You open the door and let your dog back in the house Sunday morning. He seems normal except he's lame. He's walking on three legs, carrying a hind leg. Is this an emergency? Should you call your vet? Is it serious enough to justify the expense of emergency treatment?
The answer is maybe. To be safe, especially if there is a chance he may have been hit by a car, or suffered other major trauma, you should at least talk to your vet, or a veterinarian who is on call for emergencies. Though broken bones rarely need emergency surgery, they should be evaluated and often require a padded bandage, splint, or cage rest to prevent further complications. There may be other injuries like chest trauma that are life threatening, even though not readily apparent.
If a hip is out of joint, it should be fixed as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it is to get it back in joint, and the less the chances are it will stay in joint. Paying the extra cost for emergency care on Sunday may save you money in the long run.
Tippy-Zippy, a 6-month-old Boston Terrier with a coat of many colors was zipping around the yard, but only on three legs. She was carrying a hind leg. Her pet parents watch her closely and there was very little chance she could have been hit by a car. What could cause this?
A hip out of joint or broken bone would be very unlikely. Cases like Tippy-Zippy are generally not emergencies, though a phone call is free and never hurts.
One of the more common disorders in little dogs is a kneecap that comes out of joint. Dogs are sometimes born with knee joints that are a little crooked. They may suddenly become lame on a hind leg for a few steps while running, and then start using the leg again. It's not an emergency, but often requires surgery to fix the problem, and prevent further deterioration of the knee joint.
Small dogs, as well as larger breeds, can have hip dysplasia and other degenerative joint disease of the hips. Dogs with hip dysplasia often have trouble getting up after lying down for a while, and get better as they get "warmed up." They also may get better as they mature, and the ligaments, tendons and muscles develop and compensate for the loose hip joints.
There is an important ligament in the knee joint called a "cranial cruciate ligament" that sometimes tears. In humans it's called an "anterior cruciate ligament, or "ACL." When the ligament tears, the joint becomes unstable and eventually arthritis and further deterioration of the joint will occur. This can be prevented or minimized with surgery to stabilize the knee.
Bone cancer can also cause lameness. It is more common in older dogs but can happen in young dogs. It usually has a more insidious onset. By the time it is diagnosed, it has often spread to other parts of the body, and is often fatal.
Torn toenails, puncture wounds, cheat grass, and sore muscles are a few other possibilities. With a few questions, a good physical exam, watching the dog walk and run, and feeling all the bones and joints, a veterinarian can get a pretty good idea of what's causing a lameness. X-rays are often advisable to be sure.
By the time I examined Tippy-Zippy she was zipping around the clinic on all four legs. This doesn't mean there was nothing wrong but it usually means that whatever was causing her lameness was not serious.
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