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VetInternist, Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 1181
Experience:  Staff Internist and Medical Director
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My nearly yr old 18lb Cairn Terrier seemed to have pulled

Customer Question

My nearly 4 yr old 18lb Cairn Terrier seemed to have pulled his rear right leg while chasing a crow. When it happened, he prominently held it up and walked on 3 legs for a few hours that day. Then the next day he seemed fine - only to be walking and suddenly that same leg snapped up in pain as he whined a few times (as if it pulled again).

This has been going on for about a week. He runs fast, jumps, and generally moves with ease only to somehow have this apparent muscle 'pull' seemingly shock him about once a day. After these shocks, he is back to walking 3 minutes later - with apparently all his strength. Whats odder, the times when he seems to 'pull' it again, can be when he is simply walking slow.

I have firmly placed my hand on the leg's knee, toes and thigh muscle and tried to find the pain point. Only the thigh muscle seems to get a response but it not one of sensitive sharp pain. He more so seemed annoyed when I press on the thigh muscle.

Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  VetInternist replied 7 years ago.
Thank you for your question. There are a few things that could be causing the signs your are describing.

  • Sprained muscle: probably the least serious problem, but also potentially the hardest to diagnose. I would assume this was the problem if nothing else could be found
  • Luxating patella (dislocating kneecap): this is a common problem in young small breed dogs. The patella can slip in and out of its proper location and can cause quite a bit of discomfort. Given the type of dog involved, the history, and the explanation of his clinical signs, I would put this problem high on my list. Depending on the severity of disease, surgery may be the best treatment option. Pain medication can be used to provide more comfort, but without surgery some of these dogs can develop severe arthritis. Surgery doesn't guarantee no arthritis, but dogs that have surgery have significantly less arthritis.
  • Ruptured cranial cruciate ligament: same as a ruptured ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in football players. Not as likely given the whole clinical picture, but still possible.
  • Dislocated hip: this can be intermittent and may need to be surgically repaired. A sling and strict cage rest can be beneficial
  • Fracture: doesn't seem as likely. I would expect more pain when you mess with his leg, but this is still possible. X-rays of the paw, leg and hip may reveal that this is the problem.

I would recommend evaluation by your veterinarian. Special attention should be made to the knee and hip. X-rays of the limb are recommended as well. If nothing abnormal (apart from the limp) I would treat for a sprained muscle; i.e. rest him, give him some pain medications, and see how he does.

Let me know if you have any other questions,

Dr. Shadwick