My Dog Has a Swollen Leg

The comfort and function of all four of your dog's legs are essential to her everyday existence. Because a dog's mobility is one of her most valued attributes, the compromise of any aspect of the complex of vessels, nerves, muscles, and bones that function as one to facilitate the ability to move can be devastating. If you notice a swelling of one of your dog's legs, examine it immediately in an attempt to identify the exact cause and avoid the development of additional symptoms and potential disaster.

What to Look For

Before placing your dog in any specific position, observe her at rest, looking for signs of discomfort or asymmetry.

Identify the leg that is swollen, but start your exam by manipulating the contralateral, or opposite, leg. This will test your dog's ability to bear weight on the affected limb while giving you a baseline for comparison once you get down to examining it.

In each instance, begin by examining the toes one at a time, extending and stretching them individually, squeezing the bones and bending the joints and eventually feeling the spaces between them while stretching the interdigital webbing. Next, move on to the carpal, or “wrist” joint if it is the front limb, tarsal or “ankle” joint if it is the rear. The move itself should be performed by encircling the limb with your hand and sliding upward while squeezing. The joint should then be put through its full range of motion to check for discomfort or stiffness while listening for any cracking or grinding sounds. Now move on to the next joint, using the same encircling maneuver as before, eventually arriving at the elbow (front) or stifle (rear). Put this joint through its full range of motion just as you did the previous joint, checking for the same things. Ultimately you will arrive at either her shoulder (front limb) or hip (rear limb). Once you have manipulated this joint, checking its range of motion while looking for any signs of discomfort or any cracking or grinding sounds, you will have completed your exam.