevention in dogs and also people.

          Too much tone leads to injuries, but also muscle weakness that makes other muscle groups tense up and also places excessive stress on tendons and connective tissue.

          Injured muscles may or may not be swollen, but are generally sensitive to touch, tight, and firmer than the rest. Dogs usually flinch when touched in the area, and they also often scratch or chew to “massage” the affected muscle.

          The best way to examine muscles is to systematically press on each muscle and observe your dog for a reaction or skin flinching.

          Muscle injuries usually heal fast when the rest period is long enough. I caution you against using anti-inflammatory drugs as they slow down healing, and also lead to a premature return to exercise. Read more about anti-inflammatory drug side effects here.

          For a healthy anti-inflammatory protocol click here.

          Step 6 - The neck and back

          The spinal column is the key nerve, energy, and blood flow “highway” to the rest of the body. Most of us understand how important a healthy neck and back are, and that when we injure our back it affects the whole body.

          Back problems are one of the most common causes of decreased mobility, pain, and also leg lamenessbecause their nerve supply originates in the spine. Back injuries and weakness are more commonly responsible for people losing their dogs than cancer and other diseases.

          Dogs with a sore back often have referred pain sensation, and lick their feet or scratch a skin segment related to the injured spine, for example, their abdomen. Ironically, such behaviour is often mistaken for allergies and other skin problems, which leads to incorrect treatment and the development of long term chronic incurable problems.

          For more information on paw licking click here.

          What to do for ongoing or chronic mobility issues

          If your dog’s condition has been chronic, I suggest you see your veterinarian to proceed with a thorough examination, and possibly further diagnostics, while also considering the information I have shared here. Similar to human healthcare, a part of the treatment should be some sort of form of body therapy such as chiropractic, physical therapy, massage or acupuncture.

          Do your best to avoid anti-inflammatory medication that is commonly prescribed, and often leads to kidney and liver damage. Click here for more details

          Instead, use physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractics, and massage to help your dog.
          I also suggest that you take the free Mobility Course for Dogs.

          There is another possible cause of lameness that I must mention here.  If a dog has been limping, not improving or getting worse, bone abnormalities such a osteosarcoma (bone cancer) must be ruled out. There is no reason to panic every time a dog is lame because the chances of bone cancer are relatively rare, however chronic or worsening lameness is a good reason for a thorough examination, X-rays or a CT scan.  

          First aid for your dog's acute lameness and injuries

          1. Ensure your dog doesn’t have a serious injury, such as a cut or a possible fracture. Severe pain response and or non-weight bearing lameness may be suggestive of such injury and needs to be examined by a vet immediately.

          2. In other cases, rest your dog for 1 – 3 days.

          3. Ice the area, in the case of an acute muscle, joint, or tendon injury, for 24 hours

          4. Use a triple maintenance dose of sustainable Omega-3 oil, such as FeelGood Omega to reduce inflammation. Research confirms that Omega-3 essential fatty acids are as potent in reducing inflammation, without the side-effects of NSAIDs.

          5. Add turmeric to your dog’s food (do not give on an empty stomach) to promote a healthy inflammatory and healing response.

          6. Administer Arnica homeopathic remedy. Ideally, get 1M potency and give 1 dose every 8-12 hours for 3 days. If you can only get 30C or 200C potencies (less strong) administer the remedy every 4 – 6 hours. If you get mint size pellets – 1 dose = 3 pellets or 20 poppy seed size pellets.

          7. Start gradually increasing exercise, first on-leash, then off-leash. Stop immediately and see a veterinarian if your dog’s lameness reoccurs.

          Wishing you many happy, injury-free and mobile years with your dog!

          For more information on how to treat and prevent your dog's injuries without drugs, check out the Facebook Live below! 

          Thank you for sharing this important article with your friends.

          © Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

          About the author

          Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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