Lameness in Small Mammals

Lameness in Small Mammals

Any decrease in an animal's ability to bear weight on a limb or a decrease in the normal mobility and function of a limb can be considered lameness. Lameness can be extremely subtle or profound, affecting one limb or several limbs.

Lameness in small mammals is most often associated with a traumatic event, such as falling, or it may develop gradually, as in a bone tumor in an affected leg. The underlying cause of a lameness may be life threatening or it may be detrimental to a good quality of life.

What to Watch For

  • Obvious inability to walk normally
  • Reluctance to perform normal activity
  • Refusing to place any weight on a leg


  • History and physical. Your veterinarian will take a detailed history with regard to the onset, duration and variations in the lameness. S/he will also carefully watch your pet stand, sit and walk, if he is cooperative. Your veterinarian will also give your pet a general physical examination that includes a careful orthopedic examination.
  • Radiographs. Dependent on the physical examination findings, radiographs may be taken of painful or suspicious areas of a limb(s). Opposite limbs may also be X-rayed for comparison or where bilateral (both sides) disease is suspected.


  • Treatment may be as simple, such as rest for a few days for a minor tendon or muscle sprain, or it may be as involved as major orthopedic surgery for severe fractures.
  • In some cases the exact cause of lameness may not be obvious. A period of exercise restriction and rest may be suggested, perhaps with an anti-inflammatory medication in order to see if the problem responds to such a conservative approach. Failure to respond may suggest a more serious problem that necessitates more detailed diagnostic tests.
  • Surgical treatment will almost always necessitate postoperative hospitalization during which time your pet will receive analgesics, pain-killers, to ensure a smooth and comfortable recovery.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Following a surgical procedure you will need to enforce a period of rest and restriction. For some critters, this may be difficult.

    Some lameness problems may be treated with a cast, splint or soft-padded bandage. This will need to be kept clean and dry and, where appropriate, the toes at the bottom of the bandage should be checked daily for swelling or pain.

    Lameness problems arise during normal everyday activity. Prevent severe injuries, such as falling from a height, by careful handling.

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