Leg Cramping in Dogs

Leg cramping and spasming is a common occurrence in many dogs, although it can oftentimes be difficult to determine why these issues arise. In some dogs, cramps happen for the same reasons that they often happen in humans; overexercise can cause a muscle to respond in different ways and may lead to muscle cramps that can debilitate your dog for a limited period of time.

Spasms and cramps can also come about for a number of other and potentially more serious reasons, however, so it's crucial that you be aware of the signs of a muscle or a leg cramp so that you can address it properly.

Leg Cramping Causes

Some of the most common causes of leg cramping that aren't related to exercise have to do with neurological reasons. A dog can experience leg cramps that appear to arise out of nowhere as a result of a neurological injury or disease. This can be anything from seizures, in which the dog may lose control over his muscles, to diseases that involve nerve function impairment like degenerative myelopathy.

Different viruses and toxins in the bloodstream can lead to muscle cramps and spasms as well. These can be as varied as a neurotoxin that causes your pet's leg to stiffen and induces a cramp or a virus that may affect the way that your pet moves, thereby leading his leg to cramp up. Due to the wide range of potential causes of leg cramps in dogs, it can be difficult to determine what the underlying cause is simply by watching your pet; you may need to take him in to the vet for further examination and diagnosis.

Identifying a Leg Cramp

Because dogs cannot vocalize when they are experiencing pain or cramps, you'll need to watch your pet's behavior for signs that he may have a leg cramp of some kind. Watch for the following symptoms of a cramped muscle:

  • Limping
  • Difficulty getting up or lying down
  • Slow movements
  • Howls of pain upon walking or moving
  • Refusal to run or unresponsiveness in general
  • Pain to the touch

Your dog is likely to experience cramps in one leg over others. Pain in multiple legs at once is rare and typically indicates some other type of injury or condition instead.

Diagnosing and Treating a Leg Cramp

In most cases, leg cramps will go away on their own over time. However, if your pet appears to be in continued pain, or if his symptoms do not go away within an hour's time or so, it may be a sign that something more serious is going on. You should then plan to take note of all of the symptoms that you've noticed in your pet and take your dog in to the vet for potential treatment. The vet can diagnose your dog based on his physical symptoms and will provide pain relievers or other medicines to help your dog to cope with the leg cramp.