It's not unusual for dog owners to occasionally hear a dog's leg making clicking noises which makes them wonder what is causing these sounds in the first place. Dog owners often describe popping or cracking noises coming from a dog's joints when moving around just as it sometimes happens in humans when knees, ankles and finger knuckles produce a similar sound. The next question is therefore, "is it normal for a dog's leg to make such clicking noises? " The answer is that it depends, therefore, it's one of those things you may want to mention to your vet on your next visit. See your dog sooner than later though if your dog is limping or showing signs of pain.
A Matter of Gases
The clicking sounds you are hearing from your dog's legs are not always a sign of trouble. It could simply happens because of the presence of gases in the fluid contained in your dog's joints.
Because joints are made of bones that make contact with each other, there is synovial fluid between them that acts as a lubricant to prevent friction. This fluid contains several gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
When a joint cracks or makes a clicking noise, it's therefore often a sign that these gases are rapidly escaping from the dog's joint/synovial fluid, explains veterinarian Dr. Cliff.
A Matter of Friction
Often, the clicking sounds in a dog's joints are due to surfaces of the bones gliding against each other. Often this happens because of luxation, in other words a dislocation, affecting a joint where bones meet.
At times though, the noise produced is not from the bones directly, but actually from ligaments, the tissues that connect a dog's bones to other bones. It can be difficult at times pinpointing exactly where the noise is coming from, but generally one can distinguish if it's affecting the dog's front or back legs.
If your dog's legs have never made these sounds before, this may warrant veterinary investigation by your vet so to pinpoint exactly which legs, which joints and which bones or ligaments are causing the noises. If not addressed, there are chances that the constant friction can progress causing more damage in the long run.
Noises in Puppy Joints
We often tend to associate cracking joints with old age, and therefore it can be quite surprising already hearing a young puppy's joints making clicking or popping noises. Yet, puppies can have orthopedic problems from a young age too, especially when such puppies are obtained from questionable sources where no steps are taken to prevent orthopedic problems from being passed down from one generation to another.
These popping or grating noises may be something as innocent as soft tissues changes associated with growth or there may be problems with the joint of the hips which can be indicative of hip dysplasia in puppies, explains veterinarian Dr. Ivana.
In a young puppy, it would therefore be helpful having x-rays of the hips done so to detect any signs pointing to this problem. At times, the knees or knee ligaments may be making clicking noises too, but these are usually related to some type of injury and would cause lameness. It wouldn't hurt though to have the x-rays of the knees done too if the vet would want to cover all bases.
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Hip Problems in Dogs
If the dog's hips are making a clicking or popping sound, this may therefore be indicative of a hip problem. In a dog suffering from hip dysplasia, the clicking sound may be coming from the thigh bone (the femur) popping out of the joint and rubbing onto the the hip socket, explains Dr. Marcia.
This tends to happen because the joint is loose and not tight-fitting as it should. Ideally, in a healthy ball and socket joint, the ball-shaped surface of one bone should fit nicely into the cup-like depression of the other. Hip dysplasia is mostly seen in large breed dogs, but at times can also be seen in medium and small breeds.
However, not necessarily a popping noise from the dog's rear legs is indicative of a problem. In some cases, the sound may just be the dog's joint popping just like it happens in humans, explains veterinarian Dr.John. This is one of those things that you may want to have investigated through an orthopedic exam and x-rays, just to make sure everything is alright.
Knee Problems in Dogs
If the dog's knees are making a clicking sound, this sometimes can be indicative of a dislocation of the dog's knee cap (patella). Basically in this case, the dog's knee caps moves in and out from it's normal position in the groove of the femur. The name for this condition is luxating patella.
It's not really usual for the knee cap to be making noises, but it can occur in older dogs when there are arthritic changes in the joint, explains Vet Help a veterinarian with 12 years experience in a small animal clinic. This condition tends to occur more in small dog breeds than the larger ones. It is therefore prevalent among Yorkshire terriers, Pomeranians, Boston terriers and Chihuahuas.
As mentioned, ligaments may also be the source of the noise. A dog's ligament, in particular the anterior cruciate ligament, may be simple moving. This could just indicate that the fluid in the joint is being snapped and therefore is producing the sound, just like the sound produced when popping knuckles, but a clicking sound can also be indicative of a ligament rupture, explains veterinarian Dr. Loretta. Usually, if there is problem with a ligament there will be associated lameness though.
When the anterior cruciate ligament is injured, sometimes the meniscus is injured as well. Your dog's meniscus is a C-shaped disc meant to provide cushioning to the knee and therefore acting as a shock absorber. When the meniscus is injured as well, its pieces can make a clicking sound upon walking (meniscal click), further explains Vet Help.
A Case of Arthritis
As dogs' age, their joints may start making clicking noises as a result of arthritis. The wear and tear of many years can lead to decreased smoothness in cartilage, and the clicking noise may be due to the roughness of the joint surface as bones make contact with one another.
The clicking noise may be therefore due to arthritis affecting the dog's hip, knee, ankle or all of these structures or it can be attributed to the dog's tendons or ligaments stiffening with age, just as the joints in elderly people which produce a cracking sound as they get up, sit down or do the stairs, adds Vet Help.
Dogs affected by arthritis often benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin supplements and non-inflammatory drugs to control the pain and inflammation.
At the Vet's Office
Upon seeing your vet for the clicking noise, your vet will likely ask you to walk your dog around so to observe his gait and any pinpoint any orthopedic problems. You may be questioned about when you hear the sound and whether your dog has a history of lameness.
When examining your dog, your vet will palpate her hips and check for any signs of problems with the knee (drawer's test). X-rays may be needed, but often these need to be done under sedation.
Treatment varies on the vet's findings and may vary from rest, to medical therapy to surgical intervention. If your vet diagnosed your dog with bad hips or knees, you should inform your breeder if you got your puppy from one, as this can be due to hereditary problems.