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Dog Limps After Sleeping? 5 Possible Causes

Have you seen your dog limp after sleeping? Here are some of the most common reasons for this behaviour (and when you should visit a vet).

There are many potential causes of a dog limping after sleeping. 

The occasional limp after laying down may be your dog’s leg falling asleep. But limping when getting up can also signify more serious conditions, such as arthritis, injury, or inflammatory diseases.

Let’s take a deeper look at what can cause a dog to limp after laying down.

What Causes a Dog to Limp After Laying Down or Sleeping?

A dog in a strange sleeping position

1. Leg Falling Asleep (Pins and Needles)

Have you ever stood up without realising one of your legs has fallen asleep? Dogs can suffer from this too!

The medical term for a leg falling asleep is paraesthesia. It can happen when your dog rests in a position that puts pressure on blood vessels supplying certain nerves. This disrupts communication between the brain and the limb, causing the leg to “fall asleep.”

Just like humans, dogs often don’t realise they have paraesthesia until they try to walk. They’ll often limp around until the sensation returns – although some dogs just stand still.

A leg that’s fallen asleep should quickly return to normal once blood flow is restored to the nerve. If it lasts for a long time, then the limping is probably caused by something else.

Note: Visit a vet if your dog regularly suffers from a leg that’s fallen asleep. Frequent paraesthesia can be a symptom of another condition.

2. Joint Stiffness Due to Arthritis

Arthritis is a common health problem for dogs, particularly those in their senior years.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in a joint is damaged, allowing bones in the joints to rub and cause pain. This can lead to a gradually worsening limp, pain, excessive licking, and behavioural changes.

The pain from arthritis is often worse after resting, so your dog might limp more noticeably when he wakes up.

This is because sleeping causes arthritic joints to cool down, making them feel sore and stiff when the dog first gets up. After a few minutes of moving around, the muscles and ligaments warm up and the joint is refreshed with lubricating synovial fluid, which can reduce pain.

You should always discuss suspected joint pain and potential treatments with your vet. While there’s no cure for arthritis, there are many ways to help your dog feel more comfortable.

Note: Arthritis pain also tends to be more noticeable during damp or cold weather.

3. Pain Due to Injury

Unlike arthritis, which causes a limp that gradually gets worse, an injury causes immediate limping (known as lameness). The limp is often more noticeable after the dog has rested, as the surrounding muscles will be cold and stiff.

There are many potential injuries that a dog could suffer from. These include:

  • Muscle strains
  • Ligament and tendon sprains
  • Joint dislocation
  • Broken bones
  • Skin wounds

Always contact a vet if your dog has suddenly started limping. While all injuries need treatment, a dislocated joint or broken bone requires emergency veterinary care.

Note: Limping can also be caused by paw issues, such as injury, insect bites, or foreign objects stuck in the paws. Common culprits include nails, thorns, or grass seeds. 

4. Pain Due to Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia or Other Joint Diseases

Aside from arthritis, there are a number of other conditions that can cause a dog to limp.

While these conditions won’t specifically cause limping after sleeping, the dog’s discomfort may be worse due to joints being cold and stiff upon waking.

Some examples include:

  • Hip dysplasia – This is a condition that occurs when the dog is growing. It causes the hip to become loose, leading to pain and limping.
  • Elbow dysplasia – This is similar to hip dysplasia but affects the elbows. It causes pain, limping, and swelling.
  • Intervertebral disk disease – IVDD is a degenerative condition affecting the spinal cord that can cause mobility problems.

As we’ve mentioned, you should always take your dog to a vet if you suspect he is suffering from a joint problem. There are many ways to manage joint conditions, but the right treatment depends on getting an accurate diagnosis.

5. Inflammatory Diseases or Tick-Borne Diseases

A limp can also be caused by inflammatory or tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is transmitted once a tick has been attached for around 24 hours. Unfortunately, ticks are often difficult to see under a dog’s fur, which allows time for the bacteria to enter the dog’s blood.

Symptoms of Lyme disease vary, but it can cause lameness that comes and goes. It probably won’t cause pain specifically when a dog gets up, but general stiffness upon waking may make the limp more noticeable.

Other symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, reduced energy, joint swelling, general pain, and a reduction in appetite. Once diagnosed, treatment often involves a long course of antibiotics, which may resolve the symptoms.

How to Reduce the Chance of Dogs Contracting Lyme Disease

One way to prevent Lyme disease is to thoroughly check your dog for ticks after every walk. Walks in woodland or long grass are often the highest risk for ticks.

If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. The longer a tick is attached, the more chance there is of the bacteria being transmitted. Make sure you remove the tick properly, as the wrong technique could be dangerous for both you and your dog.

It’s also a good idea to use ongoing flea and tick treatment. You should discuss the options with your vet.

When Should I Worry About My Dog Limping?

A dog who is regularly or persistently limping is always a cause for concern. So, if your dog is limping or appears stiffer than usual, visit a vet for a checkup.

While a minor sprain or strain can probably wait a few hours if the veterinary surgery is shut, a severe injury, wound, dangling limb (dislocation), broken bone, or an inability to put any weight on the leg should be given emergency veterinary care

One of the few exceptions is if the dog’s leg has fallen asleep. This usually causes a brief limp upon waking, but passes quickly.

Even so, if a dog’s leg repeatedly falls asleep, or lasts for more than a few minutes, then this could be a sign of a medical issue such as diabetes or sciatica.

Tip: It’s a good idea to record your dog limping. This can make it easier for your vet to diagnose the problem.

What Could Cause a Puppy to Limp After Sleeping?

A puppy asleep

Many of the reasons listed above could cause a puppy to limp after sleeping.

While puppies are less likely to suffer from arthritis (although this is still possible), they can be in pain from injuries, hip dysplasia, inflammatory diseases, and other medical conditions.

For this reason, always contact a vet if your puppy is limping.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Does My Dog Limp When They Are Not In Pain?

It’s common for owners to assume that a dog is limping when they aren’t really in pain, especially if the dog quickly recovers and starts walking normally.

However, it’s very unlikely that a dog is limping when they are not in pain. In most cases, the dog is either in temporary pain, or they are hiding pain at other times.

For more information, read our guide to whether dogs fake an injury.

Why Is My Dog Limping On And Off?

There are many potential reasons for intermittent limping. A few of the most common examples include:

  • Osteoarthritis – Pain often gets worse during cold weather or after sleeping.
  • Injury – An injury may partially heal, only for the dog to re-injure the weakened muscle due to over-exertion.
  • Lyme disease – This condition, along with immune-related diseases, may cause symptoms that get worse for periods.

Intermittent limping or other symptoms should always be checked by a vet.

Summary

A dog that limps upon waking could just have a leg that’s fallen asleep, but limping could also be a sign of a medical condition or injury.

If you notice a new limp that lasts for more than a few minutes, you should always contact a vet.

Do you have any questions about what causes a dog to limp after sleeping? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Image of Richard Cross

About The Author: Richard Cross

Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter.

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