Bone Fractures in Dogs and Puppies
Reviewed for accuracy on May 11, 2020 by Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
As responsible pet parents, we all try to protect our beloved dogs from injury. Sometimes accidents happen, and all we can do is help them recover. Bone fractures are very common injuries among dogs of all ages. Learn to recognize the signs of fractures, how to treat them, and how to prevent them.
Causes of Fractures
The leading cause of bone fractures in dogs is trauma. This can result from a car accident, a fall, a strenuous run in the yard, or a fight between two dogs. A pressure or force is exerted on the dog’s leg that overwhelms the bone, and it cracks or snaps.
Are certain dogs more prone to fractures?
Small dogs and toy dog breeds are more likely to experience leg fractures because their bones are much smaller and more fragile. It is especially important to be gentle when playing with tiny dogs and to prevent them from jumping off furniture or falling from elevated surfaces, such as out of a person’s arms.
Some medical conditions, like osteoporosis, can make a dog more prone to fractures. Older dogs have weaker, more brittle bones and are also more susceptible to injuries.
Symptoms of Fractures
The first sign of an injury is a sudden yelp or cry. Your dog may limp or refuse to bear weight on the affected leg.
There are several different types of fractures, which are listed below.
- Closed fracture: The dog’s bone may be cracked, but the skin is not broken. Swelling of the area, inability to move the limb, and whimpering are all likely clinical signs. Seek veterinary attention and try to keep your pet as still as possible to prevent the fracture from worsening.
- Greenstick fracture: In these cases, the bone is cracked but not broken. There may be minor swelling and limping, and you should still see a vet for assessment and appropriate splinting. Improper healing can result in lameness and reduced mobility of the joint.
- Compound (Open) fracture: This is the most dangerous type of fracture because the bone has penetrated the skin. This puts the dog at high risk for infection since bacteria can easily enter the open wound. Bleeding, swelling, and visible bone will be seen.
- Epiphyseal fracture: These fractures occur most commonly in young dogs because their bones are still growing. The break happens on the soft area of the bone, known as the growth plate. This can result in the affected leg being shorter than the non-affected legs due to a damaged growth plate. Your veterinarian can repair the fracture to allow for minimal growth defects.
Diagnosing a Fractured Bone
If your dog is exhibiting signs of pain, such as limping or vocalizing, it is important to seek immediate veterinary care. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, ask questions about how the injury occurred, and take radiographs (x-rays).
Treatment of Fractures
Appropriate treatment depends on the location and type of fracture. Splints, pins, casts, plates, and screws may be used separately or in conjunction to realign the bone. Healing times vary with age and breed of the dog, but it is reasonable to expect at least 4-6 weeks. Surgery is sometimes required for more severe fractures, and pain medication will be prescribed to keep your dog comfortable.
Recovering from a Fracture
Your veterinarian will provide at-home instructions specific to your dog’s injury. While your pup’s fracture heals, it is important to reduce any activity that could worsen the injury.
- Confine your pet as directed by your veterinarian. This may include using a crate or baby gates to restrict access to certain areas of the home. Use a short leash when going outside for potty breaks.
- Reduce activity. Do not allow playing, running, or jumping on or off furniture. Consider keeping your dogs occupied with mental games, such as puzzle or KONG toys.
Your dog will try to use the broken leg before the fracture is completely healed. Please continue to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations of reduced activity until bone healing has been confirmed with x-rays. Getting back to regular activities too soon can cause serious complications.