Australian Shepherd Limping Front Leg: Here’s Why And What To Do

It is very concerning when you see your Australian Shepherd limping on his front leg. an Australian Shepherd’s limping front leg is not normal and should not be ignored.

Australian Shepherd limping can affect both the front and back legs. It is often a sign that your Australian Shepherd is experiencing pain in its limbs. 

an Australian Shepherd with forelimb limping will lift their head on the painful leg touches the ground and lower its head when putting weight on the good leg.

Here’s what you need to know about an Australian Shepherd’s limping front leg and what you can do to help your dog.

Here’s Why Australian Shepherd limping front leg happens

The Australian Shepherd front leg limping happens due to health conditions or injuries that affect the front leg’s bones, joints paws, and other tissues. This includes shoulder instability, elbow dysplasia, brachial plexus nerve tumors, biceps inflammation or injury, and joint developmental problems (Osteochondritis dissecans).

Common problems that also cause front and back leg limping include bone fractures, joint dislocations, muscle strains, broken toenails, injury, infections, wounds, and diseases such as wobblers syndrome, developmental disorders, osteoarthritis, and cancer of the bone, joints, and soft tissues.

Australian Shepherd limping front leg

Common Causes Of Australian Shepherd Limping Front Leg

The common causes of Australian Shepherd front leg limping include:

Shoulder instability

Australian Shepherd shoulder problems are the most common causes of front leg lameness and limping. Shoulder instability is an injury to the tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the shoulder.

Australian Shepherds have shoulder blades that are attached to the upper leg bone by tendons and ligaments. The function of this anatomy structure is to enable an Australian Shepherd to move or run with ease.

Sprains or injury to the shoulder muscles and/or ligaments causes shoulder instability that causes front leg limping or lameness in an Australian Shepherd.

This can be caused by activities that could lead to injury or sprains such as intense running or jumping.

The affected shoulder area may swell up and limits the neck’s motion. Lameness due to shoulder injury is also often worse after exercise.

an Australian Shepherd with shoulder instability will also be reluctant to put pressure on one or both of the affected front legs.  

Australian Shepherds and large breed dogs are affected by shoulder injuries than small breed dogs.

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a hereditary developmental condition of young medium to giant breed dogs such as the Australian Shepherd. 

The condition is characterized by abnormal development of the elbow joint in the forelimb which results in the bones not fitting together properly.

This results in unequal distribution of weight in some areas of the joint. This causes pain, lameness, and the development of osteoarthritis. 

Elbow dysplasia and osteoarthritis are the common causes of forelimb lameness and limping.

Australian Shepherd limping front leg and lameness, especially after prolonged rest and exercise is a strong indicator that an Australian Shepherd could have elbow dysplasia. 

Most Australian Shepherds will be diagnosed before they are two years of age but some start limping when they are older. In the back leg, limping often occurs in the later stages of the condition.

Brachial plexus nerve tumors

The Brachial plexus nerves are a network of nerves that send signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder and forelimbs of an Australian Shepherd.

Tumors which are abnormal cell growths can form anywhere along the nerve sheath. The tumors can be benign or malignant.

The presence of tumors on the spinal cord may compress it which affects signal transmission to the brachial nerve causing neurological problems of the forelimbs. This results in:

  • Pain in the forelimb
  • Limping forelimb
  • Forelimb lameness or paralysis if the tumor is pressing on the spinal cord
  • Muscle weakness 

The exact cause of tumor formation along the nerves has not been pinpointed by veterinary science, however, factors that have been documented to cause tumors include:

  • Hereditary mutation
  • Tumor formation around injuries
  • Previous exposure to radiation

Biceps tendon inflammation and injury

Biceps tendinitis is the irritation or inflammation of the biceps tendon which is a tendon that connects the biceps muscle to the shoulder blade of an Australian Shepherd.

The condition is characterized by the inflammation of the biceps tendon and its surrounding tendon sheath at the front part of the shoulder.

Common symptoms of Biceps tendinitis include weakness and pain in the front shoulder. This causes irregular to constant lameness of the forelimbs. 

The pain and discomfort are usually aggravated by exercise or activity and an Australian Shepherd feels pain when they move the affected shoulder. 

Biceps tendinitis also leads to forelimb muscle loss.

The condition is caused by the continuous overuse of the biceps tendon with repeated shoulder motions through everyday normal activities, trauma, or degenerative conditions such as Osteochondritis (OCD).

Biceps tendinitis is common in middle-aged, medium-sized, and older large breed dogs such as the Australian Shepherd. 

Osteochondritis (OCD) of the shoulder joint

Osteochondritis (OCD) is a joint condition in which the bone underneath the joint cartilage dies because of a lack of blood flow. 

This leaves the risk of the joint and bone to breakaway which causes severe pain and limited joint movement. This causes forelimb or hind limb lameness.

The main symptoms of Osteochondritis include lameness and limping, whining due to pain, and lameness after exercise or rest. 

The condition commonly affects the shoulder joints but it also occurs in other joints such as the elbows, knees, ankles, and other joints of an Australian Shepherd.

It commonly affects medium-large and giant breed puppies that grow up quickly.

In large, giant and medium dogs such as an Australian Shepherd, it occurs between 6 – 9 months of age and is more common in males than females. 

Osteochondritis is also caused by injury to a joint after continuous activity overtime or high-impact activities such as over-exercising and also intake of excess calcium in the diet.


The common complication of Australian Shepherd’s front leg limping is loss of mobility and in severe cases, complete immobility or paralysis.

Australian Shepherd front leg limping is a sign of an underlying health problem that could lead to severe health complications outcomes if left untreated.

Muscle sprains, tears, broken bones, fractures, and disease are serious health conditions that lead to limping of the forelimbs.

When to seek help for Australian Shepherd front leg limping

Front leg limping in Australian Shepherds is often a sign of an injury or illness. If you notice your Australian Shepherd limping on its front leg, losing its mobility also with other signs of illness, seek medical attention. 

Other symptoms of illness that may accompany limping include lethargy, fever, extreme pain, vomiting, difficulty in breathing, shaking, confusion, swelling of the limb, and bleeding. 

The veterinarian will conduct a full physical exam of your dog and diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause.

The information that you will be asked to provide includes your Australian Shepherd’s medical history, their activities, any trauma they may have experienced, and if the limping had a gradual or sudden onset. 

They will also ask when the limping is worse, that is, whether your dog limps after lying down or after exercise.

See also: Australian Shepherd limping back leg: Common causes and how to help

Other Causes of Australian Shepherd front leg limping

Common problems that cause limping and affect both the front and hind legs include: 

  • Bone fractures
  • Muscle strains
  • Joint dislocations
  • Broken nails
  • Wounds
  • Infections
  • Diseases (wobblers syndrome, osteoarthritis)
  • Developmental disorders
  • Cancer of the bone, joints, and soft tissues

Should you examine your Australian Shepherd’s leg?

If your Australian Shepherd is in severe pain do not examine them. You could worsen the situation by manipulating the broken bones.

Also, because they are in pain they might bite you to warn you not to touch the affected area.

Leave the evaluation to the veterinarian.

If your Australian Shepherd will allow you to touch their limb, gently hold the limb and examine it to investigate whether there is the presence of injury or not.

Limping can be due to serious underlying health conditions therefore it is best to take your dog for a medical evaluation.

Related: Australian Shepherd shaking: why and when to worry


Treatment for Australian Shepherd front leg limping varies depending on the cause. Treatment includes:

  • Medication and plenty of rest for sprains, arthritis, or minor injuries  
  • Surgical or non-surgical treatment
  • Physical therapy for dislocations
  • Anti-inflammatory medication to reduce inflammation and swelling

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) treatment involves a surgical or non-surgical approach. Mild cases are treated in a conservative non-surgical manner.

This is through medication with pain management medication, a change of lifestyle, involving restricted activities exercise restriction, rest, and dietary change.

Severe cases of Osteochondritis dissecans require surgery. 

Biceps tendon inflammation treatment involves physical therapy, restricted physical activities such as limited walks, or anti-inflammatory medication. If not if there is no improvement surgery is usually the next option.

Tumors along the forelimb brachial nerve are removed through surgery. In severe cases, complete amputation of the affected forelimb with the tumor may be recommended if necessary.

This is then followed up with radiation therapy.

Follow-up checkups on your Australian Shepherd’s progress should be regularly to ensure that your Australian Shepherd recovers and life-term conditions such as arthritis are properly managed.

Summary: Australian Shepherd limping front leg

Australian Shepherd front leg limping should not be ignored. It can come about gradually or suddenly occur making an Australian Shepherd to be in pain and also have an unusual gait or paralysis in severe cases.

Australian Shepherd front leg limping is a sign of an underlying health condition or injury to the bones, joints, or tissues in the forelimbs.

If you notice your Australian Shepherd has difficulty in mobility, lameness or any other signs of illness immediately seek medical attention.