Saint Bernard Limping Front Leg: Here’s Why And What To Do

It is very concerning when you see your Saint Bernard limping on his front leg. A Saint Bernard’s limping front leg is not normal and should not be ignored.

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

A Saint Bernard 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 a Saint Bernard’s limping front leg and what you can do to help your dog.

Here’s Why Saint Bernard limping front leg happens

Saint Bernard 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.

Saint Bernard limping front leg

Common Causes Of Saint Bernard Limping Front Leg

The common causes of Saint Bernard front leg limping include:

Shoulder instability

Saint Bernard 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.

Saint Bernards have shoulder blades that are attached to the upper leg bone by tendons and ligaments. The function of this anatomy structure is to enable a Saint Bernard 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 a Saint Bernard.

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.

A Saint Bernard with shoulder instability will also be reluctant to put pressure on one or both of the affected front legs.  

Saint Bernards and other large breed dogs are more affected by shoulder injuries than small breed dogs.

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a hereditary developmental condition of young large to giant breed dogs such as the Saint Bernard. 

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.

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

Most Saint Bernards will be diagnosed before they are two years of age but some start limping when they are older. in the back leg 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 a Saint Bernard.

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 a Saint Bernard.

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 a Saint Bernard 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 Saint Bernard. 

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 a Saint Bernard.

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

In large breed and giant dogs such as a Saint Bernard, 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 Saint Bernard’s front leg limping is loss of mobility and in severe cases, complete immobility or paralysis.

Saint Bernard 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 Saint Bernard front leg limping

Front leg limping in Saint Bernards is often a sign of an injury or illness. If you notice your Saint Bernard 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 Saint Bernard’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: Saint Bernard limping back leg: Common causes and how to help

Other Causes of Saint Bernard 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 Saint Bernard’s leg?

If your Saint Bernard 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 Saint Bernard 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: Saint Bernard shaking: why and when to worry


Treatment for Saint Bernard 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 Saint Bernard’s progress should be regularly to ensure that your Saint Bernard recovers and life-term conditions such as arthritis are properly managed.

Summary: Saint Bernard limping front leg

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

Saint Bernard 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 Saint Bernard has difficulty in mobility, lameness or any other signs of illness immediately seek medical attention.