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                    Canine Lameness                   

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Lameness can be defined as any decrease in an animal's ability to bear weight on a limb or a decrease in the normal mobility and function of a limb.  Canine lameness, or limping, can be caused by any underlying reason for a dog to appear to have pain. At times it is often difficult to determine which limb or limbs is affected.  It can be intermittent or constant, worse in the morning, worse at night, worse after rest, worse after or during exercise.  If the dog is refusing to stand on the leg it is easy, but milder limps can be confusing.  One way of ascertaining which leg is lame is to have the dog trott towards you, the head will nod down as the bad leg hits the floor.  Hind end lameness is harder to see.  Watch the dog trot away and past you and you may be able to spot a shorter stride or a tentative placement of the foot.  Have an organised approach to examining the leg.  Start at the foot and work upwards. Check the claws, the webs and pads, feel up the leg and flex and extend all of the joints looking for signs of pain.

Lameness problems can arise during normal everyday activity. Severe injuries such as falling from a height or being hit by a car can be avoided by good containment of your pet and appropriate use of the lead.  Certain lameness problems may be associated with certain breeds e.g. hip dysplasia, patella luxation, elbow dysplasia. Choosing your dog carefully, checking the parents and having regular veterinary check-ups can go a long way to reducing many risks for lameness.

Signs of Lameness
Obvious inability to walk or run normally

Crying behaviour suggesting that your dog is in pain

Reluctance to perform normal activity, like going up or down stairs

Refusing to place any weight on a leg


The Foot
A thorn in a foot-pad or a broken claw can produce a sudden onset profound lameness and pain.  Broken claws should be trimmed short or pulled off and the foot bathed in salt water.  You may need to bandage the foot for a few hours to stop bleeding.  Thorns should be pulled out and this usually leads to the dog going sound straight away.  Bathe the foot when you get home.  Cut pads bleed alot and heal slowely.  Many cuts are thin lacerations or result in the top layer being sliced off, and in these cases home treatment may be enough. Bandage shallow cuts, and keep clean dressings on for a few days.  Give pain relief if needed.  Infection is uncommon but occassionally antibiotics may be needed.  but if a cut on the pad is deep enough to expose fleshy tissue, the wound needs to be seen by a vet.  An insect sting or bite on an affected leg may prove more subtle and difficult to find, but can be equally affective at producing lameness.

Sprains and Strains
Many cases of lameness are caused by soft tissue injuries, like pulled muscles, ligament and tendon sprains and strains, and in most cases will not require specific diagnosis or treatment.  These type of muscular injuries are common and the first treatment may be as simple as rest for a few days for a minor tendon or muscle sprain, or it may be as involved as major orthopedic or neurologic surgery for severe hip dysplasia or an acute intervertebral disk extrusion.  A period of exercise restriction and rest may be suggested, perhaps with an anti-inflammatory medication in order to see if the problem responds to such a conservative approach.  Failure to respond may suggest a more serious problem that necessitates more detailed diagnostic tests.  Physiotherapy may help the more severe injuries.  The key here is rest and a slow return to exercise. But most dogs will not limit their own exercise for a sufficient period of time to allow proper healing to occur.  Exercising too fast and too hard after an inadequate period of rest can re-injure or exacerbate the problem.  Restriction often lasts for four to six weeks and requires, in most cases, confinement to a single room, restriction from going up or down stairs, avoiding slippery surfaces such as tile, hardwood floors or linoleum, and leash walking for bathroom trips only.  In some instances your vet may recommend cage or crate rest, which means the "single room" is replaced by a cage or crate, depending on the size of your pet. If this kind of restriction promises to prove difficult, then this problem should be discussed with your vet so that alternative treatment options may be adopted

Torn ligaments are more serious as the tissue has a limited ability to heal.  A boisterous young dog chasing over uneven terrain in a woodland area could suddenly pull up with a non-weight bearing lameness due to an acute tear of a cranial cruciate ligament of the knee or an over weight dog might jump down from a deck, landing awkwardly and damaging the ligaments supporting its carpus (wrist).The most common ligament injury is to the cruciate ligament in the stifle.  The dog does not put any weight on the leg and often surgery is necessary.  Sometimes lameness due to an orthopedic disorder can be misinterpreted as a neurological disease. Dogs with cruciate injuries to both stifles can find it extremely difficult to walk and when they do can appear to be weak and clumsy on their back legs, similar to dogs with disk disease.


Broken Bones
Broken bones are not common but be suspicious if you find your dog is very lame, especially is there is a lot of swelling and pain.  If you suspect a facture it is best to carry your dog or use a stretcher made of coats to a vehicle and seek veterinary care immediately.  If this isn't possible a makeshift splint using a stick or cane  and ties can be applied to support the leg.  When lameness is due to a fracture, most fractures occur secondary to severe traumatic events and can therefore be prevented by keeping your dog on a leash.

Some pets with bone tumors of the limbs can suddenly develop a severe lameness associated with a fracture of a bone at the site of the tumor. These fractures are often associated with more minor trauma, such as slipping on a kitchen floor, an incident that would not normally be thought of as causing a broken bone.

If an abnormality of bone or joint is detected on the examination by your vet, radiographs of that region may be taken. Radiographs are not always necessary, however, although they can be helpful to confirm a suspected diagnosis, to discover the exact diagnosis (say there is elbow pain but the exact cause could be one of several different problems with different treatment plans) or to give an owner a more accurate prognosis.


Signs of a fracture or broken bone
Your pet may hold the broken limb in an abnormal position

A very swollen limb

An open wound with a piece of bone, sticking out

Limping or being reluctant to put his/her weight on the particular limb

Holding the leg up, avoiding any weight on it at all

Your dog may not want the limb to be touched


Arthritis
This  Degenerative joint disease (DJD), or arthritis is a cronic condition that may show up in older dogs. It affects affects the smooth articular cartilage of the joint, which is the covering of bone in the joints that is responsible for the smooth, non-painful motion of joints. When it becomes worn, raw bone surfaces become exposed and rub together. DJD is the result, causing pain and lack of joint mobility.

Orthopedic Disorders
Many lameness problems are noted in young and growing animals. These problems often improve with rest and get worse during exercise, such as elbow dysplasia. They start out as low grade and become progressively more severe over a period of a few weeks. Lameness may not be what an owner initially notices usually it is the subtle gait abnormalities, such as swinging a limb rather than flexing specific joints and also a reluctance to go up or down stairs, not eager to exercise, or just not acting as lively and bouncy as they might expect for their dog.. This often occurs in hip dysplasia in dogs, causing gait abnormality rather than causing specific limb lameness. 

An Orthopedic evaluation usually concentrates on examination of all four limbs, palpating the bones, muscles and joints for pain, swellings and decreased or abnormal ranges of motion. Your veterinarian may also focus on specific areas to look for certain causes of lameness in areas like the hip (hip dyplasia – Ortolani maneuver), elbow (elbow dysplasia) and stifle (cruciate disease – cranial drawer sign).

Neurological Disorders
Not all lameness is due to orthopedic disorders. A neurological examination of the limb(s) may be suggested if your veterinarian believes the problem may lie at the level of the brain, spinal cord, nerves or muscles that they supply.  Sudden onset lameness can be the initial presentation associated with a variety of spinal disorders. Extruded disk material in the neck region can causes a profound, single front leg lameness, a so-called root signature, as can disk problems in the lumbo-sacral region of the spine. Disk disease and fibrocartilaginous emboli (FCE) can produce rapid onset weakness and clumsiness that can be misinterpreted as lameness.

Where neurological disease is suspected, specific diagnostic tests may include myelography, CT scan, MRI, and spinal taps.


Diet Related Lameness
It is possible that the lameness is secondary to nutritional problems. Dogs should be fed a carefully balanced diet to ensure a strong and healthy skeleton. In the case of "homemade recipes," consult with your veterinarian so that vital minerals and vitamins for good bone development and maintenance are adequately provided.

The number one nutritional disorder in small animals is obesity, a problem that can lead to, and exacerbate many causes of frontleg and hindleg lameness.

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