When I was in college, I moved into the first apartment that was my very own in my third year. I had paid special attention to the apartment building rules and regulations, and I’d made sure to choose one that allowed dogs. The next day, I went to the nearest pet shelter and came home with Rufio, my sweet little puppy.
Rufio and I spent many years together, but in his seventh year, I noticed that he kept limping when he would get up from laying down. Everything turned out alright in the end, but I will say that I was extremely worried for many days before I sought help from my veterinarian.
I want to help people avoid a similarly frightful situation. Here’s what to do if you notice that your dog is limping — whether it’s whenever he gets up from lying down or in general.
Why does my dog limp when he gets up?
So, you’ve noticed that your dog limps when they get up. You’re not alone. This is an extremely common issue among dog owners.
The good news is you don’t have to rush to conclusions here. Dogs may end up limping when they get up from lying down for a number of reasons. Many of these reasons are benign, and there’s nothing to worry about.
Below, we have a list of the main reasons why your dog may be limping when they get up.
They’re actually just stretching
It sounds obvious, but some hyper-aware dog owners may be alarmed if they see their dog “limping,” when they’re actually just stretching.
Depending on how your dog stretches, it may be a little more or less difficult to notice this key difference. In general, you can tell right away when your dog is just getting a good stretch of their front legs. They will literally lean back on their hind legs with their front legs straight out in front of them — yes, just like the “downward dog” yoga pose.
Back leg stretches are a little harder to discern from limping. Usually, a dog will simply begin to walk slowly for a few steps after getting up from laying down. Then, they will lethargically kick back one of their back legs at a time, to stretch them as they are walking. Because they are walking at the same time, this can sort of appear as if they are unstable.
Basically, if this is the only time when you see your dog “limping,” and they could arguably just be stretching their back legs, it’s probably just stretching. And you shouldn’t worry. If you tend to see them limping in other ways at other times, then you’ll want to consider another problem that is causing their limping.
Their legs have fallen asleep
Yes! Dog’ legs can fall asleep just like humans’ legs!
As with us, dogs can end up sleeping in awkward positions that put pressure on specific blood vessels and nerves. Over time (during the time that they are sleeping or just lying down), these nerves begin to lose their communication with the muscles and brain and don’t act normally.
When your dog then goes to use their limbs again, the nerves are naturally needed to transfer this communication from their brain to their lambs. But the message doesn’t get there.
As you probably know from experience, this causes a pins and needles feeling and can even make you lose all sensation in your legs or arms. If you’ve ever flailed your entire hand at your alarm clock when you meant to just put a delicate finger on the snooze button, you know this bizarre feeling. Like your dog, you may even find yourself limping on one leg or falling down completely when you can’t feel one of your legs at all.
Generally speaking, if you notice your dog doing something sort of comical like this (totally falling down out of nowhere after getting up, for example), it’s probably that their leg fell asleep. They just need to walk around for a bit to get the blood flowing and the nerves working properly again.
They’ve developed arthritis
Arthritis is actually quite common in animals, just it is as it is common in humans. Just as humans tend to develop arthritis in their older years, so do dogs.
One of the things about arthritis in dogs, however, is that they tend to have other symptoms too. For example, try to notice if your dog also does any of the following:
- Has trouble doing other activities like jumping into cars, squatting to go to the bathroom, laying down, sitting, or doing tricks
- Walks more slowly in general
- Has a change in their gait
- Appears to have tenderness and swelling around their joints
- Jumps back, growls, or winces if you touch them in certain places (on or around their legs)
If you notice several of these symptoms, it could be that your dog is struggling with arthritis.
The good news is, your veterinarian can prescribe certain medications to help your dog handle the pain and discomfort of arthritis. There are things you can do at home too. It’s best to book an appointment with your vet to get your dog looked at first.
They were injured
You’ll want to think about the last few days and weeks with your dog. Did they get into any fights? Did they have a bad fall or run down a hill a little too quickly? Were they tossed about in your car after a sudden stop or even a fender bender?
Situations like these can cause an injury that may not be noticeable right away after the incident. Such injuries could include:
- A hairline fracture
- An injury to a joint
- A cruciate ligament tear
- A broken bone
- A soft tissue injury
Naturally, you’ll want to book an appointment with your vet right away if you think your dog may have an injury to one of their limbs.
They have another medical problem
In truth, there are a multitude of other medical problems that may cause limping. Most of these other issues are rare, however, and that’s why we didn’t list them here specifically.
You will, however, want to speak with your veterinarian as soon as possible if you’ve ruled out all of the other possibilities on this list and still know that something is going on with your dog’s limping. Trust your intuition, and book an appointment.
Why does my dog limp when he wakes up?
I commonly hear dog owners wondering what it is that’s making their dogs limp when they wake up. To this, I give much the same answer as I gave above: They are probably dealing with one of the following:
- They’re actually just stretching
- Their limbs fell asleep, and it’s making them wobble
- They have arthritis
- They were recently injured
You should also imagine yourself when you just wake up. How do you feel in the mornings? Undoubtedly, some superstars who exercise regularly and eat right all the time feel like a million bucks in the morning. But for many of us, mornings aren’t exactly easy.
After you’ve been sleeping for a while, getting up is a slow process. You may not exactly limp as if you have a broken ankle, but you may sort of amble toward the coffee maker or shuffle along as you make your way to the bathroom. This isn’t uncommon in humans, and it isn’t totally uncommon in dogs either.
This isn’t to say that you should totally dismiss your dog’s limping after they get up from sleeping. You should always look for signs of immediate distress:
- A dislocation
- A break or fracture
- Severe swelling
- Total lethargy (no motivation to move or do anything)
- A lack of appetite
- Uncommonly aggressive behavior
If you notice any of these symptoms or any others that cause you alarm, it’s definitely worth calling your veterinarian about.
Why is my dog suddenly limping when he gets up?
This question may be slightly easier to answer. That is, if your dog is all of a sudden limping when he gets up — out of absolutely nowhere (you’ve never seen it before) — they’ve probably injured themselves recently.
Often, when it comes to arthritis, which normally would be the most common reason for a dog to limp after getting up, it’s a slow process. Over time, you just sort of notice that your dog tends to be a little more uneasy on their feet after they’ve been laying down – especially for a long time. Limping from arthritis may come and go too.
On the other hand, if you’ve never seeing your dog limp before, and they suddenly start doing it, they may have been injured. Perhaps they got down from the couch and fell on one of their limbs in a weird position. Maybe they got into a tussle with your cat outside or with another dog.
Of course, other things are possible as well. You’ve got to be a sort of detective here:
- Do they have a cut on the limb that they’re keeping their weight off of? They may have developed an infection within the cut (or are simply experiencing pain from the cut).
- Did you see them get into a fight with a dog at the dog park or a raccoon in the yard recently?
- Do you remember them falling or jumping in an awkward way recently?
- Did you just cut their toenails? Sometimes, we accidentally cut too close, which causes temporary bleeding and pain at the nail bed.
Sleuth out other symptoms and circumstances around your dog’s behavior, and you may be able to pinpoint the problem that is causing your dog to suddenly limp when they get up.
Why is my dog limping on and off?
If your dog is limping on and off, it’s likely that they are dealing with osteoarthritis (arthritis).
As with adults, pain from arthritis can come and go. Often, the pain is worse when the weather is inclement. If it’s spring or fall and damp outside, with generally cold temperatures, this may be negatively affecting your dog’s arthritis. On the off days, when it’s a bit warmer in spring or summer, they may feel a little better.
Likewise, if your dog has been super active one day, the next day they may be feeling the effects of their arthritis a little more. At this point, you’ll see them limp more. On days when they’ve been kicking back and playing it pretty easy, the limping may not be as severe or even noticeable at all.
Another thing to look for is where the limp is. Sometimes, if your dog is limping on and off, you actually can’t remember which leg appears to be the lame one. Try to write it down the next time you notice it, then return to this note when you see it again.
Is the limping on the same leg?
If you’re noticing that your dog is keeping weight off from one leg on one day then, two weeks later, keeping weight off from another leg, this can tell us a few things. First, it appears that the lameness is moving around between their legs. That’s not a common sign of arthritis or of an acute injury, which would be occurring in only the affected limb(s).
Medical issues associated with lameness that tends to move between the legs are less common, but they do exist:
- An infection from a tick bite
- Immune-mediated polyarthritis
- Panosteitis (more common in younger dogs)
What to do about my dog limping when he gets up?
Naturally, you’re worried about your dog limping when he gets up. Here’s what to do.
First thing’s first. You’ve got to know if you have a real emergency on your hands.
How to know if it’s an emergency and when to call the vet
Right away, look for the following obvious signs of distress:
- Dislocation, in which the limb would appear to be dangling
- Severe swelling, especially around the limb joints
- An unnatural angle to one of their limbs
- An obvious break to one of their limbs
- A limb that is noticeably hot to the touch
Always contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog is in active pain — even if you don’t notice any of the obvious signs of an emergency listed above. If they are consistently whining and crying, won’t eat or drink, or won’t get up, this is cause for alarm.
Sometimes you won’t know what’s going on with your dog. They may appear to be in severe pain, but you can’t see anything wrong with their limbs or any outward physical marks of an injury. You should still take them to the vet. It’s very possible, in these cases, that your dog has an internal issue that only a trained professional can determine.
What if I don’t see an immediate problem
Then, it’s up to you. But you’ll probably still want to book an appointment with your vet in the next week or two.
Ongoing limping usually points to a problem that can be helped with physical therapy, medication, at-home comfort remedies, or a change in lifestyle for your dog. Your vet is always there to help determine the issue and recommend solutions.