Tess the Border Collie became lame in her back leg

Ilona was impressed by a demonstration of working sheepdogs on a farm in County Kerry while on holiday. She wanted an energetic, active dog, and a working collie seemed to be the answer. She asked the farm to let her know when a puppy became available, and six months later, the call came in. She collected Tess when she was an eight week old pup.

Ilona is an enthusiastic athlete, going on regular training runs, and she’s now often accompanied by Tess, who has matured into a confident adult Collie. She attaches her to a long, stretchy, bungee-type leash, and the two of them go running for up to ten kilometres. Tess also loves exercise off the leash: Ilona takes her out into local fields, where she enjoys chasing and retrieving balls and other toys.

Lameness in dogs

Two weeks ago, when Tess woke up in the morning, she carried her back right leg for a few minutes, refusing to touch it to the ground. This lameness gradually improved as Tess walked around, and within half an hour, she seemed to walk normally again. Ilona checked her foot and leg, but couldn’t see any obvious cut or injury. She decided to rest Tess, in case it was a sprained joint that needed time to heal. When she was no better a week later, she brought her to me for a check up. Even though she was not carrying her leg when I examined her, she moved away in pain when I tweaked her knee: it was obvious that it was sore.

Lameness in dogs is common, and Ilona had done the right thing. In many cases, with a minor lameness, the simple approach of rest and time is enough. Just like a human with a mildly sprained ankle, a full cure will often happen naturally. But when the lameness continues, a visit to the vet is the best answer.

All vets are trained in dealing with lameness, but one of my colleagues at BrayVet, Andrew Byrne, has a particular interest in the subject. He attends specialist courses overseas on the latest techniques in diagnosing and treating lameness in dogs, and he is the vet in our practice who carries out the complex orthopaedic operations that are sometimes needed to repair damaged bones and ligaments.  After admitting Tess to BrayVet for the day, I asked Andrew to take a look at her for me.

Tess’s gait was analysed

He started with gait analysis, taking a video of Tess trotting up and down, then reviewing the video in slow motion with a special programme on an iPad. He then sedated her, and took a series of xray pictures. He checked these carefully for signs of a serious bone, joint or ligament problem, but fortunately, everything was normal. It’s possible to do further investigations, including arthroscopy (using a fibre-optic scope to examine the inner surface of the joint) but Tess’s lameness was not bad enough to need this at the moment. Andrew suspected that she simply has a badly sprained knee: she needs some potent anti-inflammatory pain relief, combined with a longer period of rest.

Ilona is planning a 50km charity fund-raiser run next week, and although she had never planned to take Tess with her for the whole run, she’ll now have to leave Tess at home for the entire day. Tess, the active collie, is going to have to become Tess, the resting dog, for the next few weeks.


  • Mild lameness in dog often responds to a period of strict rest
  • If this is not effective, a visit to the vet is needed
  • Some vets have a special interest and skills in diagnosing and treating lame dogs

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