Broken Bones in Dogs

Michael Kearley, DVM
Written by:
Published: September 20, 2022
Broken Bones in Dogs

What are Broken Bones in Dogs?

Not only is breaking a bone a traumatic experience for your dog, the recuperation and stress involved make it one of the most challenging medical conditions. Broken bones in dogs are most often caused by falls, motor vehicle accidents, gunshot injuries, or cancer. 

When there is excessive force against a bone, exceeding its core strength, a break or fracture occurs. Most breaks occur in the hindlimb. The femur is the bone most often fractured, followed by the tibia and fibula, then the radius, ulna, and humerus of the forelimb. Pelvic fractures and fractures involving the mandible are also common, though less frequent.

Types of Broken Bones in Dogs

There are many different types of breaks and fractures that can occur in any bone of the body, and any fracture can also be a combination of one or more of the types listed below:

  • Incomplete—Only one side of the bone is broken, or there is a partial break or bending of the bone.

  • Complete—Both sides of the bone are broken.

  • Comminuted—The bone has broken into at least three fragments.

  • Open—Often seen with other wounds, but one in which the bone is exposed to the outside environment.

  • Closed—Often referred to as an internal fracture, this occurs when there is no exposure to the outside environment.

  • Salter-Harris—This kind of fracture goes through the growth plate of the bone.

  • Articular—This is a fracture that involves the joint.

Symptoms of Broken Bones in Dogs

Most broken bones occur after some sort of activity or accident. Not only will there be signs of a broken bone, as noted below, but there may be other injuries that can be attributed to the accident. For instance, a dog that has been hit by a car may have a broken leg but also experience internal bleeding and have difficulty breathing.

Signs most often associated with broken bones in dogs include:

  • Lameness, often seen with the affected limb held up

  • Pain

  • Joint swelling

  • Crepitus (crunching within the joint) or increased looseness of the limb

  • Abnormal conformation (angularity or shortening) of the affected limb

  • Broken bone protruding from the skin

  • Swelling or bruising of the limb/body part

What To Do If Your Dog Breaks a Bone

If you determine or suspect that your dog has a fracture, seek emergency veterinary medical care immediately. The fracture needs to be supported properly and the dog confined. Attempting to reduce the fracture yourself is not recommended and can certainly make matters worse.

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. Do not attempt to give any medications or clean the area unless directed to do so by your veterinarian. Take precautions like placing a muzzle on your dog prior to transporting to the vet, as a dog in pain may bite.

How Veterinarians Treat Broken Bones in Dogs

Diagnosis of a broken bone is most often straightforward and almost always involves a physical exam followed by radiographs. Treatment, unfortunately, is not as simple as the type is often determined by three factors:

  1. The patient—Young or old? Healthy or affected by multiple comorbidities?

  2. The environment—Can the dog be confined and supervised?

  3. The injury—Type, severity, location, etc.

The first step after stabilizing your dog is to immobilize the affected segments so it cannot move or cause further trauma to any surrounding structures. This often means heavy sedation or anesthesia followed by one of these four options:

  1. External coaptation (casts and splints) may be an option in younger dogs, or dogs with stable fractures or for fractures that occur below the knee and elbow. 

  2. Intramedullary fixation with pins, rods, wires, and/or nails is the most common option.

  3. External skeletal fixation requires a device attached externally (outside of) the bone via pins, wires, etc. is often the best option for open and comminuted fractures.

  4. Plates and screws are directly attached onto the bone.

Breaks or fractures that are associated with the joint where there are multiple open segments located in a major weight-bearing bone or digit are most often treated surgically. These types of fractures occur in larger breeds, or athletic dogs. Small-breed dogs will often require surgery, as its bones lack sufficient blood vessels for the healing process.

How Much Does Treating Broken Bones in Dogs Cost?

Casts and splints are often less expensive, usually priced between $100 to $300. However, there are additional costs to consider if this method is a suitable treatment option. This includes the cost of re-check appointments, bandage care, and reapplication—in addition to home care, vigilance, and time required to care for the bandage itself.

Depending on where you live and the facility performing the surgery, you may expect to spend several hundred to several thousand dollars in care for your pooch. Seek the advice of a veterinary surgeon to determine the best course of treatment. Amputation, although extreme, may have its practicality in certain cases.

Failure to treat a broken or fractured bone can leave your dog in a lot of pain and discomfort, and at risk of infection and whole-body sepsis; delayed union (longer timeline expected for the normal healing process); malunion (bones are healed but in an abnormal position); nonunion (fracture not resolved); and even angular limb deformities and long-term arthritis and joint disease.

Can a Broken Dog Bone Heal on Its Own?

Bones can heal on their own; however, there is a significant concern for malalignment or malunion, not to mention the risks of further instability, worsening of the fracture site, and prolonged pain and suffering.

Recovery and Management of Broken Bones in Dogs

Broken bones usually heal within three to four months for adult dogs and one to two months for puppies. It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s guidelines throughout the healing process, as multiple re-checks with repeat radiographs are often needed to ensure that the bone is healing as expected, as well as to reshape or mold the cast and change the bandage, if present. Adhere to all the recheck appointments and give the dog all medications as prescribed which include pain medications, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics.

Your dog’s activity will most likely be restricted—no jumping, running, or playing. For limb and pelvic fractures, you may initially need to aid your dog when it stands or walks by utilizing a harness or a rolled towel underneath its chest or pelvis.

At some point during the recuperation process, physical therapy and rehabilitation will most likely be recommended to strengthen muscles, tendons, and improve function and overall comfort. Do your best to adhere to these recommendations and at-home exercises. A soft and well-padded bed can really improve your recuperating dog’s comfort and emotional well-being.

If your dog is wearing a bandage, be sure to always keep it clean and dry. Do not attempt to change the bandage at home but do monitor the bandage at least daily for signs of slippage, soiling, swelling of the distal extremities, and increased irritation by the dog (such as attempts to chew, lick, or scratch). All can be signs that the bandage needs to be changed. 

Featured Image: iStock.com/sunstep21


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