Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
So your dog has been lying down, or perhaps even sleeping, and as he gets up, he limps for a few steps. The limping is noticeable for the most part for a few seconds, but after this, he walks normally, as if nothing ever happened. What gives?
This limping shouldn't be confused with a dog stretching after getting up. Some dogs will stretch their back legs straight and then drag them for just a little—silly dogs! One moment you are thinking about calling your vet and the next, your dog is acting fine. So should you or shouldn't you call the vet? Is it possible that the dog just slept in a bad position and that one of their legs fell asleep? This is certainly an interesting question. It happens to us humans occasionally, so why not to Rover?
Dog's Leg Falls Asleep
First of all, why do limbs fall asleep in the first place? This happens when pressure is put on certain nerves and blood vessels associated with sensation. That prolonged pressure causes the nerves to go a little haywire because the communication between the limb and the brain becomes erratic or is lost. This leads to a tingling, pins-and-needles sensation known as paresthesia.
All it takes to bring sensation back is to move about a bit so that the blood flows back to the limb, boosting the misfiring nerves until the signals flow again properly.
Can This Happen to Dogs?
One answer comes from a veterinarian who answered this very question in an online forum. He writes that dog legs can indeed fall asleep. When this happens, the dog may acting normally until he notices his leg doesn't work. He'll be dragging it or stop moving altogether until sensation comes back. Sensitive dogs may even yelp or lick/bite at their legs when they feel that unpleasant tingling sensation.
It's helpful to note the position your dog is sleeping in and see if there's a pattern. You should definitively see your vet if your dog limps after getting up several times in one day. While a dog's leg may fall asleep occasionally, it definitively shouldn't happen repeatedly, or every single time your dog awakens from a nap. If that's the case, there may other causes.
The vet also notes that the limping starts in another context (the dog was not lying down for long or at all), then the dog should see a vet.
Why a Dog May Often Limp After Lying Down
A common explanation for frequent limping after lying down is arthritis.
A dog with arthritis will limp after lying down for some time, but according to VetInfo.com, these dogs also walk more slowly than they used to, their gait may change, and there may be tenderness, warmth, and swelling around their joints. The dog may also manifest problems in sitting, jumping, climbing, squatting, getting up, and lying down.
After a few steps, even a dog with arthritis may begin to walk more normally. The joint warms up, and joint fluid lubricates the area, allowing easier movement. This process is similar to the way that blood flow helps a dog's leg when it has fallen asleep.
There are many things you can do to help a dog with arthritis. Acupuncture and supplements such as chondroitin, glucosamine, Vitamin E, and fatty acids can be helpful. In more severe cases, a dog may need non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs.
Injury and Other Causes of Limping
There are other possible causes for limping:
- Joint injury
- Soft-tissue injury
- Cruciate ligament tear
- Dysplastic hips
- Broken bone
- Hairline fracture
- Herniated disc
If you are concerned about your dog's limping, don't hesitate to bring him in to see a vet to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
For Further Reading
- Dog Health: Signs and Symptoms of Dog Hip Dysplasia
Learn the signs and symptoms of his dysplasia in dogs. Learn some effective strategies and products to make your dog's hip pain more bearable.
- Causes of Limping in Dogs
Learn about some of the most common dog limping causes. Find out how to palpate the leg to pin-point problems and potential causes for front leg limping and rear leg limping in dogs.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dog is not in pain, but why is she limping?
Answer: A dog who is limping is in pain. Dogs do not manifest pain in the same way we do. If it hurts to put the leg down, rather than saying "ouch" the dog will limp.
© 2015 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 03, 2020:
I would suggest recording the limping when your dog gets up from sleeping and showing it the vet. I did this with my dog and he took x-rays and found beginning of arthritis.
George on September 02, 2020:
My 5 year old bull dog has a limp.
It goes away after walking for a few minutes.
What can I do?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 15, 2019:
You can try to apply for Care Credit. It has helped lots of dog owners who cannot afford vet bills.
Hayden on July 12, 2019:
My dog woke up and has been limping ever since it did not go away it’s been three days but she never stepped on anything and her bones do not feel broken nor are they swollen. What should I do? I really cannot afford to go to the vet.
Madison on March 30, 2019:
My PitBull Boxer Mix dog is only 4 yrs. old, but when she woke up today after being asleep, she was limping. She was dragging her left back paw as if it was injured. But she doesn’t wine when I move her leg around like normal. What could be the cause?
patricia on October 06, 2018:
my English bulldog is only 4yrs old and recently he limps from been asleep more on left side though can we buy supplements to grease his jointsxx
Sandy on April 24, 2017:
My dog has a large cyst at the base of his tail. He has also started limping badly on his hind leg. Could this be related to the cyst
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 04, 2016:
Luis, what did your vet diagnose your dog with? What medication was given a NSAID? I would follow up with the vet and let him know that the problem is still there and what's the next step. Your dog is quite young. Did your dog have xrays done?
luis o on August 04, 2016:
I have two little dogs they are 1 yr. and a few months and one of them every time she lays down gets up and limps for a little bit, than walks almost normal but the limping is less vet check her out give her medicine got better but now that medicine is done is back again, I grab het leg and touch all over it and don't seems to batter her, so no idea what is wrong I'm concern
MP on June 30, 2016:
My 9 yr old boxer's left front leg falls asleep when she lays on left side, on recliner with head hanging off,silly dog....
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 17, 2016:
Thank you, our poll do far says that 54 percent of dog owners have witnessed their dogs' legs falling asleep, so it's likely something not that uncommon!
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 26, 2015:
Informative and interesting! I did not know at that time when my dog had the same problem after getting up. Always useful to dog lovers.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 25, 2015:
I guess so, just like humans, we have sleeping legs too
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 25, 2015:
Thank you , Kathleen. I used to think my dog's rear leg had fallen asleep initially as she limped upon getting up, but then, as it occurred more and more often, I figured it was time to see the vet. After seeing 3 different vets, finally the diagnosis came loud and clear, it turned out being a ruptured cruciate ligament.
Kathleen Kerswig on January 25, 2015:
I used to have dogs living with me and it never occurred to me that the limping might be due to their leg falling asleep. Thanks for sharing this with us. I learn something new every day! Blessings!
Diagnosis – Limping With No Signs of Pain
It’s possible that you haven’t witnessed your pet express pain when touched because you haven’t found the area that’s causing their discomfort and therefore making them limp. Try any or all of these suggestions to better understand why your favorite hound is limping.
Check your dog’s paws
Let’s talk a little bit about your favorite walking buddy’s paws. Dog’s paw pads are amazingly adaptive they regulate body temperature, they harden to adjust to terrain, they protect them from blisters caused by heat and frostbite from snow, they even have their own built-in bacteria that helps fight infections.
However, there is a part of the canine foot that is not as hardened to the harshness of the outside world and you may have noticed it when grooming or cutting nails.
The tender, soft areas between a dog’s toes are protected enough by the surface of the foot that they don’t have as many of the protective qualities as the paw pads.
Even the smallest piece of debris could become wedged here and cause the dog to limp. If your dog has long hair, it could even be matted fur that’s packed itself into the crevices of the dog’s toes.
Additionally, it could be an issue with their nails. We all know a cracked nail or hangnail can cause us discomfort.
This should be the first thing you check before making an appointment with the vet. It’s an easy fix and typically doesn’t require a medical or animal-handling degree to remove a foreign item from the paw, especially if you have someone to help you keep the dog calm and held down while searching through this notoriously sensitive area.
Animals who are in pain are more likely to be agitated and therefore more likely to bite. Yes, even you, their beloved owner, could be bitten. It’s important to know that a dog who bites is not necessarily aggressive or dangerous, but merely trying to protect themselves from further discomfort. (Compare it to how you may flinch or even swat at someone or something that’s attempting to touch a physical injury.)
- In order to avoid being bitten, it’s important to be cautious when trying to locate the area causing the dog to limp.
- Ask for help and properly restrain the dog, but not so much that they are increasingly fearful or stressed.
- Calm them by speaking to them in a soothing voice and petting them gently.
- Through the process of elimination, find the problem area or limb
- While practicing caution, gently run your hand up the limb they’ve been limping on.
- For front leg limping, you may want to rub your pet’s chest to help them stay calm and show trust by keeping your hand in a place that they can see it.
- For back leg limping, you can spend extra time gently touching around the tail area, and also on the top of the lower back.
Keep a mental log
If the front leg or back leg limping has just begun, make a conscious decision to pay more attention to their limping, especially if it seems to come and go. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do they limp after activity?
- Do they struggle with jumping or climbing stairs?
- Are they more or less active since the limping has been noticed?
- If they are back leg limping, are they also suffering from diarrhea?
- Have they always been sensitive about their paws (be it front or back) being touched?
The answers to all these questions will help you better understand why your dog is limping yet showing no visible signs of pain.
Causes of my dog limping
There are many reasons why your dog may be limping. As dog owners, it is up to us to identify odd behaviors so we can communicate that information with the veterinarians. In cases of limping, these are some of the most common reasons and what symptoms dog owners should look out for.
#1 Broken Leg
A broken leg is probably one of the most obvious causes of limping in your dog. Your dog may have been hit by a car or caught its leg in something in the back yard, causing its leg to fracture or break. In many cases, you will be able to see where the leg has broken, especially if the bone has penetrated through the skin.
Common signs seen when a dog has broken its leg are:
- Swelling on and around the leg
- Crying in pain
If you think that your dog has broken its leg, it is best to take them to your vet as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your dog and take x-rays of your dog’s leg to confirm that it is broken. In some cases, your dog may have to have surgery to fix the break. This will all depend on where your dog’s leg is broken and the severity of the break. If needed, your dog may need to wear a cast for a few weeks until the bones heal. It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s directions and keep the cast clean and dry this will help decrease further issues from arising.
#2 Torn ACL
A torn ACL is commonly seen in medium to large breed dogs. The ACL is a ligament in the knee that helps keep the leg stabilized when walking. A classic sign for a torn ACL is sudden limping shortly after exercise. Most dogs that are diagnosed with an ACL tear are typically very active dogs. These tears will happen while they are playing or running, and symptoms, such as limping, will be seen immediately. Many times, dogs with a torn ACL will not want to put weight on the affected leg at all.
If your dog is suddenly limping or not putting any weight on its leg, it is best to see your vet. Quite often, the only way to fix an ACL tear is with surgery. Your veterinarian can suggest options to help decrease pain or discomfort up until your dog’s surgery.
#3 Something Stuck in their Paw
Another reason why your dog maybe limping is if they have something stuck in their paw. He or she will hesitate to put weight on their paw causing them to limp. Common things found stuck in a dog’s paws are rocks, thorns, or sticks. You can closely examine your dog’s paw and see if there is something stuck between their toes. If you cannot find anything, take your dog to the veterinarian so they can help look for hidden thorns.
#4 Broken Toenail
A broken toenail can cause limping in dogs. For example, a dog will accidentally get a toenail caught in a blanket or rug causing a break when they go to move. Many times, this break exposes the quick, the soft pick tissue in the center of the nail, causing the toe to bleed. Once the bleeding stops, your dog may limp for a few days because the toe is still tender and painful. If your dog only partially broke their toenail, they may need to see a vet. The vet will trim the rest of the nail and apply a bandage, if necessary, to minimize further pain or bleeding.
#5 Hip Dysplasia
Hip Dysplasia is commonly seen in large breed dogs such as Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. Hip Dysplasia happens when a dog’s hip joints do not form correctly, causing the ball of the femur to not fit properly in the socket. The rubbing or grinding movement of the ball in socket causes increase bony growth leading to arthritis formation. If your dog develops arthritis, they may start to limp. Common signs of Hip Dysplasia are:
- Pain and difficulty when trying to sit or stand
- Painful when touching hips
- Abnormal gait
If you notice any of these symptoms, see your veterinarian. They can take x-rays of your dog’s hips to see if he or she does, in fact, have hip Dysplasia and the severity of the condition. Many times, vets will prescribe pain medication to help decrease the inflammation in the hip joints giving your pet relief. Dog owners can help decrease the chance of hip dysplasia by asking breeders about the parent’s medical background and picking a puppy from a litter with parents without hip dysplasia.
As your dog ages, they may start to develop arthritis. This is a buildup of extra bone in and around the joints causing inflammation. The joints most commonly affected are hips, knees, and elbows. If your dog is limping on one of its legs you can carefully examine and move the different joints in that leg. If they are developing arthritis, you will be able to feel the crepitus (grinding, crackling, and popping) as you move the joint. Petside says there are many things you can do to help decrease the pain associated with arthritis.Things such as Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), Glucosamine, or other joint supplements will help keep your dog from limping as much.
Similar to people, dogs can suffer many health issues that lead to limping.
Unfortunately for dogs, they can’t use words to tell us what happened. As a caring pet owner, this means it will be your job to find a way to comfort your dog, then help them.
In this post, we'll review some common reasons your dog may be limping, when emergency care is needed and how you can assist your pet.
Some Common Reasons for Limping
- Inflammatory conditions
- Something painful stuck in their paw
- Vascular conditions
- Infectious diseases, such as Lyme
- Trauma, such as broken bones
- Tears or strains (muscles, ligaments, tendons)
- Insect sting or bite
Is it an emergency?
Your dog will need emergency care if the following situations apply. If it is after-hours, contact your nearest emergency veterinary clinic for care.
- Limbs that feel hot to the touch
- A dangling limb (this indicates dislocation)
- Limping in combination with a fever
- A broken limb (will be at an irregular angle)
- Any moderate to severe swelling
What You Can Do
When you first notice any limping, try to rest your dog as best you can. You'll need to limit mobility, as any further strain can cause a more serious injury. Exercise should be put on hold until your dog has healed, and you should leash your pet to walk them outside for bathroom breaks as they may try to run if let out into the yard.
Alternating between heat and ice packs might reduce swelling and discomfort. Consult with your vet's office for recommendations on which to apply and when.
Check for bleeding. This will usually provide insight into whether your dog has suffered an injury, puncture, or bite.
In general, if the limp isn't severe, you can observe your dog's progress at home over 24-48 hours. In most cases, it's better to be safe than sorry, and scheduling an appointment with your vet may help both you and your dog to feel better. If the limp isn't resolving, is becoming worse, or is accompanied with whining or yelping, it's time to call your vet.
Ultimately, your veterinarian is best equipped to determine the cause and severity of your dog's pain. A thorough examination may include blood work, tick testing, and x-rays. Your dog's breed, history, age, and general health will be considered in the diagnosis, as well as the prescribed treatment plan.
Remember to never give any medication to your pets without consulting your vet first. Your vet will recommend any treatments you can do at home and will prescribe proper medication and dosage information for pain relief.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.
Dog Limping after Laying Down
The observation of a dog limping after getting up may indicate the onset of arthritis. Usually the dog will be stiff and sore and walk with a limp after having been lying down for a while. Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues and is quite painful.
Other possible causes can be traumatic injury to the joint, a ruptured cruciate knee ligament, or broken or fractured bones, which in time will heal and the limp will disappear. Infections, herniated spine discs and tumors can also cause temporary limping if they affect the limbs.