Lameness in Dogs: A Conversation with Barbro Filliquist, DVM

Barbro Filliquist, DVM

As comfortable as your Kerry looks, snoring on your couch with paws and ears twitching in dreamland, chances are your canine companion is dreaming about romping around the yard, going on walks and hikes, or running with the pack at the dog park. So naturally, we hate to see our dogs’ activity curtailed by limping. Yet, lameness is one of the most common reasons for a vet visit.

“We tend to think of lameness as falling into one of two categories: an acute injury, where your dog was fine one day and limping the next, or a more chronic injury, like arthritis,” says Barbro FilliquistAssistant Professor of Clinical Surgical & Radiological Sciences at the University of California, Davis. “With puppies, running around being rambunctious and maybe crashing into something and injuring a leg or paw is just part of adolescence. With older dogs, we’re looking for arthritis or soft-tissue injuries including torn ACLs, or maybe something like bone cancer in some cases.”

Dr. Filliquist offers a general rule of seeing the vet for lameness: If your dog is lame for more than a day, see your vet. 

“There is so much your vet can do to make your pet more comfortable, and injuries are so much more straightforward to treat if you catch them early,” Dr. Filliquist says. 

Another consideration: chances are that your dog is in more pain than he or she is letting on. 

Explains Filliquist: “Often dogs just by their natures want to please us, so they sort of go along and go for walks because they’re trying to make us happy, even if they’re in pain. The other factor for dogs is that they are pack animals at heart. In the wild, being injured or sick puts the rest of the pack at risk – the pack might kick you out if they see that you can’t keep up or that you might attract predators. Most dogs will try to hide pain or lameness as much as they can.” 

For most cases of transitory lameness, treatment will be some combination of removal of foreign objects, such as glass or foxtails, cleaning up punctures or abrasions to the pads, rest, and pain management. 

For more complicated lamenesses, veterinarians have a range of services to match the most sophisticated human technologies and treatment modalities.

“We have such a range of imaging technologies and surgical capabilities now; we can bring so much finesse and precision to repairing fractures or doing joint replacements or ligament repairs. In the past, you maybe wouldn’t think of doing a total hip replacement on a dog; now they’re a standard practice.” 

Some of the advances in treating lameness in dogs is attributable to the wisdom and economy of Mother Nature herself, however; a foot is a foot in most mammalian species. 

“Across most animals, you can look at the foot or hoof or paw, and recognize the same basic bones and structures. Some structures might have changed shape over the course of evolution, but from the veterinary standpoint, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to evaluate lameness across different species,’ says Filliquist.

One structure Filliquist could do without, in terms of lameness in dogs? The thumb, or dewclaw.

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