Picking up lameness in your Clumber Spaniel

It can be tricky. When you take your dog to see the vet and they ask which leg appears to be the problem ‘Errrm, I’m not sure’ is a common response!

The best thing to do is video your dog whilst out walking, usually towards the start or end of a walk, when it is more pronounced. If you have a smart phone, you could even record it in slo-mo mode, which will make it easier to pick up (or your vet). If you are not sure if it is the front or back leg that is the problem, video your dog walking to you and away from you.

Dogs with hindlimb lameness can look as if they are lame in the front sometimes but you may notice their tail veers to a particular side when the walk, usually towards the pain free side to take the weight away from the injured leg.

The Clumber Spaniel in these videos has had both her elbows surgically repaired for incomplete ossification of the humeral condyle (IOHC). She had a mild intermittent lameness for 3 years before she was diagnosed and underwent surgery and she still suffers with bilateral intermittent lameness but is not as likely to fracture her elbows with jumping. Click here for further details on IOHC.

In the videos, you will see her head nod upwards as she weight bears on the lame leg and then relaxes her head downwards with bearing her weight on the good leg. It is more noticeable in the short video than the slo-mo video and, conveniently, it is a different leg in each video.

Top - right forelimb lameness - her licking is a sign of pain

Bottom - mild left forelimb lameness (dog on right of video)

There are many reasons for forelimb lameness. It may be a muscle strain, a ligament sprain, bruising or fracture. Generally, it may be something congenital (more likely in a young dog), traumatic (any age) or degenerative (age related in older dogs). Forelimb lameness can be in the leg itself, coming from the neck or even due to a problem with the opposing rear leg. If you dog appears to have a mild, intermittent lameness that has been there for a period of time, it should be investigated further by your vet.

Dogs tend to exhibit more lameness with injuries to their distal extremities than they do with proximal injuries ie. there may be a more pronounced limp with an ankle injury or getting a grass seed in their pad than with a shoulder tendonopathy. Explaining the way they hold their leg up at the time of injury also helps your vet as if it is a shoulder injury, they may hold their forelimd up from the floor but out to the side, away from their body. The most important thing you can do as an owner is to get the lameness diagnosed.

If you notice your dog limping you should stop them walking and gently lift each leg up individually. The lame leg will come up much easier than the other 3 legs and your dog will be very reluctant to allow you to raise the opposing leg (eg. rear right if the front left is lame).

The picture below show an interdigital cyst. These are large bumps, or nodules, between a dog's toes. They are also known as interdigital furuncles.

Sudden lameness

If you are on a walk and your dog is reluctant to walk, holding their paw up, they are likely to have trod on something that may still be either attached to them or may even penetrate their pads. It may be they stand and refuse to move. You should gently feel down both legs to see if there are any obvious signs of injury. Your dog may offer you the painful leg. Always start at the foot and work up, so feel for thorns or other foreign bodies all around their toes/ pads and check your hand for any blood. Next squeeze the foot as if there is a grass seed within it will be painful. If you suspect a foreign object has entered a pad, see if you can see a puncture mark/ wound as this information will help your vet locate it.

If there is nothing there, gently wiggle their toes - a fractured toe would not like this and then gently more their wrist. The elbow is next and then the shoulder. If there is still no pain or stiffness in the joints, it could be that they have stung their foot or had something pierce them that is no longer there. You should wait with them for a few moments so that they can decided if they are ready to continue and if they are no longer lame, just keep note of which leg you think it is just in case they become lame after their walk. It may be they have sprained their wrist and the excitement of being on a walk could disguise discomfort. It may be that they become lame later in the day, once they have rested and the inflammation from the injury has built up, causing pain. If they are still lame you should end the walk and take them to the vet if required.

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