Leg swelling in dogs can occur secondarily as a symptom, that is, due to the existence of a systemic disease (acute or chronic), but it can also occur as a result of trauma, injury, cut and bone fracture. Causes of onset are numerous. Anything that interferes with the normal (physiological) flow of lymph will cause it to come out of the lymph vessels and accumulate in certain places – in this case, in the dog’s legs. The other most common external parts of the body that swell include the abdomen, chest, ears, and tail. The treatment of a leg swelling depends on the cause. If it’s a milder cause (not a systemic disease), there are several ways you can help your dog until he gets to the vet, and you can find out more about them below.
Dog’s Leg Swelling Caused by Injuries
The most common causes of leg swelling are various types of trauma and injuries. They cause the joint capsule to expand and fluid to accumulate in it, and the joint swells over time. The most common types of injuries that lead to swelling of the paws or whole legs are sprains, traumas of joints and hip, muscle tears and paw injuries. There are other causes that make a dog’s legs swell without injuries, and these include joint disease, bone disease, infections, allergies and immune diseases.
Sprains/Joint Dislocations as the Cause of Dog’s Leg Swelling
Various types of falls and poor position of the wrist or paw when running or digging the ground cause traumatic injuries. Such traumas in dogs are the most common cause of joint sprains. In such cases, it happens that the dog stretches the ligaments, the joint capsule starts to swell from the accumulation of fluid in it and the dog can start limping due to pain. These are also called dislocations, which actually represent a change in the position of bone structures and ligaments within the joint capsule.
Ankle and knee sprains are most common in older dogs whose cartilage is worn out and in dogs that are prone to jumping and sudden movements, such as hunting dogs. Great tension is created in the joint that connects the thigh bone to the hip, so it makes it very prone to stretching.
Symptoms that may occur at a sprained joint beside swelling are:
- Soreness to the touch
- Favoring one leg over the other (the dog saves the injured leg)
If you notice that the swelling is large, that some of the mentioned symptoms are present, you should consult a veterinarian to avoid severe damage to bones or cartilage due to the length of the process.
Diagnosis is predominantly based on clinical examination and X-ray of the joint. After that, the method of treatment is further determined. It’s also possible to perform arthroscopy (more incisions near the joint, without opening the joint) where the dog recovers faster than in the case when surgery is performed. This method is minimally invasive and enables the examination of the joint and the degree of sprain.
There are three classes into which joint sprains are classified based on the severity of the damage to the structures in the joint:
- First class: The ligament in the joint is slightly damaged, but the joint is still functional
- Second class: The joint is partially functional and the dog walks but the ligament is damaged more than in the first class
- Third class: The joint is totally dysfunctional because the ligament is completely damaged and doesn’t connect the bone parts
This is very important to know, to figure out how to help your dog, when to take him to the vet, and whether your alternative methods of helping with joint sprain will have an effect or not.
Compared to other consequences that can occur thanks to trauma, joint sprains are easy to resolve. The dog may be restricted in movement, cold compresses should be applied on the hurt joint, or compression stockings or clamps can be put on the affected joints. You can also give your dog anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce the pain. Surgical treatment is required in dogs who often have dislocations, and if this is not so common, the condition can be resolved with various straps that are placed, and if necessary, tightened to keep the wrist in the desired position.
Joint or Hip Trauma as the Cause of Dog’s Leg Swelling
Hip and joint injuries can occur in a number of different ways. Causes can include car accidents, traumas originating from heavy blows by wooden or metal objects, falls and injuries that mostly occur in sports dogs.
Such injuries cause dislocations of the joints, swelling of the joints and the area around the injured bones, bone fractures and spinal column injuries. The first symptoms that occur are that the dog uses one leg more than the other and limping. You may also notice a marked pain in the dog that manifests by the dog licking the injured area and whining. In such cases, the hip joint and shoulder joint are most often damaged.
Adequate fitness training of moderate intensity during the development of the dog can help prevent these conditions, which will enable the normal development of bones and muscles. If the cause of the injury and limping is a blow with a car or a heavy object, the dog should be taken to the nearest veterinary clinic to determine whether there was a fracture or sprain of the joints and bones, which can be determined by X-ray.
Only then can adequate targeted therapy be approached. The dog can be given medications that will relieve pain and soothe inflammation. After that, the dog needs to be left to rest, put on a corset for the wrist or hip, and you can also get an orthopedic bed if the condition requires a longer recovery.
Also, you can start adding supplementary preparations to your dog’s daily diet that contain glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM because they have a recovery and supportive effect on the cartilage and bone tissue of the joints.
Muscle Tears (Ruptures) as the Cause of Dog’s Leg Swelling
Muscles are most often injured, and even torn, during intense training, strong stretching, fast and sudden movements, jumps, the action of strong force on them or accidentally during surgery.
The first sign that appears after a muscle tear is certainly a huge pain, especially when the affected area is examined by palpation. This is followed by involuntary pulsations of the muscle, muscle spasms, swelling at the site of muscle rupture or subcutaneous edema, bruising, swelling and bleeding at the site of the bone fracture, if this is the cause of muscle rupture.
As with hip and joint injuries, torn muscles can be diagnosed after a clinical examination with X-rays and ultrasound. MRI and CT scans can also be used to confirm the diagnosis.
It’s very difficult to make a diagnosis based on the symptoms present if it’s a mild case of muscle rupture. A veterinarian usually prescribes NSAIDs to reduce pain and inflammation. It’s desirable for the dog to rest at home in this case.
You need to put cold compresses, compression stocking or bandages on the part of the body where the damaged muscle is located to keep the muscle tissue in a normal position; the squeezing will prevent further swelling.
Slowly over time, the dog should be encouraged to make light movements and to walk. This is very important in order not to cause the muscle to heal in a tense position. It leads to a contraction of the muscle that remains in one irregular position permanently, and over time, it can lead to great pain.
If the injury is more serious, the veterinarian will decide whether the dog needs to be taken to physical therapy, which, in addition to water physical therapy, has a great effect on recovery. Fractures require surgical treatment and immobilization of the injured part of the body.1Canine Massage Therapy Center
Paw Injury as the Cause of Dog’s Leg Swelling
Paw injuries are common in dogs that stay outside, hunting dogs, sheepdogs, and long-haired dogs, but they can also be found in indoor dogs. The most common causes are foreign bodies, such as sharp grass, pebbles, sharp materials and insect bites, plant thorns, snake bites, frostbite, burns, cuts, lacerations and ingrown nails.
Such injuries cause pain. The dog is prone to licking the injured paw too often; he can’t rely on it and limping occurs. An infection can occur if you don’t react in time and don’t remove the foreign body. After removing a foreign body, dogs generally feel great relief. He may be given some painkillers after the paw is cleaned and disinfected.
If the cause of the paw injury is a snake bite, it’s necessary to take the dog to a veterinarian in order to receive the antidote. This is also the case with the bites of some insects, because you never know which one your dog may be allergic to.
Leg Swelling in Dogs Caused by Allergies
When it comes to allergies, it’s very difficult to find in general what your dog is allergic to without a detailed clinical examination and allergy tests. It’s very important that you provide the veterinarian with all the necessary information about your dog’s behavior in the past, as well as its diet and daily activities in order to get a complete picture of the health of your pet.
If you have introduced your pet to some new food or supplements, started taking him for walks in places where you have not been before, or started giving him some medications, be sure to mention that as well.
Allergies are treated systemically and locally (topically) by medications that contain corticosteroids. Systemic corticosteroids are produced mainly in the form of tablets that are given to the dog orally and local in the form of creams that are applied directly to the swollen area.
You can also help your dog by applying cold compresses and massaging the inflamed area gently to boost lymph flow and to reduce swelling.
Allergies can also occur in dogs in the case of bites from various insects or reptiles. In these cases, it’s advisable to take the dog to the vet immediately so he can give the appropriate antidote.
Leg Swelling in Dogs Caused by Infections
Infections that cause leg swelling can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungus and parasites. One such disease is infectious joint disease (septic arthritis). Primary causes of this disease are most often the existence of a superficial wound, bite or tear at the joint that isn’t treated in time or isn’t disinfected well, so abscesses and pustules (pus accumulations) form.
Lameness can occur in dogs from tick bites, because they can transmit diseases whose symptoms are limping, redness of the skin, pain, swelling of the joint, licking of the painful area.
Cysts can also occur on some parts of the body, most often when the hair follicle becomes inflamed, which when left untreated, leads to larger indentations under the skin that fill with pus and swell. During the infection, all signs of inflammation can be noticed at the localized place: redness, pain, swelling and the place is warm to the touch.
Swelling of the feet can also occur because when cutting your dog’s nails at home, it can happen that you shorten them too much and thus cause pain and bleeding. Such wounds are also susceptible to bacterial penetration and infection. In that case, it’s necessary to first work on stopping the bleeding, and to disinfect and wrap the paw. In the case of ingrown nails, take the dog for nail cutting and treatment by a trained person.
Leg Swelling in Dogs Caused by Immune Disorders
Immune disorders that can occur due to poor nutrition, stress, lack of vital vitamins and minerals in the body and aging can lead to the appearance of certain diseases that affect the joints. This can consequently lead to the onset of arthritis in dogs.
Also, it can happen that a large amount of blood occurs during a traumatic joint injury or cut. The cause may be a phenomenon that occurs after birth or as a consequence of some major immune disorders manifested in reduced blood clotting. Decreased blood clotting or its inability to clot occurs due to a reduced number of platelets responsible for clotting in the blood, von Willebrand’s disease, various intoxications and diluted blood.
One of the autoimmune diseases that can appear in dogs and cause leg swelling is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). SLE causes inflammation of various organ systems and can lead to inflammation of joints and tendons. This disease occurs when the dog’s own immune system turns against the organism, attacking its own cells. Predisposed are medium and large breeds of dogs, such as Poodles, Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles and Shetland Sheepdogs.2Noxon, O. J., Kimm, T. J. (1983). Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs and Cats.
Immune disorders aren’t contagious. They are most often detected by blood tests, precisely by ANA (anti-nuclear antibodies) tests and are treated by systemic medications, mostly NSAIDs. In more aggressive cases, immunosuppressants are used. B-complex vitamins can be introduced into the regular diet in order to improve the function of the nervous system, blood circulation, and the work of chromones.
Leg Swelling Caused by Medications
Giving certain medications can have side effects on your dog, and swelling of the legs is one of them. Corticosteroids used in the treatment of allergies can cause edema in the legs. Some NSAIDs have many side effects, one of which is swelling, but not all dogs will have these side effects. If this happens, you need to inform your veterinarian as soon as possible and take the dog for an examination to change his therapy.
Immediate Care of a Swollen Leg
Until you bring your dog to the vet, you can help him not to get worse, especially if there are more serious causes. If the cause of the swelling is a leg fracture, it’s necessary to immobilize the leg with solid objects (slats) until the dog reaches the vet.
If the fracture is external and if you see the bone and the dog is bleeding, you can tie or press the bleeding site. If the cause of swelling is a sprain, trauma, or damage to the ligaments and tendons, things that can help are restriction of movement, cold compresses, ice, keeping the injured leg in cold water with flow, and circling the shower hose over the inflamed area.
Dystrophies and dysplasias of the joints, injuries, and arthritis cause swelling of the tissues in the areas of the joints. In such cases, glucosamine in combination with chondroitin and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is excellent for relieving the symptoms of such health conditions and should always be available in a home pharmacy.
If you notice that your dog is in severe pain and whining, you can give him aspirin if you have it in your home pharmacy. Aspirin belongs to the group of NSAIDs, and your veterinarian will probably prescribe it to your dog for treatment. However, you need to be very careful with its dosage in dogs, especially in smaller breeds where overdose and fatal outcome can often occur.
Caution is also required when giving the aspirin to pregnant females and to dogs suffering from coagulation disorders and elevated blood sugar levels (diabetes). In that case, it would be best to wait until the vet prescribes the appropriate medication for your dog.
If the cause of the swelling is an abscess, warm and salty baths can help reduce the swelling, but if that doesn’t help, veterinary intervention is needed, and sometimes even surgery.
When Is a Swollen Leg an Emergency?
If the cause of leg swelling is a fracture, cut or laceration, the dog should be taken to a hospital immediately, especially if it’s a dog that has a disease that slows down or prevents blood-clotting processes.
A swollen leg is an emergency when, in addition to the swelling, you notice bleeding or pus, when the swelling grows and doesn’t decrease, and when it’s warm and painful to the touch. Also, if you notice any stings, bites or if the dog shows any of the other symptoms that it has been bitten by a poisonous animal, take it to a hospital immediately.
Swelling of the legs can be the result of very easily curable conditions, but it can also be a symptom of a very serious disease that occurs in your dog’s body without you even knowing it. If the dog shows any symptoms other than local, or any symptoms other than the swelling itself, it may be a sign that there is a more serious disease that requires not only local but also systemic treatment.
When you take your dog to the veterinarian, he will ask you to answer a few questions in order to determine the cause of the swollen leg and whether it’s an emergency that must be responded to promptly.
Some of the questions your vet might ask you are the following:
- When did you notice the swelling?
- How long has it been swollen?
- Has leg swelling ever occurred before?
- Does the dog suffer from any disease?
- If so, does he use medication for the disease, and if so, which ones?
- Is the dog allergic to any medicine, plant, or substance?
- Have you noticed any spots of bleeding from the bite of an insect or reptile?
- Have you recently changed your dog’s diet or introduced a new food?
- Is only the foot or upper leg swollen, or is the whole leg swollen?
- Have you noticed any other symptoms in the dog? Is he less energetic? Have there been changes in water and food intake? Does he have a fever or cough?
If the answers to these questions are mostly affirmative, it can be concluded that this is a more serious condition, especially in the presence of other symptoms, and this is a sign that the dog needs to be taken for a clinical examination to confirm the diagnosis as quickly and correctly as possible.
Swollen Legs in Dogs As a Symptom of a Disease
Swollen legs may be a sign of many serious illnesses. The most common are inflammatory diseases of the joints and bones (arthritis, osteoarthritis, panosteitis), tumor conditions (osteosarcomas), dysplasia (hips, shoulders, elbows and thighs), hyperextension of muscles and joints (the most common hyperextension of carpal joints) and peripheral edema.
Swelling can also be a symptom of dystrophy of joints, muscles and bones (hypertrophic dystrophy) and the existence of hygroma (sac on the surface of bone end).
Your dog can show you when it’s time to take him to the vet, because in more serious diseases, swelling of the legs does not occur on its own but in combination with a number of other symptoms, depending on the disease in question. Lameness and pain in these cases usually occur very quickly, as a result of which the dog may start moving with difficulty and whining.
Clinical examination results and diagnostic tests will help your veterinarian determine if the swelling is the result of a more serious illness. Palpation (touching, pressuring) is used to examine joints, muscles and the surface of the skin. This can be followed by X-rays and ultrasound. CT and MRI can also be done to confirm the condition of the joints.
Arthritis in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Arthritis occurs more often in older dogs due to the wear of the cartilaginous ends of the bones (epiphysis) in the joints over time. It is manifested first of all by swelling of the joints, pain and lameness, and it begins with an inflammatory condition of the joint structures.
This condition causes pain and discomfort in your dog. The disease has a chronic course, i.e., it’s long-lasting and is caused by an increased concentration of fluid around the joints due to swelling of the joints or an increase in bone growths. Additional causes of arthritis are immune-mediated diseases, tumors, joint injuries in the form of strains and genetically inherited diseases.
Symptoms of arthritis in dogs include the following:
- Licking joints
- Mood swings (anger, sadness, lack of interest)
- Soreness when getting up and sitting down
- Lameness and lagging when taking a walk
- Refusal to climb stairs and jump into the car
- Trembling when walking
- Not allowing the owner to touch the affected area
Diagnosis is made by X-ray and ultrasound. If you suspect that your dog suffers from arthritis, you can learn more about this topic and ways to help him in the article “Arthritis in Dogs.”
Osteoarthritis in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD) is very similar to arthritis, except that in this condition, there is damage to bones and bone ends and their deformation, while in arthritis, there is no bone deformation but more cartilage wear. This disease leads to an inflammatory condition of the joints and their swelling, severe pain, lameness, stiffness and reduced mobility of the dog.
Osteoarthritis affects the joints of the front and back legs and the lower part of the spine (lumbar part, the part of the spine after the back and before the tail).
The causes are very similar to arthritis:
- Various types of trauma that occur most often when playing
- Poor diet
- Genetic factors (usually poor body structure and thus poor bone distribution, dystrophy)
- Some systemic diseases that cause joint infections (Lyme disease)
It has been found that this disease occurs in one of five dogs in the United States. Predisposed dog breeds include the following:
- German Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
Also, in terms of age group and health condition, middle-aged (mature) to older dogs, and those who are obese are more affected.
You, as a dog owner, can recognize the onset of osteoarthritis and thus help the dog in reducing pain. You will be able to do this if you recognize one or more of the following symptoms that occur in the early stages of osteoarthritis:
- The dog reluctantly goes with you for a walk or to play
- Mood swings are present
- The dog runs away from you when you want to pet him
- He whines
- Lethargy, laziness and fatigue occur
- He is stiff and has difficulty moving (getting up and lying down)
- He urinates heavily and maybe in places where it hasn’t before
- He gains weight
- It’s easier to palpate (touch) the bones under the muscles due to the thinness of the dog in the area of the lumbar spine (the part of the back between the ribs and the pelvis) and on the legs
Osteoarthritis is incurable, so prevention is the best way to protect your dog’s health and to delay its onset. You can do this by introducing preparations that contain green-lipped mussel (GLM), omega-3 fatty acids, MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin into your dog’s daily diet.
You can also get your dog an orthopedic bed or any other kind of comfortable bed, such as My Pup Land Donut Cuddler Calming bed to make it easier for him to get up and to lie down.
It’s necessary to take the dog for walks regularly and maintain his physical activity, and in case of injuries of any type, to react in a timely manner. Acupuncture and the use of various mixtures of Chinese herbs that have a supportive effect on the joints can be used as one of the forms of alternative therapy.
If this disease does occur, NSAID medications will give the best result in relieving inflammation and pain in your dog. It’s generally necessary to combine several medications and forms of therapy, and even to include physical and hydrotherapies in order to give the dog a better life.3Osteoarthritis in dogs. American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Retrieved on 14 March 2021.
Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
This condition is an abnormal development of the elbows or just one elbow during the growth of the puppy, and it can begin as early as the fifth month of life. It mainly occurs in puppies of medium and large breeds. However, if the dog is born normally, elbow dysplasia can occur at a later age of four years in some dogs. Obese dogs are much more likely to develop this condition.
Breeds that are predisposed to this condition:
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Basset Hounds
There are two types of elbow dysplasia depending on whether one (unilateral) or both elbows (bilateral) are affected. If unilateral elbow dysplasia occurs, the dog’s gait is asymmetrical, and if both elbows are in question, the gait is symmetrical, so it’s very difficult to determine whether it’s bilateral dysplasia of the elbow or some other condition. Bilateral elbow dysplasia is more common, and it occurs in 80% of dogs.
From the signs the dog shows, swelling of the legs is visible, and he reacts very painfully to the touch or pressure on the wrist. Lameness and instability are also noticeable. If left untreated, the condition worsens within a few months, and it can lead to arthritis.
Other symptoms that may be noticed in a dog with elbow dysplasia:
- Mood swings (sensitivity, reluctance)
- Stiffness and inability to perform all the movements that a dog normally performs (this condition worsens after physical activity)
- Loss of will to play or to take a walk
- Swelling of the elbow joints (one or both)
- Elbows stand at an angle at which normal elbows do not stand in dogs of the same breed (this can be better noticed in unilateral dysplasia)
- The paws on the front legs are protruding towards the outside of the body
Some dogs will pass almost asymptomatically with elbow dysplasia; you will not be able to notice it in time or you will only notice it when arthritis has already developed. When it comes to this condition in puppies, they begin to show the first symptoms as early as a year and a half of life.
Since the first symptoms appear relatively late and can cause major health issues if the condition is not treated in a timely manner, it’s very important that you make an effort to notice these first symptoms in time. You can notice limping while the dog is still at a young age. If left untreated, elbow dysplasia is the most common cause of lameness in the front of a dog’s body. Lameness is most quickly seen when a dog gets up after sleep.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Elbow Dysplasia
Diagnosis of elbow dysplasia begins with a clinical examination, palpating and bending of the elbow joints, where the dog will react painfully if he has elbow dysplasia. Then, an X-ray is done to confirm the diagnosis. Additional imaging, MRI, CT, and arthroscopy may be performed to examine the condition of the joints in more detail. The signs of arthritis and all the processes taking place at that moment can be clearly seen on the X-ray.
This condition requires lifelong care because the treatment is long-lasting. You can help your dog in various ways to improve his condition, but also preventively. These include weight control, light walks and exercises, limiting the dog’s activities and movements, and giving the dog a chance to rest. It also helps if you take your dog for hydro and physiotherapy.
It’s desirable that you give him supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM. It protects and restores bones and cartilage.
The use of the medication prescribed by your veterinarian certainly depends on the severity of the condition. Pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs are most often prescribed, and if it’s a severe case of dysplasia, then surgery of the elbow joint is suggested.
There are several surgical methods that can significantly improve the health of your dog’s elbow joint, from correction to complete replacement of the joint, and even total replacement if it’s impossible to correct and repair the joint. Surgical procedures show success in 85% of cases. However, if arthritis has developed as a result, then the dog will not respond to treatment and the dysplasia will continue and worsen.
Elbow dysplasia is an incurable disease, so work should be done on its prevention, and if it does occur, then try to slow down and prevent the development of arthritis. In such conditions, the combined treatment of medications and alternative methods have given the best results so far.
Prevention includes nothing but increased care and supervision of the dog (especially if he belongs to the predisposed breeds for the development of elbow dysplasia) and a supplementary diet rich in chondroprotectives.
It’s also essential that the dog consumes food appropriate to his age, as each of these types of food for specific age groups has certain essential nutrients for the period of life in which the dog needs them. You should not allow your dog to gain weight, because this also contributes to the development of dysplasia due to the pressure of weight on the joint, but you should also not force him to exercise too much because excessive exercise puts a strain on the joint.4Canine elbow dysplasia. Fitzpatrick Referrals. Retrieved on 14 March 2021.
Carpal Hyperextension in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Hyperextension is excessive stretching, and in this case, it specifically refers to the joint of the lower (distal) part of the front leg of the dog (carpus). This joint is very complex and consists of seven main small bones and one auxiliary (sesamoid bone), cartilage and ligaments, encased in a capsule together with the disc.
Otherwise, the carpal joint stands at a certain angle in relation to the solid base. When this angle decreases, the bones of this joint descend closer to the ground, and there is a stronger stretching of the muscles and ligaments, and the whole of this joint. This puts a lot of pressure on the joint and its structures.
The symptoms that characterize this condition and that are visible in a dog are the following:
- Swelling of the carpal joint or the whole leg
- Affected paw is lowered on a firm surface during physical exercises
- Using one foot more than the other and saving the other
The causes of carpal hyperextension are mostly traumas, fractures of the bones, falls from great heights, degeneration of muscles and ligaments, obesity, age, and large bones that put more pressure on each other, especially during more intense activities.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Carpal Hyperextension in Dogs
The diagnosis is made by taking a detailed history from the owner, a clinical examination and an X-ray. Other diagnostic imaging methods can be performed. You can help the dog by limiting his activities, putting support bandages or braces (brackets) on his wrist that will keep the wrist fixed in place and taking him to hydro and physical therapies.
Carpal brackets are a good option because they can be used on a daily basis, adapt to the shape of the paw, provide good support, and are easy to put on and take off and do not cause sores. However, if all the above doesn’t help your dog, orthopedic surgery is recommended.
The dog needs to be taken good care of after the operation. His bandages should be changed regularly, and he should be brought to the vet for check-ups. The chances of recovery are very good and recovery takes up to three months.5Carpal hyperextension. Manchester Veterinary Specialists. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD) as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD) is a bone disease that leads to their inflammatory condition during the growth and development of the dog. Other names for this disease are osteodystrophy II, Moller-Barlow’s disease and bone scurvy.
There are a number of symptoms that can occur in the case of hypertrophic bone dystrophy in dogs, from local to systemic. The ones we notice most often are following:
- Painful swelling in the leg which is warm to the touch
- Elevated body temperature (fever)
- The dog walks with his back bent
- Increased respiratory sounds during auscultation of the dog
- Apathy and depression
- Weight loss that can lead to anorexia
- Superficial skin bulges, sometimes with the presence of pus
- Reluctance and unwillingness to stand up, walk and play
- Inability to get up and constant lying down
- Bloody diarrhea
- Swelling of the muzzle and changes in teeth (in severe cases)
- Pain when opening the jaw and excessive production of discharge from mouth, nose and eyes
- In female dogs, inflammation of the vagina and vulva
If the symptoms are not noticed in time, the changes on the bones can become so aggressive that they completely damage their structure, and this can have a fatal outcome for the dog.
It occurs most commonly in large breeds of dogs, and it begins at an early age of dog, most often from three months to six months of age. It can also occur in middle-sized breeds of dogs.
The disease affects the long bones of the fore and hind legs. The ends of the bones that are in the joint during the intensive growth of the dog begin to receive less blood and thus less nutrients for proper development. This stops further bone growth and leads to swelling of the leg in the affected part and severe pain.
Dog breeds ranked from highest to lowest predisposed to hypertrophic osteodystrophy:
- Great Dane
- Irish Setter
- Labrador Retriever
- Irish Wolfhound
- Saint Bernard
- Doberman Pinscher
- Bull Mastiff
- German shepherd
- Standard Poodle
- Australian Kelpie
HOD is also called scurvy because the changes seen on X-rays in canine hypertrophic osteodystrophy are very similar to the changes in bones that occur in children with scurvy (vitamin C deficiency).
Low amounts of vitamin C are one of the consequences of this disease. The exact cause of this disease is still unknown, but it’s believed that genetic factors are mostly to blame and that the disease has an autoimmune nature.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy
Diagnosis is made by taking a history of all noticeable symptoms from the owner, clinical examination, blood findings and all necessary imaging of part of the affected bones. X-rays show a darker part at the end of the long bones that join at the joints, and they can also show deformities of the bones of the spine and head, as well as the ribs.
The dog needs drug therapy if this condition occurs. The use of NSAIDs lowers fever and helps reduce pain. However, it’s very difficult to treat dogs that develop this condition because those are mostly puppies and young dogs whose digestive tract is not yet sufficiently developed to process and absorb drugs, as is the case with the digestive tract of adult dogs.
In such cases, it’s more desirable to include corticosteroids, which have the task of suppressing the wrong immune response of the organism, which encourages the destruction of bone tissue cells. A drug called Prednisone is usually prescribed for this purpose. It’s made in the form of tablets and contains corticosteroids.
In addition to corticosteroids, the dog can be given medications (antacids) that will relieve heartburn in the dog’s stomach, as well as probiotics and analgesics for pain. Also, it’s very important that your dog gets intravenous fluid therapy in order to maintain electrolyte concentration in the body. It is necessary to enable the dog to rest, to limit his activity and to monitor him in case the disease returns (relapses), which happens very often.
Prevention is based on feeding dogs with food adequate for their age and not adding vitamin and mineral supplements to the diet if it’s a large or even a giant breed of dog, because it could further accelerate their growth as well as the growth of their bones and lead to the appearance of HOD.
In the first year of life, a group of dogs that is predisposed to the onset of the HOD should be limited to exercising and jumping, in order for the bones to be able to form normally and to achieve adequate articulation. Provide your dog soft pads and beds to sleep on and lie on because hard pads adversely affect joint development.6Panosteitis and hypertrophic osteodystrophy. Metropolitan Veterinary Associates. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
Panosteitis in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Panosteitis is a bone disease very similar to hypertrophic osteodystrophy. It represents an inflammatory condition of the outer part of the long bones of the fore and hind legs. The main cause of panosteitis has not been discovered so far, but it’s believed that it develops as a result of metabolic disorders, autoimmune disorders and stress. One of the causes may be inadequate nutrition for the age group of the dog, but as with osteodystrophy, the main culprits are usually genetic factors.
The disease can occur in all breeds of dogs and at all ages, but it most often occurs in young dogs of large breeds that grow quickly. Breeds of dogs which are predisposed to the onset of this disease, ranked from most prone to less prone are the following:
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Doberman Pinschers
- Basset Hounds
Panosteitis occurs in episodes, i.e., the symptoms worsen and then calm down or disappear, then reappear, etc. With these cyclical episodes, lameness also occurs and disappears. The lameness that is caused by panosteitis occurs suddenly in the central part of the long bones and can move from one bone to another.
Other symptoms that occur are increased body temperature that can lead to fevers, weight loss that eventually leads to anorexia, lethargy and disinterest in play and walks. In the case of this disease, swelling occurs inside the bone. From the outside, the swelling is less visible, but the tissue covering the bone is very painful to the touch. A more common symptom is swelling of the joints.
The therapy that can be given to a dog during this illness is usually of a supportive nature, just enough to alleviate the pain and to reduce the inflammation. These are predominantly analgesics and meloxicam-based NSAIDs. Panosteitis disappears on its own by the age of one and a half to two years.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Panosteitis
For the diagnosis of panosteitis, a clinical examination is very important. Pressing (palpating) the bone sites that are suspected to be affected will show if the dog feels pain, whether the area is affected at all and whether further examination is required. If the dog suffers from panosteitis, X-rays should show increased density of the contents of the central part of the bone.
In the treatment, anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing drugs (analgesics) are prescribed, most often based on meloxicam. You can help your dog by providing him with a comfortable and soft place to sleep and lie down, controlling his body weight, limiting exercise to a light pace, especially in episodes of relapse and limping, and introducing supplement products that contain omega-3 fatty acids in the daily diet.
Adult dog food contains higher amounts of calcium and protein, which given to puppies can accelerate the growth of long bones and lead to panosteitis, so it’s very important to provide an appropriate diet suitable for the dog’s age. There are different types of food for puppies that are made on the basis of special formulas for feeding puppies and dogs up to two years of age (adolescents).
Episodes of lameness usually last up to a month, and if they are prolonged, it’s necessary to consult a veterinarian because then it’s another bone and cartilage disorder. Panosteitis mostly disappears on its own by the age of two. However, even though it disappears on its own, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to do anything during it to help your dog because he is surviving great pain. It would be inhumane to deny him analgesics, and in order for the disease not to leave any consequences, a supplementary diet and alternative methods of treating and relieving pain are suggested.7Panosteitis: Growing Pains in Dogs. Veterinary Partner. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
Peripheral Edema in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Peripheral edema occurs due to dysfunction of the lymphatic system and uneven distribution of fluid throughout the dog’s body. The fluid then accumulates in certain places in the body, causing swelling. These body areas are most often legs, ears, face, tail, chest and abdomen.
Peripheral edema can occur as a primary disease, but it can also occur secondarily as a consequent symptom of a disease. The cause can be various types of systemic diseases of chronic course, immune diseases, infections, allergies, but also various types of acute trauma and injuries.
Also, disorders in the digestive tract can lead to abnormal liver function and prevent proteins from being excreted into the blood. This retains proteins in the peripheral parts of the body, creating edema.
Of the systemic diseases, kidney and heart diseases (congestive heart failure) most often cause fluid imbalance in the body in the form of its retention, spillage or withdrawal into some organs. The legs become swollen and the abdomen enlarged and pear-shaped due to the accumulation of a large amount of fluid. Heart congestion can be considered a cause of peripheral edema when the dog shows the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath and rapid fatigue when playing and walking
- Constant cough with possible blood impurities
- Lack of appetite and lethargy
- Blue (cyanotic) gums
- Excessive salivation
- Anxiety, stress, difficulty falling asleep
- Swelling of the abdomen and/or chest
- Irregular gait and staggering
- Unconsciousness and collapse
In addition to taking a medical history and clinical examination, diagnosis requires X-rays and ECG recordings, as well as an ultrasound examination of the heart using specific stains in blood vessels (color doppler). It is also advisable to do a complete blood count and to examine the urine to see if there is no kidney damage that is common in this state.
Diuretics that encourage urination and thus reduce fluid concentrations in the body can be given to your dog. The prognosis is favorable for the dog if the disease is treated and the lifespan is extended. If left untreated, there can be a major deterioration that will bring the dog into a state of severe pain and eventually it can lead to death.
If the cause of peripheral edema is congestive heart disease, it’s incurable and can only work to improve the quality of life.
You can help your dog at home locally by putting on compression stockings, cold compresses and occasional light massages. It’s also advisable to provide the dog with a soft pad in the places where it lies the most.
It’s also desirable to introduce special medical foods that are recommended for use in dogs with heart disease into his diet. Also, if the dog is hyperactive, you should restrict his movement and take him only for easy walks. Depending on the cause of the swelling, this can have a great beneficial effect on the recovery of joints, muscles and ligaments.
Hygroma in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Hygroma is a soft, mobile, painless sac (small cushion) that is most often represented in large and gigantic breeds of dogs, as well as in older and obese dogs. Dogs that are predisposed for the development of hygroma are the following:
- Dog at the age of about one year (adolescence)
- Large and medium breeds of dogs: Labradors, Great Dane, Mastiff and German Shepherd
- Short-haired dogs that have less hair cover at the joints
Hygroma is also called ganglion because it’s actually a benign soft tissue tumor. It occurs over time as a compensatory response of the dog’s body to prolonged pressure on the bone ends and joints by hard surfaces, and it’s filled with a yellow liquid.
Hygroma can also appear in younger dogs due to accidental traumas. In that case, inflammation occurs, and fluid accumulates consequently A painless cyst forms, and it “floats” to the touch. The elbow joint is most predisposed to the development of hygroma, followed by ankle and hip joints.
If you fail to notice the formation of hygroma and the dog continues to lean his wrist on hard surfaces, the hygroma continues to grow and harden, and it can happen that the skin in that place starts to crack. In these places, abscesses and fistulas may arise, which can lead to decubital ulcers.
Due to such damage, the penetration of bacteria and other infectious agents into the hygroma is enabled. These conditions often occur in elbow arthritis, and they become very painful, so there must be a more serious and stronger approach to their treatment.
To facilitate the movement of the dog with hygroma, a donut-shaped pillow can be placed on the affected hip, which protects the joint from further trauma while lying down. There are also pads for elbows and ankles that act as supports and shock absorbers. If your dog is nervous and prone to chewing things, you should definitely place soft pads, foam boards and foam or shell beds on the surfaces where he usually lies.
Care should be taken to maintain your dog’s normal body weight and not allow him to gain weight, especially if your dog belongs to a large or giant breed of dog. In the case of long-term hygroma, pain occurs so the dog may need to be given analgesics, and the hygroma may be removed surgically if drainage does not help reduce it.
Antibiotics are prescribed only if the fluid sample of the cyst or swab is positive for bacteria, and a biopsy can be done if damage to the skin surface at the site of the hygroma is suspicious.8Moriello, K. A. (January 2020). Hygroma in dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual.
Osteosarcoma in Dogs as a Possible Cause of Leg Swelling
Osteosarcoma is a primary, aggressive, malignant tumor of the bones that tends to metastasize by bloodstream to the other bones, lymph nodes, brain and many other tissues and organs. Osteosarcoma occurs in 75% of cases on the long bones of the fore and hind limbs (appendicular osteosarcoma), but it can also occur in the bones of the spine, ribs and head.
The causes of osteosarcoma may be unknown (idiopathic), consequently occur after surgery, because of previous radiation due to the presence of cancer, and the presence of metal in the joint or bone as a result of orthopedic treatment.
Osteosarcoma is a very painful condition that leads to swelling of the bones, inflammation of the bone sites with all their accompanying symptoms (heat, pain, redness and local swelling) and lameness. It most often occurs in large and giant breeds of dogs, especially if they are also obese. Dogs aged 6 to 11 years of age are most predisposed to developing osteosarcoma, and in terms of gender factors, male dogs are at higher risk than females.
The breeds of dogs that are predisposed to osteosarcoma, from highest to lowest predisposed:
- Irish Wolfhound
- Saint Bernard
- German Boxer
- Great Dane
- German Shepherd
- Saint Bernard
- Golden Retriever
Osteosarcoma can also occur on the joint capsules and lead to changes in the composition of synovial fluid. The symptoms that occur with this disease are the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy, reluctant walks and playing
- Lameness and pain
On the outside of the bone base and on the dog’s skin, a swollen area can sometimes be seen at the site of the affected bone, which is actually an inflammatory reaction that occurs due to the breakdown of bone cells. In 90% of dogs, micro-changes in the lungs that occur at the same time as sarcoma can be seen on X-ray.
Differentially diagnosed, very often osteosarcoma can be confused with various fractures, ligament ruptures and arthritis due to very similar symptoms.
As for treatment, there are several methods that are desirable to combine for better effect and prolongation of life expectancy. Chemotherapy and radiation make a good combination for treatment choice and give a positive effect in the treatment of 70-80% of patients. In that way, both types of tumors (both primary and metastatic) are treated.
If the osteosarcoma is localized and limited to only one bone or joint, the chances that the dog will survive are higher than in the case when it has already metastasized to the lungs.
In some cases, it’s necessary to amputate the affected part of the limb or the entire leg. This happens when the dog is paralyzed and unable to get up, when arthritis occurs in places affected by the tumor, when local bacterial infections occur and when bone trauma is constantly repeated when lying down. Using only this method, a dog can usually live from half a year to a year because metastatic areas begin to reappear after 3-4 months.
There are cases when it’s not possible to perform amputation because the dog suffers from blood clotting disease. In such cases, chemotherapy is used in combination with analgesics.
Three-legged dogs can very easily get used to life with your help and can have a good quality of life. There are orthopedic aids to help your dog continue his daily activities, run, play and not bend his hips or cause damage to the other parallel leg that is healthy.
It’s advisable to take care after your dog’s surgery to give him your full support and to provide softer mats and pillows around the house where the dog usually stays, as well as a memory foam dog bed that will cushion his movements when lying down and getting up, so he can thus rely on other joints.
Light exercise and physical and hydrotherapy can help your dog get used to walking more easily without one leg. A diet rich in vital nutrients and adapted to your dog’s age and some types of medical postoperative foods are also good choices to help your dog improve his quality of life.
When developing local changes in the lungs, the condition of the dog can be very difficult. If left untreated, osteosarcoma can lead to so much pain and swelling that the dog is no longer able to use the affected leg, so in these cases, the maximum life expectancy is two months. In such cases, due to severe pain that cannot be relieved even with the use of analgesics, the quality of life of the dog is reduced. If no type of therapy has given results and the dog suffers great pain, your veterinarian may suggest euthanasia.9Canine osteosarcoma fact sheet. The Veterinary Specialists. Retrieved on 18 March 2021.
Leg swelling in dogs occurs due to the action of various types of causes. The most common of these are various injuries, trauma, muscle ruptures, sprains and fractures, but it can also occur due to some severe systemic diseases. In addition to swelling in the leg, the two most common visible symptoms are limping on one leg and favoring one leg over the other.
You can help your dog in many ways at home, but cold compresses until you get to the vet are best, unless it’s a fracture or a more serious disease for which swelling is just one of the symptoms. Swelling of the legs also occurs as a symptom of many more serious diseases, some of which are incurable.
When it comes to such incurable conditions, all we can do is pay attention to alternative methods of treatment with the use of NSAID medications if prescribed by a veterinarian. As a precaution, it’s desirable to introduce supplementary chondroprotectives into the daily diet of the dog and to give the dogs only appropriate food for their age group.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Leg Swelling in Dogs
What Can I Give My Dog for a Swollen Leg?
It’s advisable to put a cold compress on the dog’s leg and to take him to the vet. A veterinarian usually prescribes NSAIDs in such cases to soothe inflammation and pain. But before taking any action, it’s necessary to determine whether the cause of the swollen leg is an injury. If you suspect that the dog has injured himself, then go to the 'Leg Swelling Caused by Injuries' section. If you are not sure what the cause of the swelling is and you suspect that it could be a disease, go to 'Leg Swelling Caused by Disease.'
What Causes a Dog’s Legs to Swell?
Swelling can be caused by the presence of foreign objects between paws, ingrown nails, insect bites, allergies, infections, acute injuries, various traumas, chronic systemic diseases, bone and joint diseases, and immune-mediated diseases.
How Long Does It Take for Swelling to Go Down on Dogs?
The swelling usually lasts for a day or two if left untreated and then subsides. However, if the condition is chronic, it can last from two to three weeks, and then you should take the dog to the vet. In milder cases, the condition is corrected with antihistamine injections. After the action of the cause, swelling can occur very quickly, after only half an hour.
|↑1||Canine Massage Therapy Center|
|↑2||Noxon, O. J., Kimm, T. J. (1983). Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Dogs and Cats.|
|↑3||Osteoarthritis in dogs. American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Retrieved on 14 March 2021.|
|↑4||Canine elbow dysplasia. Fitzpatrick Referrals. Retrieved on 14 March 2021.|
|↑5||Carpal hyperextension. Manchester Veterinary Specialists. Retrieved 16 March 2021.|
|↑6||Panosteitis and hypertrophic osteodystrophy. Metropolitan Veterinary Associates. Retrieved 17 March 2021.|
|↑7||Panosteitis: Growing Pains in Dogs. Veterinary Partner. Retrieved 18 March 2021.|
|↑8||Moriello, K. A. (January 2020). Hygroma in dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual.|
|↑9||Canine osteosarcoma fact sheet. The Veterinary Specialists. Retrieved on 18 March 2021.|