Dog Limping After Playing Fetch (Top 7 Reasons Why)

Seeing your dog limp is a distressing situation, especially if the limp started after having an excellent time playing fetch in the park. In such a case, as any responsible owner, you will be wondering what could have happened?  

Dog limping after playing fetch – what could it be? There are various reasons that can make a dog limp after playing fetch, but the most common include injuries at the paws, toes, and claws, sprains or strains, and tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament.  

In this article, we will talk about the different reasons dogs limp after playing fetch and the potential treatment or management options. We will also talk about what to do when you see your dog limping and when it is time to make a visit to the vet’s office.  


Limping or lameness is when the dog refuses to bear weight on the legs and paws. It can affect one or more limbs, and it can be triggered by various issues. Basically, there are two different types of limping in dogs:  

· Gradual onset limping – occurs slowly over a prolonged time and is usually associated with chronic diseases like osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia.  

· Sudden limping – occurs suddenly and abruptly with no previous signs and more often than not due to accidents and traumatic events.  

In practice, it can be hard to distinguish between gradual and sudden limping. For example, a dog may limp chronically but lightly so that the owner is unaware of the problem. Then, after exercising or playing, the limping becomes more accented, and the owner mistakes it for sudden limping.  


If your dog suddenly starts limping, the best thing you should do is remain calm and assess the situation. Here is a short explanation of the steps you should take:  

· Evaluate your dog’s overall condition – is your dog acting normally other than the limp or is pain and visible distress.  

· Take a look at the limping leg – visually examine the dog’s leg and check if there is something out of the ordinary (a broken nail, a foxtail, an injury).  

· Confine your dog – most causes of limping worsen if the dog is active. Therefore, it is imperative you limit your dog’s movements until seeking help.  

· Call your trusted veterinarian – try to explain the problem and seek instructions. If the vet suggests making a visit, take your dog to her/his office.  

· Follow the vet’s instructions – the best thing you can do for your dogs limping is to follow the instructions the vet provides.  

· Do not self-medicate your dog – you are not a doctor, and therefore, you should not be giving meds on your own (some human medications are toxic to dogs).  


Basically, you should seek veterinary attention as soon as you notice something is going on with your dog. The sooner you acknowledge the presence of a problem, the sooner it will get addressed.  

However, since most cases of limping after playing fetch or exercising are due to over-exhaustion, you might want to wait until the next day. If these are the reasons, your dog’s limping will be less pronounced after some rest.  

On the other hand, it is critical that you make an urgent trip to the vet’s office if, in addition to limping, your dog is in pain (crying, whining) or shows additional worrisome symptoms.  


How long a limp will take to heal depends on many factors, including:  

· The underlying reason  

· The dog’s age and overall health  

· The promptness and adequacy of the treatment  

· The level of following the vet’s instructions.  

Best-case scenario, if dealing with a minor sprain, it will take your dog between a couple of days to a week to stop limping. This timeframe applies for medicated and treated sprains – an untreated sprain may take several weeks to heal.  

Worst-case scenario, if your dog tore the anterior cruciate ligament, it will need surgery, and the limping may persist for up to a couple of weeks after the surgery. It is not uncommon for the limp to persist during recovery and rehabilitation.  


As mentioned, some limping causes can occur during playing, while others can be persistent but latent and become obvious after physical activity. To make things easier to understand, we will review the top causes for limping after playing fetch.  

Cause number 1: Something in the paw 

The dog’s paws are delicate structures and, because of their anatomy, prone to getting foreign objects stuck. Namely, when a dog walks on a surface, it can easily pick up different objects, which have the potential to get stuck and cause pain. Because of the pain (the paw is red and swollen), the dog refuses to bear weight on the affected paw and develops a limp. Commonly found foreign bodies in the paws include foxtails, pebbles, and broken glass pieces. The treatment involves removing the foreign body and treating the wound if necessary. Depending on the type of foreign body, the damage it caused, and your dog’s personality, the vet may use medications to sedate the dog for more manageable removal.  

Cause number 2: Extreme tiredness  

Being overly active can make anyone tired and sore, especially if lacking proper physical condition. If your dog is not very active, but you just spend the last few hours playing fetch, chances are its muscles will be sore due to inflammation or even sprained or strained. This is the most benign cause of limping as it is likely to go away on its own after having a good rest or in more intense cases with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. This scenario is easily avoidable – all you need to do is keep the fetch-playing episodes short and moderate if your dog lacks physical condition.  

Cause number 3: Overgrown claws  

Dogs that walk on carpets and other soft surfaces do not get their claws worn out properly. An overgrown claw can start pressing the surrounding tissue causing pain and limping. However, when an overgrown claw is a reason for limping after playing fetch, the events are a bit different. Namely, the most likely scenario is that the overgrown claw got broken and torn. This is much more painful than you might think and requires veterinary help. The claw needs to be properly trimmed or, if fully torn – the wound treated. Plus, your dog might need painkillers. While at the vet’s office, it is a good idea to check the other claws and trim them if overgrown.   

Cause number 4: Bone fractures  

Just like humans, dogs can get bone fractures, and they usually affect the leg bones. Fractures are not the most common injury occurring during a game of fetch. However, if the dog has a predisposing issue, even more, minor traumas can result in broken bones. A bone fracture is an extremely painful situation and requires immediate veterinary attention. A dog with a broken leg, in addition to limping, will probably drag the affected leg. Addressing a broken bone requires a surgical procedure.  

Cause number 5: Tearing of the ACL  

Another human-like injury is tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament. This ligament is responsible for aligning the knee joint and keeping it in position. Since dogs walk with slightly bent rear legs, the cruciate ligaments are constantly under pressure. Playing fetch only adds to the pressure and can culminate in tearing of the ligament. Torn ACLs are treatable with surgical correction but require lengthy recoveries and physical rehabilitation plans.  

Cause number 6: Hip or elbow dysplasia  

Hip and elbow dysplasia are genetic conditions more common in large and giant dog breeds. Both orthopedic issues stem from malformations of the joint and usually cause gradual instead of acute limping. However, a dog with hip or elbow dysplasia may start limping after playing fetch due to overexertion. Namely, the body stops compensating for the joint deficit, and the limping becomes apparent. Hip and elbow dysplasia require surgical correction followed by extensive recovery and rehabilitation.  

Cause number 7: Age-related joint issues  

Dogs are prone to several age-related changes and conditions, including arthritis. Arthritis is a painful inflammation of the joints that develops after normal wear and tear of the joint structures. If an older dog is playing fetch and then starts limping, chances are its joints cannot keep up with the physical requirements of the game. Arthritis is a progressive condition, and it cannot be treated, but with the right approach, it can be managed.  


Whether a dog starts limping after exercising or playing fetch, you can look at the same potential causes. To avoid exercise-related injuries, it is advisable to avoid strenuous exercising regimens, especially in dogs without proper condition.  

Modern dogs often suffer from the so-called “weekend warrior syndrome.” What does this mean? Well, simply put, most modern dogs are real couch potatoes over the week – they spend their time snoozing and eating.  

When the weekend comes, and the owners are not at work, dogs try to compensate for the couch potato lifestyle by being overly active. Sadly, this is not a good idea since these dogs lack appropriate physical conditions.  


A dog may start limping after playing with another dog for the same reasons as after playing fetch. However, in this case, there is one more potential culprit – injuries (bites and scratches) from the other dog.  

When a dog plays with another dog, it is hard to keep control over the situation, and accidents can occur. Sometimes the dog is purposely hurt by the other dog, and sometimes it is a play-induced mistake.  

Luckily, both scratches and bites are easily visible from the outside and, if treated timely and properly, easy to manage. To avoid similar injuries in the future, keep an eye on your dog while playing with another dog and calm the situation if things become heated.  


 A dog limping after exercise can mean a lot of things – some benign and others more serious. Since determining and managing the source of your dog’s limping is not something you can determine on your own, it is advisable to seek veterinary attention as soon as the limping starts.  

Best-case scenario, your dog will be exhausted and in need of a good rest, and worst-case scenario, you will be dealing with an orthopedic issue that warrants surgery. In both cases, it is critical to sort things early and start the treatment in a timely manner.  


Can I treat my dog’s limping at home? 

You cannot treat your dog’s limping at home. If your dog is limping, visit the vet and seek professional help. Once the vet makes a diagnosis and recommends a treatment plan, you should follow the instructions and ensure your dog is comfortable during the treatment.  

Should I rest my dog if he is limping? 

Generally speaking, yes – you should make sure your dog rests if limping. Physical activity, jumping, and going up and down stairs can only worsen the situation. However, keep in mind that resting is not a treatment, it helps speed up the recovery, but your dog still needs veterinary help.  

Can limping be painless?  

Not all limping causes are equally painful, and not all dogs are equally sensitive to pain. Some dogs are drama queens and will overreact even when dealing with minor injuries. On the other hand, others will pretend everything is fine when dealing with painful issues.  

Will a dog’s sprained leg heal on its own?  

In theory, yes, it is possible for a minor sprain to heal on its own. However, using prescription pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs will speed up the recovery and make the process smoother and more comfortable for your dog.  

What to do if a dog won’t put weight on a paw?  

If your dog refuses to bear weight on one leg, it is critical you call the vet. You can visually examine the paw until waiting for the appointment. However, some conditions cannot be seen from the outside, thus requiring veterinary help and more thorough exams.


  • Brad

    Hi I'm Brad, the founder of Having been a vet of 6 years I work alongside our team to provide valuable insight into your dog's health. I have a frenchie myself named Senzu who is my pride and joy!

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