Dog limping with no apparent pain when touched is a relatively common problem among pet owners. It can be difficult to determine the cause of the limping since the dog does not seem to be in pain. This can be confusing when we try to find out where the pain is coming from on a dog’s leg that is causing the limping.
As much as your furry friend doesn’t want to show they are in pain, getting a calming bed to help them relax can make everything easier. Additionally, providing joint mobility support through supplements such as Hip & Joint Mobility Soft Chews can help prevent future joint and muscle issues.
To really understand lameness in dogs who don’t show pain when touched, but still limp when walking, we consulted some expert veterinary sources such as Dr. Tim Hutchinson, DVM and Dr. Felix Michael Duerr MS, DACVS-SA for the best information on dog lameness with no obvious pain.
So, Why Would A Dog Be Limping Without Pain When Touched?
Dog limping without showing any signs of pain when touched could be a contracting muscle, a sprain, shifting kneecaps, stiffness after exercise, nerve damage or neurological disorders, degenerative joint diseases like dysplasia, fibrotic myopathy, or issue with ligaments and tendons. The dog may also be masking the pain from being touched.
When a dog is limping, it means they have trouble putting their weight on one limb. Most of the time it is because of an injury that is painful to the touch, like a splinter, open wound, dislocation, or broken paw. Even when large-breed puppies get panosteitis (a type of leg pain that comes from growing so fast), there is usually pain when you touch the affected leg because of inflammation in the bone.
So what if your dog shows no signs of hurt or soreness when you feel their leg and examine their paws, but they are still limping? This usually suggests that the pain comes from the pressure a dog feels when they put weight on the leg, or when they move or extend their leg at a certain angle.
This pressure could be on a joint, a tendon, a ligament, or a muscle that only causes pain when your dog moves a certain way or puts weight on the leg. However, it won’t necessarily hurt if you lightly touch the area, and sometimes it won’t hurt despite how much you handle it.
So, it is important to note that limping without pain when touched should still be evaluated by a veterinarian. Even if a dog is not showing signs of pain, there may still be an underlying issue that requires treatment or management. A vet will need to physically manipulate the leg to try to find the source of the pain through a manual exam, and may need to do other diagnostic tests to figure out the cause of the lameness.
Possible Causes Of Dogs Limping With No Pain When Touched
Limping is not a disorder, rather it is a symptom, and there are many reasons why a dog may limp. However, if there is no pain when you touch the leg, this slightly narrows down the possible reasons for lameness. So, let’s take a look at the possible causes of dogs limping with no pain when touched:
1. Muscle Contractures
Muscle contractures refer to the abnormal shortening of muscles, leading to a decreased range of motion and stiffness. This condition can affect any muscle in a dog’s body, including the infraspinatus muscle, which is a muscle in the shoulder joint.
Research shows infraspinatus muscle contracture can cause a dog to limp without experiencing any pain when touched. This condition is often seen in large-breed dogs and can be caused by genetic factors or trauma.
Treatment for muscle contractures typically involves physical therapy, stretching exercises, and, in severe cases, surgical intervention.
2. Nerve Damage
Nerve damage is a condition that affects the nerves in a dog’s body. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including trauma, infection, and degenerative diseases. Trauma is one of the most common causes of nerve damage in dogs and can occur as a result of a fall, car accident, or other physical injury.
3. Tumors (nerve sheath tumors & paraneoplastic neuropathy)
Nerve sheath tumors are growths that develop on the nerves themselves. At the same time, paraneoplastic neuropathy is a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves in response to a tumor elsewhere in the body.
Nerve sheath tumors can occur anywhere in the body but are most commonly found in the limbs. They can cause painless limping, as well as muscle weakness and atrophy. Diagnosis is typically made through imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.
Paraneoplastic neuropathy, on the other hand, occurs mainly in dogs with cancer. The immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves, leading to various symptoms, including painless limping. Diagnosis can be challenging, as it requires ruling out other potential causes of limping.
4. Neurological Disorders
Veterinary sources point to a number of nervous systems disorders that can affect your dog’s use of their legs and cause limping, even if the leg is not painful to the touch. Neurological disorders like degenerative myelopathy and intervertebral disc disease can cause limping without pain when touched. They include:
- Cerebellar ataxia is a condition that affects the cerebellum, responsible for coordinating movement, causing uncoordinated movements, stumbling, and difficulty walking.
- Polyneuropathy is a disorder that affects multiple nerves, causing weakness and loss of limb sensation.
- Myasthenia gravis is a condition that affects the transmission of nerve impulses to the muscles, causing weakness and fatigue.
It is important to note that some neurological disorders are progressive and may not have a cure. However, with proper management and treatment, the symptoms can be managed to improve the dog’s quality of life.
5. Dog Masking Pain When Touched
Dogs are instinctually programmed to hide pain as a survival mechanism, as showing weakness can make them more vulnerable to predators in the wild. This behavior is known as “masking pain,” it occurs when a dog is trying to hide their discomfort from their owner or veterinarian. Some breeds also have a very high pain threshold and can withstand incredible amounts of pain without showing any outward pains.
One possibility of dog masking pain is that the dog is experiencing pain in a different part of their body, and the limp results from compensating for that pain. For example, a dog with a sore hip may limp on their front leg to avoid putting weight on their back leg.
6. Stiffness or Soreness (Particularly After Exercise)
Dogs that limp without showing any signs of pain when touched may be experiencing stiffness or soreness, particularly after exercise. This condition is commonly referred to as “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” (DOMS), and it is similar to the condition that humans experience after strenuous exercise.
DOMS is caused by small tears in the muscle fibers, which occur when the muscles are subjected to unaccustomed or excessive strain.
The symptoms of DOMS usually appear 24 to 48 hours after exercise, including stiffness, soreness, and a reluctance to move. In some cases, the dog may also display a decreased range of motion and appear to be walking stiffly.
If a dog is experiencing DOMS, several things can be done to help alleviate their symptoms. These include:
- Providing them with rest and recovery time;
- Applying heat or cold therapy to the affected area;
- Giving them a massage or gentle stretching; and
- Administering anti-inflammatory medication under the guidance of a veterinarian.
7. Strain or Sprain
Strain or sprains are often confused because they have similar symptoms, but they are different.
A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn, while a sprain is caused by trauma, such as a fall or a blow to the joint. You can read more on dog sprained injuries in our article.
Symptoms of a strain include limping, swelling, and stiffness, and the affected area may be tender to the touch. Symptoms of a sprain include limping, swelling, and pain. The affected area may also be warm to the touch.
8. Elbow Diseases
The elbow joint is a complex structure, and any abnormality in its development or function can lead to pain and lameness. Common elbow diseases include elbow dysplasia (improper elbow joint development) and coronoid illness, where a part of the elbow (the coronoid) is damaged.
9. Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition that affects the hip joint, causing it to develop abnormally. It is most commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs, but it can occur in any breed. It is often diagnosed through X-rays and physical examination.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia can include:
- Reluctance to exercise;
- Difficulty rising from a lying down position;
- Swaying gait (pacing); and
- A “bunny hop with back legs.
10. Fibrotic Myopathy
Fibrotic myopathy is a rare condition that affects the thigh muscles of dogs. It is characterized by replacing muscle fibers with fibrous tissue, which can cause the muscle to become stiff and inflexible. Dogs with fibrotic myopathy may have difficulty extending their hind legs, resulting in a limp or an abnormal gait.
Rickets is a condition that affects bone development in growing dogs. It is caused by a deficiency in vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus, essential for the proper growth and maintenance of bones. Rickets can cause bone deformities, weakness, and fractures.
Dogs with rickets may exhibit limping or stiffness, but they may not show any pain when touched. Prevention of rickets involves providing a balanced and nutritious diet that includes adequate amounts of vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus. Research shows that feeding your dog food with excess calcium and phosphorus may make them prone to what you are avoiding.
Treatment for rickets involves dietary changes or supplementation with vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct bone deformities.
12. Patella Luxation
Patella luxation, or kneecap dislocation, is a common orthopedic condition in dogs. It occurs when the kneecap moves out of its normal position, causing the leg to lock up or become unstable. Patella luxation can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, trauma, or congenital abnormalities.
Breeds predisposed to patella luxation include Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Yorkshire Terriers, and other toy breeds. Some dogs may show no pain or discomfort when touched but may still exhibit limping or difficulty walking. Mostly what you will see is a dog “skipping” as the kneecap shifts out of place.
Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition and may include surgery, physical therapy, or medication.
13. Ligament Tears (Such as ACL Tears)
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the main ligaments in a dog’s knee joint. This ligament is responsible for stabilizing the joint and preventing excessive movement. The joint becomes unstable when the ACL is torn, and the dog may experience pain and limp.
Symptoms of an ACL tear include:
- Reluctance to put weight on the affected leg;
- Swelling around the knee joint; and
- In some cases, the dog may also experience a popping sound at the time of the injury.
ACL tears are common in breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Newfoundlands. However, any dog can suffer from an ACL tear due to trauma or degeneration of the ligament over time.
14. Calcium & Phosphorus Imbalances In Diet (Particularly Growing Puppies)
Calcium and phosphorus are essential minerals for a dog’s bone health. Calcium is necessary for strong bones, teeth, and muscle function. Phosphorus, on the other hand, is required for energy metabolism, cell signaling, and bone mineralization.
However, an imbalance in the ratio of these two minerals can lead to serious bone and joint abnormalities, particularly in growing puppies. Both deficiencies and excesses of these two minerals also affect how the bones and joints develop, leading to potential limping that may or may not be painful when you touch the leg.
15. Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease
This is a rare condition that affects the hip joints of small breed dogs, such as Miniature Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas.
LCPD usually affects dogs between the ages of 4 and 12 months, which is more common in males than females. The exact cause of LCPD is unknown, but it is thought to be related to poor blood supply to the femoral head, which leads to the death of bone tissue and the collapse of the femoral head.
Osteochondrosis is a developmental disorder that affects the bones and cartilage of young dogs. In some cases, there may be no visible signs of the condition, but X-rays may reveal abnormal bone growths or other abnormalities in the affected joints. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the abnormal growths or to repair damaged cartilage.
17. Achilles Tendon Disruption (Dropped Hock)
Achilles tendon disruption, also known as dropped hock, is a condition that affects the hind legs of dogs. It occurs when the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, is partially or completely torn.
Dropped hock can be caused by a variety of factors, including trauma, overexertion, and degenerative changes in the tendon. Certain breeds, such as Greyhounds and Great Danes, may be more prone to this condition due to their anatomy.
Symptoms of Achilles tendon disruption include limping, swelling, and pain in the affected leg. The leg may or may not be painful when you touch it, depending on how you touch it or handle the leg. The dog may also have difficulty standing or walking, and may hold the affected leg up off the ground.
Why There Might Be No Pain When Touching A Limping Dog
When a dog is limping, it is often a sign of pain or discomfort. However, in some cases, a dog may limp without showing any signs of pain when touched. This can be confusing for pet owners, but there are several possible explanations for this phenomenon.
- One possible reason is that the pain is located in a different area of the body than where the limp is visible. For example, a dog with hip dysplasia may limp on one leg but not show any signs of pain when that leg is touched. This is because the pain is actually located in the hip joint, which is not directly connected to the leg.
- Another possible explanation is that the pain is very mild or intermittent, and the dog is simply not reacting to it. Dogs are known for their high pain tolerance, and they may not show obvious signs of pain until it becomes severe.
- It is also possible that the dog has learned to tolerate the pain and compensate for the limp. Dogs are incredibly adaptable and can learn to adjust their gait to minimize discomfort.
- The limping may be due to a nerve or neurological issue that affects the dog’s ability to use the leg but does not cause pain in the leg.
- The dog may have a degenerative issue like hip or elbow dysplasia that is still in the early stages. This means the dog may have pain when they put their weight on the leg but not when touched.
- The pain may come from a hurt muscle, ligament, or tendon, that only hurts when the dog moves or flexes their leg in a specific way, and not when you touch the leg.
- The dog may have a condition like a shifting kneecap (luxating patella) where kneecap pops out of place for a moment, causing a skip or limp, but then pops back into place. This won’t necessarily cause any pain when you touch the leg and is more common in small dogs.
Diagnosing a Limping Dog
This section will cover the various methods used to diagnose a limping dog.
The first step in diagnosing a limping dog is a physical examination. The veterinarian will examine the dog’s gait, posture, and range of motion. During the investigation, the vet may observe the dog’s behavior, looking for discomfort or pain.
The next step in diagnosing a limping dog is to take a thorough medical history. The vet will ask about the dog’s diet, exercise routine, and recent injuries or illnesses. They will also ask about any medications the dog is taking and any previous medical conditions.
The vet may recommend imaging tests if the physical examination and medical history do not provide a precise diagnosis. X-rays are commonly used to diagnose bone fractures, arthritis, and other skeletal problems. Ultrasound and MRI scans can be used to examine soft tissue injuries, such as ligament tears or muscle strains.
Treatment Options for a Limping Dog
There are several treatment options that can help alleviate the issue and improve the dog’s mobility.
Rest and Observation
If the limp is minor and not accompanied by any other symptoms, such as swelling or pain when touched, the first step is to rest the dog and observe the limp for a few days. This can help determine if the limp is due to a minor injury or strain that will heal independently with time.
Pain management may be necessary if the limp is causing the dog pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as canine aspirin or ibuprofen, should not be given to dogs as they can cause serious side effects. Instead, prescription pain medication prescribed by a veterinarian should be used.
Physical therapy can benefit dogs with limps caused by muscle or joint issues. This can include exercises to improve strength and flexibility, massage, and hydrotherapy. A veterinarian or certified canine rehabilitation therapist can provide guidance on the best physical therapy options for the dog.
Surgery may sometimes be necessary to correct the underlying issue causing the limp. This can include procedures such as ligament repair or joint replacement. Surgery should only be considered after other treatment options have been exhausted and the benefits outweigh the risks.
Prevention and Management of Dog Limping
There are three key elements to preventing lameness in dogs.
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial in preventing and managing limping in dogs. Overweight dogs are more likely to experience joint pain and inflammation, which can lead to limping.
Regular exercise is essential for maintaining a dog’s overall health. It helps strengthen muscles and joints, reducing the risk of injury. Avoid overexertion, as this can lead to limping and other injuries.
Proper nutrition is essential for preventing and managing limping in dogs. A balanced diet that includes all necessary vitamins and minerals can help keep a dog’s joints healthy and reduce the risk of inflammation and pain.
When to Consult a Veterinarian About Dogs Limping
Here are a few signs that indicate when it’s time to consult a veterinarian:
Prolonged limping may indicate a more severe injury or condition that requires medical attention. If a dog has been limping for more than a day or two without showing any improvement, it’s time to consult a veterinarian. Also be on the lookout for intermittent limping, or limping that comes and goes, as that could mean there is problem that is still in the early stages.
Swelling or Redness
If the dog’s limping is accompanied by swelling or redness in the affected area, it may indicate an infection or inflammation. A veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication to treat the condition in such cases.
Loss of Appetite or Lethargy
If a dog is limping and also showing signs of loss of appetite or lethargy, it may indicate a more severe condition that requires immediate medical attention. Such symptoms may indicate a systemic infection or a more severe injury that requires prompt medical care.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I determine the cause of my dog’s limping without visible signs of pain?
Determining the cause of a dog’s limping without visible signs of pain can be challenging. However, observing your dog’s behavior and noting any changes in their gait or activity level can help identify potential causes.
What are some common reasons for a dog to limp without showing pain when touched?
Some common reasons for a dog to limp without showing pain when touched include arthritis, hip dysplasia, soft tissue injuries, and nerve damage.
Can a dog limp without pain be a sign of a serious health issue?
Yes, a dog limping without pain can be a sign of a serious health issue. Some serious health issues that can cause limping without pain include cancer, bone infections, and autoimmune diseases. It is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of the limping.
What are some home remedies I can try for my dog’s limping without pain?
While there are some home remedies that can help alleviate mild limping without pain, it is important to consult with a veterinarian before trying any home remedies. Some home remedies that can help alleviate limping without pain include rest, gentle exercise, and hot/cold therapy.
When should I take my dog to the vet for limping without pain?
If the limping is accompanied by other symptoms such as swelling, fever, or loss of appetite. It is recommended to take your dog to the vet.
Is it normal for an older dog to limp without pain?
While some joint stiffness and discomfort may be expected in older dogs, limping without pain can be a sign of an underlying health issue. It is important to observe your for a day or two before making an appointment with your vet.
While some causes of limping may be minor and self-resolving, others may require more extensive treatment and care. If your dog is limping without any obvious cause, it is recommended to observe them first before you press the panic button. Consult a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment after the second day of limping.
Meet Your Experts
Tamsin De La Harpe
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.