Broken bones in dogs

Broken bones in dogs are very painful. The first thing to do is to move your dog gently and safely out of harm’s way while doing your best not to manipulate the fracture. Be aware that a dog in pain may bite or scratch.

Broken bones or fractures in dogs are most often caused by falls, motor vehicle accidents, playing or cancer. Dogs with broken bones will need an emergency examination and treatment with a vet. Do not attempt to give any medications or clean the area unless directed to do so by a vet.

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Broken bones in dogs

There are many reasons dogs may break (fracture) a bone, such as falls, motor vehicle accidents, playing or cancer. But these don’t always lead to broken bones. Bones can also be dislocated or may suffer small cracks.

The most common broken bones in dogs are:

  • Hindlimb – femur (thigh bone)
  • Pelvis
  • Forelimb – radio/ulna (forearm)
  • Skull
  • Jaw
  • Spine



What are the signs that your dog has a broken bone?

Some fractures can be very obvious, especially if the bone sticks out through the skin. However, any sign of pain or discomfort after an accident or injury could indicate a break or dislocation.

In most cases, your dog will:

  • Hold the affected leg up
  • Be unable to bear weight on the affected leg
  • Have pain 
  • Have swelling
  • Be reluctant to move
  • Stop eating

In some cases, depending on the location and the type of break, they can still stand and hold some of their weight on the injured leg.



Are some dogs more prone to broken bones?

Any dog can suffer from a broken bone. However, some breeds seem more prone: Golden Retrievers, Greyhounds, Poodles, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas and others.



How can vets diagnose broken bones in dogs?

Your vets will perform:

  • Hands-on orthopaedic examination
  • X-rays or CT scan to assess the type of fracture and plan the treatment options

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Vet treatment

What can be done to treat a broken bone?

Depending on the type of fracture and location, different forms of treatment might be recommended.

Casts are not used in dogs as much as they are in humans. This is due to the pets’ difficulty resting the limb properly, bandaging complications, joint stiffness and muscle wastage. As a result, most animals are best treated with an operation.

Options for stabilising the bones include:

  • bone plates and screws
  • pins that are placed inside the bone
  • external frames that are connected to the bone using pins going through the skin

Following surgery, most animals are very comfortable and can walk relatively normally within a few days.

In most cases, a re-examination of the fracture is done 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Once an x-ray has shown the broken bone has healed, normal activity can usually be restarted.

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Home treatment

Does a broken bone heal by itself in dogs?

Bones can heal on their own.

There is, however, a high risk of misalignment or malunion if you do not take your dog to the vet for appropriate treatment. Further instability, worsening of the fracture site, prolonged pain and suffering, and an increased risk of osteoarthritis are among the dangers of not taking your dog to the vet.

How to help your dog with a broken bone at home

Assisting your dog

Your dog may need assistance to stand and walk in the first few days or weeks following their injury.

Even if your dog is able to move on its own, it’s wise to provide light assistance until they are completely stable. This is especially important:

  • On slippery surfaces
  • When going up or downstairs

There are many commercially available products, such as slings, that support your dog while they recover.

Activity restriction

Confine your dog as directed by your vet. Here are some useful tips:

  • Confine them to one section of the house with carpeted floors or to a dog kennel.
  • Use baby gates to prevent access to slippery floors and stairs.
  • Do not allow jumping on/off furniture.
  • Do not allow any playing, running, or jumping.
  • Use mental stimulation games to help keep them busy, like puzzle games.
  • When going outside for bathroom breaks, use a short leash.

Your dog will be using the leg before the fracture is sufficiently healed. Until the x-rays confirm bone healing, you should continue the restriction. Failure to do so may cause serious healing problems.

Physical therapy

When a leg is not used for several days to weeks, joints stiffen, muscles weaken (atrophy), and bone healing is delayed.

Physical therapy improves comfort and use of the leg without harming the bone healing process.

Some simple physiotherapy techniques can be done at home, while more advanced treatments are best used by veterinary physical therapists under the guidance of your veterinary surgeon.

In any case, speak to your vet before performing the following techniques:

  • Cold therapy: In the first week after injury, applying cold packs will reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Using a towel protects the skin.
  • Range of motion therapy: In the first month after injury, flexing and extending the joints of the injured leg will maintain joint health while your dog is not using the leg fully. The goal is to move the joint without creating pain. The range of joint flexion and extension can be increased as healing progresses.
  • Massage therapy: After the initial stage of painful inflammation subsides, you may be instructed to begin massage on the skin and muscles around the injured bone. This therapy will promote normal function of the muscle and tissues surrounding it, and it also has a pain relief effect.



How to prevent complications after surgery

Any fracture surgery can carry a risk of problems and complications. These can include infection, poor bone healing and implant breakage.

There is no substitute for resting and taking it easy for the appropriate and recommended amount of time.

However, with our pet patients, this is easier said than done, so we rely on owners to impose these difficult restrictions.


When to worry

When should you be worried about your dog with a fracture?

If you suspect your dog has a fracture, contact your local vet practice if they:

  • Have clearly broken a leg or suffered a road traffic accident
  • Won’t put weight on the leg and are tender to touch
  • Are not improving despite treatment

Joii can help:

  • Maintain your dog calm and rested at home
  • Triage to assess if the limp is or isn’t an emergency


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