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In this lesson, we'll be teaching you about lameness in your dog or cat, what that may look like in your pet, and how you can inspect your pet for the signs of lameness.

Lameness or limping can be caused when your pet suffers an injury that produces pain in the limbs. These injuries can occur in the soft tissues like muscles, ligaments, and tendons, or even in the bony structures in your pet's legs.

Warning: As with all first aid situations, first make sure the scene is safe and that it's safe to approach your pet. And even if you assess the scene to be safe, still watch your pet for any signs of aggression. A pet in pain is a pet that can lash out.

Lameness in Your Pet

Lameness can come in a range of severity. When your pet has a more severe case of lameness, this is often seen as your pet holding a limb off the ground and not letting it touch. In other cases, your pet may be putting some weight on that limb or at least toe-touching the floor or ground.

Pro Tip #1: Usually the severity of the injury will correlate with the degree of lameness. If you notice severe lameness in your pet and he or she is in a lot of pain, transport your pet to veterinarian care as soon as possible.

If your pet's lameness is relatively mild or appears to be improving, you can keep an eye on it at home, and we'll show you some things below that you can do to better evaluate the severity of the lameness.

How to Perform a Lameness Inspection on Your Pet

Before approaching your pet for an inspection, you should first apply a muzzle. When an animal is in pain, sometimes the only way the pet may know how to tell you is by turning around and snapping at you.

1. Make sure your pet is lying on his side.

2. Begin by feeling his legs, starting with the toes and moving up the leg from there. Begin with the limbs closest to you, or the top limbs. Gently squeeze each area as you move up the leg. Feel for any lumps, bumps, or areas where he responds to your touching. Inspect the front leg, then the back.

Pro Tip #2: If your pet is feeling some pain, he may let you know by turning toward you, looking at you, whimpering, or even trying to bite you.

3. If you don't feel any abnormalities or you don't elicit a response from your pet with just touching, move to manipulating the joints. Again, start with the toes on the front leg.

4. Move each toe individually, back and forth, using the full range of motion. Monitor your pet for a response as you do.

5. After the toes, move to the wrists or carpus. Same as above, flex and extend the joint using a full range of motion. Then move on to the elbow joint, and then finally the shoulder joint.

Pro Tip #3: In the corresponding video for this lesson, Dr. Bobbi was inspecting Quinn's legs from behind. However, it may be easier from the other side. Do what is easiest or most comfortable. And watch the video and practice along as often as needed.

If after your inspection of the front leg joints you don't find anything unusual, move to the back leg and perform the same inspection. The joints move a bit differently and the terms are different, but the theory and application are the same. Just remember to use a full range of motion.

How to Treat Lameness at Home

If you are able to identify the source of your pet's pain during your inspection, one thing you can do is apply an ice pack to that area.

  1. Grab some ice from your freezer.
  2. Put it into a Ziplock or resealable bag.
  3. Apply it directly to the area on your pet that seemed to be the source of the pain.
  4. Hold the bag in place for 10 to 15 minutes.

This is assuming your pet tolerates the ice bag. If it causes a lot of stress or anxiety in your pet, it may not be worth it.

Pro Tip #4: You can safely use an ice bag on your pet for stretches of 10 to 15 minutes, four to six times per day.

The ice pack should help with inflammation if there is any and maybe even reduce some of the pain. However, the inflammation reduction benefits will only occur for around the first 24 hours. The pain reduction benefits may last longer.

If you are not able to control your pet's pain at home, it's medication time. But not medications you have lying around your house that haven't been specifically prescribed for this exact need. They may not be appropriate.

However, if you have some meds at home you think may work, contact your vet and get his or her approval.

Finally, your pet's lameness or limping should improve after a couple days. But if it persists beyond that or gets worse, it's time to visit your veterinarian.