Thursday, May 24, 2018

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Shifting Lameness

We all know this one, right? The cause of shifting lameness, quick, anybody? Yes, intermittent or shifting lameness is a common symptom of Lyme disease.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Shifting Lameness

So that's it? Case closed?


Not so fast. Yes, shifting lameness, stiff walk, and sensitivity to touch can signal Lyme disease. It likely wouldn't be the only symptom you'd see. You can observe any other symptoms involved with an infection such as swollen joints, lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, lymph node swelling, and others. Serious complications can even include kidney damage.

Only 5-10% of dogs who might test positive for the disease are likely to show any symptoms.

The traditional antibody test can only tell you whether or not your dog has been exposed to the organism that causes Lyme; it doesn't tell you whether or not there is an active disease. Meaning, your dog will have antibodies if they successfully fought off Lyme disease and from vaccination as well. There is a better antibody test available now, that is better at diagnosing only active infections.

However, Lyme disease is not the only potential cause of shifting lameness.


If you have a medium to large breed puppy between the ages of 5 to 18 months, your pup's joint pain might have nothing to do with an infection but rather be caused by what is sometimes referred to as growing pains, panosteitis.

While the reason for joint inflammation is very different, the result is similar.

All that doesn't exclude the possibility of other conditions that affect more than one leg.


For example, when Trago started limping, panosteitis was the initial diagnosis he was given. As it turned out, however, this wasn't Trago's problem at all. Trago had bilateral elbow dysplasia.

Both elbows were hurting. Picture this, if you will. One might hurt just a little bit more than the other. Compensation will lead to overusing the other leg, making that one hurt more. And so on. The mystery behind shifting lameness.

Your dog can have hip dysplasia but start favoring one of the front legs. The principle is the same. Compensation can result in pain even in places that had nothing wrong with them initially.

Additional causes of a shifting lameness include other infectious diseases like ehrlichiosis or leishmaniasis, immune-mediated disorders, and even problems that affect the back.

The only thing shifting lameness tells me for sure is that there is a problem.


Does it tell me what the problem is? Not really. I can have my suspicions based on age, history, and lifestyle, but without a vet and proper diagnostics I'd be just guessing.


Related articles:
Lyme Is Lame (Pun Intended)
Symptoms to Watch for in your Dog: What Is that Limp?
Gus' Missed Diagnosis
Running with the Wind: Trago's Elbow Dysplasia

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?


Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.


Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

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24 comments

  1. This is the first I've heard of shifting lameness. It's a bit worrying when such a small percentage of dogs afflicted with Lyme Disease will show any symptoms. As soon as I see anything out of the ordinary I call the vet just to be sure. Worse case scenario, they think I'm a pain but if I'm right we could save a lot of heartache. Thanks for another important symptom checker.

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    1. Well, what is meant by that is that just because there was an exposure to the bacteria doesn't mean there is a disease. That's what the immune system is for--to tackle such things.

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  2. I'm always very careful to watch for limping. Usually it's just in the one paw though and easily solved (something stuck).

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    1. Yes, unilateral problem usually means an injury, boo boo or a foreign body. Usually.

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  3. Hmm I've never heard of shifting lameness before , however try my best to be ever observant of change in behavior of my pets. Also interesting to know shifting lameness means more than just potential Lyme disease. Thanks for sharing this important information.

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    1. One thing I'm trying to preach is to never jump to conclusions. While first thing that comes to mind with shifting lameness is Lyme disease, it doesn't mean that's automatically what it is. Just as with other things.

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  4. I did not know about shifting lameness (another reason I love visiting you tell me interesting stuff!). I can see that shifting from leg to leg or paw to paw indicates some kind of trouble - assume then that your best option is a vet visit simply because there are other alternative potential issues?

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    1. I think you're confusing shifting legs with shifting lameness. Shifting lameness means that, for example, one day the dog limps on hind left, the next day on hind right ...

      The best option is to never jump to assumption but finding out what is really going on instead.

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  5. Lameness of any kind is one of those things that would have us visiting our vet pretty quickly. Interesting to know that shifting lameness can be a sign of lyme.

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    1. You'd be surprised how long many people wait before doing anything about a limp. Everything needs to be judged in context so waiting for some time in some cases makes sense, in other cases it does not.

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  6. Wow, this was extremely informative! It makes total sense of the compensating resulting in overuse, leading to the shifting. Along with not leaping to conclusions as a result.

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  7. This is really interesting - I did not know about these symptoms. We don't get loads of ticks out here but it is still a possibility, and this is always good to know. Thanks!

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    1. You're so lucky not having a lot of ticks where you live. One point I was trying to make with this article is that it is not always Lyme.

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  8. I would definitely think someone would take their dog to the vet if there was shifting lameness. There are so many diseases and illness for dogs and cats now that it's amazing we don't have more vet specialists!

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    1. Yes, I would also. But this topic is not just about going to the vet but also getting the correct diagnosis.

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  9. Hyper vigilance at our home this year. Ticks are BAD here this year. More protection than usual in place. Informative as always.

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    1. Don't you just hate the damn ticks. We had a pretty good year last year but we still test for tick-borne every spring just for peace of mind. So far so good *knock on wood

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  10. It seems like it should be so much simpler to diagnose what's causing that symptom! Lyme Disease scares the heck out of me, even more than hip dysplasia.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. Diagnosing actually isn't easy at all, unless it's the first obvious thing.

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  11. What a wonderful and informative post. I've never heard about shifting lameness so thank you. This year our ticks are horrible. I read one article that in less than 24 hours into a camping trip one human and her two dogs had over 100 ticks on them that were pulled off. Crazy!!!

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    1. Oh my God, that many? That's crazy :-(

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  12. One of my dogs tested positive for Lyme Disease, and I didn't even know that shifting lameness is a symptom. (Fortunately, she doesn't have that issue, or any health issues right now.) It is always good to know about other issues with similar symptoms, to help make sure you get the correct diagnosis.

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    1. A positive test, unless you did the specialized newer one, just means presence of antibodies. Which equals exposure; does not automatically equal a disease.

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  13. I always worry when I see limping! Having had four CCL tears requiring surgery, one having emergency double imbrication surgery, and another having a torn dew claw, and yet another who suffered from bouts of ataxia from epilepsy meds and had hind end weakness that occasionally led to temporary lameness, this is a topic that truly concerns me as soon as I see one of them limping. I know with myself and autoimmune issues that changing and moving aches and pain can certainly signal something, so it totally makes sense it is the same for our dogs. Thanks for sharing this vital information to help keep folks aware! Pinning on my "Bark About" board to share!

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