Lameness in dogs can be very difficult to diagnose

Roger Salmon.
Roger Salmon.

If your pet (dog or cat) becomes suddenly lame on one leg, do you need to take him to a vet?

The answer is that it depends on what is causing the lameness and lameness in dogs can be difficult to diagnose.

There are injuries such as rupture of the cruciate ligament which will improve slightly from the initial injury, so that the dog will place the foot on the ground but will not properly take weight

A dog cannot tell us where it hurts unlike in the case of humans in pain.

Although a doctor friend of mine pointed out that they cannot tell any lies either, which is very true.

It can be hard to tell whether the dog is limping on a fore or hind limb or whether the pain originates from the foot, knee, elbow or hip joint.

There are certain criteria that necessitate taking immediate veterinary advice - if there is obvious deviation of the limb, noticeable swelling of the limb, obvious pain or obvious bleeding.

There are injuries such as rupture of the cruciate ligament which will improve slightly from the initial injury, so that the dog will place the foot on the ground but will not properly take weight.

Most people are aware of cruciate ligament injury in humans.

Many of us saw Michael Owen’s injury as it occurred.

It is also a well recognised skiing injury.

It is also a common hind limb injury in dogs so if your dog’s lameness does not improve in three or four days then it is essential to see the vet.

Cruciate ligaments form a backwards to forwards cross formation (hence cruciate) within the knee (stifle) joint preventing the upper part of the hind leg from moving forward relative to the lower part of the leg.

This injury often happens when the dogs foot gets stuck in a rabbit hole or when chasing a ball and turns suddenly in the opposite direction. This can cause complete rupture of the ligament and the dog will usually yelp at the time of injury but then will simply limp afterwards.

Long term instability of a joint will result in significant arthritic changes and lameness.

It is for this reason that is usually advisable to repair or stabilise the joint. In a small or old dog it may be suggested to manage the arthritis without having an operation but in most cases surgery will be the preferred option.