Limping on a front leg can have many causes and the problem can come from the foot, the wrist, the elbow or the shoulder. If the limp comes on very suddenly the first thing to check is the foot in case anything is sticking into the pads or between the toes. In this case the dog will usually lift the foot high off the floor and refuse to stand on it. Small items can be removed but larger items should be left in place for a vet to remove as removal could cause heavy bleeding.
Detection – Sometimes it’s hard to work out which front leg is causing the limp. When a dog is lame on a front leg it will often cause the dog’s head to nod up and down more than usual when it walks. The painful leg is usually the one placed on the floor when the dog’s head nods up. Videoing the dog moving can often help when trying to spot this. Alternatively look for the foot placed as the dog’s head nods down. This is the good leg. Next check each of the joints in the leg by holding each one and gently moving it around. Sometimes the dog will try and snatch the leg away when you touch the sore part of their leg or will lick you when you touch it. Be very gentle as the friendliest dog can be unpredictable when in pain.
Causes – Damage in a joint can be due to landing awkwardly, turning sharply, sudden stopping, or pulling or lunging on the lead. This can have happened recently or a long time ago and has just begun to show itself as the dog gets older and arthritic changes from the initial injury begin to impinge on the movement of the joint.
Things to do – Rest the dog while continuing with gentle exercise. Soft tissue injuries to the muscles should start to get better after 3-4 days. Don’t allow the dog to come down stairs, jump out of cars or off the sofa, or chase and fetch balls. If after a few days there is no improvement then you should see your vet to discuss pain relief.
Consequences – Pain in a front leg can lead to loss of muscle in the damaged side and overuse of muscle in the good side. This can lead to spinal and neck problems
How to help – Use pain relief as directed. Adapt the dog’s environment and activities to take account of their weakness. This can include using a ramp to get out of the car, down steps and off the sofa. Use raised feeding and water bowls to prevent strain in the neck and upper spine. Use a good fitting harness which doesn’t rub against the shoulder or elbow joints. Stop or reduce the intensity of activities such as agility, flyball, retrieving. Use mats on slippery floors to prevent slipping. Maintain a good weight to reduce the strain on the joints. Massage can help to address overused muscles to prevent pain in other parts of the body and to help the dog support itself more comfortably.