9 Reasons Why a Dog May Be Limping After a Hike

Limping in dogs is a serious issue. Any type of limping is indicative of a possible health issue that is not good for our furry pals, so it’s good to know the potential causes of such. Most pet owners usually take their canine companions with them when hiking. Sometimes, whether during or after a hike, a pet parent may see their dog limping. Why does this occur? What are the possible reasons for a dog limping after hiking with their owner?

dog limping after hike
Why a Dog May Be Limping After a Hike?

There are multiple reasons for canine limping behavior to occur after hiking, and the possibilities include lacerations, fractures, sprains or strains, too much hiking at once, general weakness in the dog, cracked toenails, insect bites, and stings, joint issues, and also subclinical disease.

Let us discuss all these potential causes in more detail.

9 Reasons Why a Dog is Limping After a Hike

Here are nine of the possible reasons you may see your dog struggling to walk and dealing with a limp after having gone on a hike with you.

1. Lacerations

Unfortunately, there are many different things outdoors— plant thorns, broken glass from litter, and more—that can cut or pierce your pet’s feet when out on a hike. Although they may even be quite small in some cases, these sharp objects can still cause serious injury. Examine your dog’s paws regularly during hiking activities to check for any wounds, cuts, bruises, or foreign items that may have punctured the skin.

2. Fractures

When your dog goes out for a hike, your canine companion is at risk of potentially breaking the bones in his or her feet and legs, especially if they were to fall, stumble, or jump unexpectedly and land incorrectly. An external indicator of a fracture is normally absent; however, if your pet has suffered a significant break, you may notice that the afflicted limb is hanging at an odd angle or looks uneven.

Likely, your dog won’t be capable of putting any weight on the injured leg if they have indeed fractured it. If your dog is in pain, he or she may yell out; if no crying or whimpering occurs, still keep an eye out for limping, which indicates a fracture.

If your dog indicates that there may be an underlying fracture that isn’t visible from the outside or if one of their bones or limbs looks abnormal and a break appears to be the likely cause, take them to a trusted veterinarian as soon as possible to receive proper medical care.

3. Sprains or strains

When canines overexert themselves while out on a hike, they can suffer from sprains or strains. If your dog is limping but does not appear to have any visible lacerations or bone fractures and can bear weight on his injured leg, he is most likely suffering from a sprain or strain.

If you look closely, you may also be able to see some heat and swelling present around one of the injured leg’s joints, and this is a clear indication of a sprain or strain having occurred.

4. Too much hiking at once

If your dog has a limp after hiking, it might be because he is trying to do too much all at once. When this is the case, you are forcing your dog to hike beyond his or her physical limit, and this is incredibly dangerous and problematic.

To resolve this issue, you should try taking shorter hikes more often rather than only making one lengthy hike. If there is no improvement, you should call your veterinarian for assistance in determining the source of the lameness.

5. General weakness

Sometimes, a dog may experience general weakness due to post-surgical recovery as well as weakness attributed to nutritional deficiencies. Both of these causes of overall weakness can lead to your furry companion limping after hiking. If this is the case, try to keep your dog’s diet and overall nutrition at its best. If your dog is simply recovering from a health condition or procedure, allow time for adequate rest and recuperation before engaging in strenuous exercise.

6. Cracked toenails

Throughout a hike, your dog can break one of his or her toenails. This can happen either by snagging it on something or placing too much pressure on it while hiking. Any crack in the toenail—no matter how little—can produce a limp in your dog as they try to continue walking on it. However, as long as there is no blood, a cracked or broken toenail shouldn’t necessitate any veterinary intervention.

7. Joint issues

Your dog’s limping may also be caused by joint disease, which can be greatly aggravated during an activity like hiking. If it appears to worsen over time, this is often referred to as gradual onset limping.

Hip or elbow dysplasia, ligament degeneration, osteoarthritis, and intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) are some of the possible joint conditions that can contribute to your dog limping from a flare-up of inflammation during hiking. To determine exactly what is wrong and the best approach to alleviate the pain of limping after hiking, your veterinarian’s guidance will be essential. Often, a change in diet and the addition of supplements to a dog’s daily routine can reduce the incidence of debilitating symptoms.

The prevalence of several of these joint illnesses, such as osteoarthritis, is also much higher in older dogs. If your dog is advancing in age, be very cautious before going on a hike with a senior canine.

8. Insect bites and stings

Sometimes, limping after hiking in dogs may also occur due to various insect bites or stings. These bites can sometimes lead to severe pain and inflammation, even to the extent of needing prompt veterinary care. Always be sure to select a safe area for hiking with your dog and stay aware of your surroundings to avoid insect-related dangers while outdoors.

9. Subclinical diseases

Aside from the numerous causes listed above, several subclinical diseases may lead your dog to limp after going on a hike. If your dog has osteoporosis, this can be caused by a tickborne infection such as Lyme disease or a tumor such as osteosarcoma (bone cancer). These diseases manifest themselves subclinically and will lead to limping and other issues after a canine has engaged in hard work or exercise.

Large breed dogs, such as Great Danes, may also limp due to disorders such as hypertrophic osteodystrophy or panosteitis, both of which are common in these dogs.

What to Do If Your Dog is Limping After Hiking

Several things may be done to assist your dog if you discover that he or she is limping after a hike but you’ve concluded that the situation is not an instance of emergency.


First, take a look at the problem area. If your dog will let you attempt to get a closer look at the leg that appears to be causing the discomfort. Is there a particular region on your dog’s body that he licks a lot? This behavior may indicate that this one particular spot is the root of the problem.

Take it easy on the ankle and foot, and watch for any odd indicators such as a cut, a bruise, or swelling. Also note any heat, sore places, instability, or other abnormalities. Examine the paw pad and the space between the toes to see whether there is a lesion or a foreign object lodged somewhere on the dog.

Toenails that have been torn should be checked. To check for soreness or stiffness in the joints, gently manipulate your dog’s joints to check for the issue and determine whether this is a problem.

Related Reading: Do Dogs Get Sore Muscles After Exercise?

Clean Any Wounds

If you discover any small wound on your dog, clean it gently with mild soap and lukewarm water to prevent infection. When using an antibiotic ointment, make sure to be careful to protect your dog from licking it. If you discover a significant wound while inspecting your pup, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Treating Swelling

If you see swelling on your pet’s leg that appears to be the main cause of its limping, it is advised to consult with your veterinarian. They may recommend resting and icing the affected region for 15-20 minutes increments in some cases.

If swelling of the limb or limping persists for more than 18-24 hours or appears to be getting worse, you must take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Minor swelling and abrupt lameness may be the sole signs of a toxic snake bite if you live in certain parts of the country where venomous snakes are widespread. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you have reason to believe a snake has bitten your pet.

Removing Splinters or Other Lodged Objects

If your dog gets a small object stuck in its paw (such as a splinter or a piece of glass), you can try to extricate it using tweezers, but proceed with caution! Your dog may snap at you and try to bite out of pain, and you don’t want to get wounded as well. (If you own a muzzle, this is a great time to use it for you to safely provide care to your injured dog.)

If you can remove the object, clean it just like you would a smaller cut once you have the object fully removed from your pup’s skin. If you are unable to remove the object (or are uncomfortable doing so), seek assistance from a veterinarian.


Encourage your pet to take it easy, and avoid taking him or her on further hikes for a bit. Allowing your dog to exercise or leap up should also not be permitted. Additionally, carry your pup up and down any stairs rather than allowing them to exert so much effort walking on them while limping or injured.

Further Medical Treatment

Rest may be all that is required to get your furry friend back into peak physical condition. However, it is also possible that other canines may require medical intervention and treatment, such as taking pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, going to physical therapy, or even having surgery performed to eliminate serious health issues.

Always Consult with Your Vet

In any instance, your main veterinarian is your primary resource for identifying and treating your dog’s limping problem. They will be able to refer you to any additional veterinary specialists and will work together to continue to provide your pet with the best care that he or she needs to be successful.

dog limping after hike
Dog limping after the hike


Is it safe to give my pet aspirin if he has a limp?

Despite how reasonable it may seem to do so, NEVER offer your dog the following items without first seeing your veterinarian:

  • NSAIDs
  • Aspirin
  • Analgesics

When used in the incorrect dosage or under the wrong circumstances, all drugs—including aspirin—are linked with potentially life-threatening adverse effects in canines and may lead to strokes or heart attacks.

If your dog’s limp is severe enough that you believe pain medication is required, consult with your veterinarian and never provide your dog with any human medications for pain or inflammation.

How to determine which of your dog’s legs is more affected by limping or lameness

Sometimes it’s tough to tell which limb a dog prefers when they have modest limps or difficulties that may be affecting more than one leg in general. Keep in mind that dogs seek to relieve the pressure on the limb that is causing them the most discomfort though, and this will help you narrow down where the main problem lies.

  • Forelimb Lameness: When a dog has forelimb lameness, he or she will elevate their head when the injured leg contacts the ground and drop their head when the good leg bears weight. This ‘head bob’ is a great indicator when determining which legs are giving them the most discomfort.
  • Hindlimb Lameness: With lameness in the rear legs, dogs will lean forward to bear the weight of their rear end more, and you should also be able to see the tail or afflicted hip raise when the injured limb makes contact with the ground.

Related Reading: Hiking with a Puppy in a Backpack: All You Need to Know

stuart and his dog

Family Dog Expert Author

Hi there! I’m Stuart, a devoted dog lover and family dog expert with over a decade of experience working with our furry companions. My passion for dogs drives me to share my knowledge and expertise, helping families build strong, loving bonds with their four-legged friends. When I’m not writing for SirDoggie, you’ll find me hiking, playing with my beautiful dog, or studying music.