A Minor Limp Or Something More Serious? What Dog Owners Should Know About Medial Nerve Issues

31 March 2016
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As a dog owner, you probably already know that active dogs often get cuts and bruises on the pads of their feet that cause them to develop a minor limp. However, a limp that appears suddenly with no apparent soft tissue damage to the foot may be more serious. If the limp is accompanied by a change in the dog's gait, such as a condition known as knuckling where the foot folds under while walking, creating a dragging effect, the issue may be neurological. In many cases, dogs suffering this type of injury may look as if the injured leg is out of proportion to their body or abnormally long when compared to the other leg.  

Two common causes for medial nerve issues

Sudden exhibition of symptoms such as difficulty walking, knuckling or lameness related to the medial nerve are usually the result of either an injury or the presence of a tumor that affects the nerve sheath.

Injuries that can result in this type of problem include:

  • Being struck by a moving vehicle in the area of the shoulder or upper chest
  • Stepping into a hole or depression while running, causing stress to the shoulder area
  • Being kicked in the shoulder or chest by a large hoofed animal, such as a cow, horse or goat

Unlike medial nerve injuries that usually result in immediately visible symptoms, a nerve sheath tumor can develop slowly and take months or years to become symptomatic. Although there are few early warning signs, observant dog owners can sometimes note changes in the appearance of their dog's eyes, such as different pupil sizes.

What type of treatments are available?

If the limp and difficulties in walking are caused by an injury to the medial nerve, recovery is often possible, although it will likely take a long period of time. In some cases, veterinarians prefer to monitor the animal carefully, prescribe medications to relieve pain and inflammation and use a protective boot to protect the affected foot. In cases where the damage is severe or the animal is prone to self-mutilation of the affected limb, amputation at the shoulder may be recommended.

If the symptoms are found to be related to a cancerous tumor, treatment options will likely rely on surgery to remove the tumor, if possible, or medication to keep the dog comfortable until the condition becomes debilitating. If the tumor is large or inoperative and no path for recovery is possible, your veterinarian may recommend putting your dog to sleep to prevent unnecessary suffering.

In any case, lameness that is not the result of a minor cut or bruise on the paw should always be investigated thoroughly by your animal care professional to rule out medial nerve injuries or tumors.

For more information, contact St Laurent Animal Hospital or a similar location.