HEALTH & CARE

A Dog’s Broken Leg: From Injury to Recovery

Dog with a broken leg
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Dogs are considered as one of the most active pets that any pet parent can have. They are generally athletic and full of energy to roam around the house and lawn. This amount of stamina can provide hours of enjoyment and interaction between the dog and its pet parent. However, accidents may happen along the way that may injure a dog. One of the most common types of dog injury is a broken leg due to accidents like vehicular accidents or falls.

Dogs can experience fractures as part of their lives. The most common site for broken bones is the legs, because the legs are the most exposed part of the dog’s body. A dog’s broken leg can be classified as an open or closed type of fracture. Open fractures are fractures that have an open skin and the bone is exposed, while a closed fracture is a fracture where the skin above the broken bones is still intact.

There are also some instances where the involved bone has an incomplete fracture and only exhibits a crack or a sliver. These are called hairline fractures, which are fractures that are less noticeable but is equally painful as the first two general fracture types.

Things to watch for when looking for dogs’ broken bones

An obvious indicator for broken bones is a shard or bone sticking through the skin. However, signs of discomfort and pain after an activity or an accident can also indicate either a dislocation or fracture. Two other signs that there is something wrong are whining and limping, which are clear indicators that the dog is hurt. In addition, the pet parent should be able to check the muscles, ligaments, and tendon injuries because they share symptoms that are similar to breaks.

Broken leg at dog

The severity of the symptoms, as well as the risks involved completely depend on what of the dog’s leg area and the extent of the fractured bone is. It has been known that the most serious type of fractures involve the joint area. However, all fractures should be considered as a serious case and prompt medical attention should be provided as soon as possible.

Usually, the dog will hold the entire leg off the ground when a bone within a leg is broken. There is no weight placed on the paw when an injury or fracture is present. On cases of less serious injury or a sprain, dogs may somewhat use the affected leg, but they will walk with a limp. Read on our piece on the reasons why dogs limp to gain more insight.

Types of canine fractures

There are four commonly seen fractures in dogs:

  • Closed
  • Compound
  • Epiphyseal (growth plate)
  • Greenstick

The first three out of the four kinds of canine fracture can be expanded and classified further based on veterinary standards and examination. Whether the fractures are considered as simple, which involves several breakages that is about two to three pieces, or comminuted when the bone is shattered into many fragments, it should be taken care of in a prompt and careful manner.

Closed fractures: Closed fractures are the type of fracture in which the skin is not broken and the bone protrudes. The bone involved in a closed fracture is confirmed to be broken; however, the overlying skin is intact.

Dog with injured leg

Greenstick fractures: Greenstick fractures are fractures where the involved bone is still intact but has a crack. This is also called as an incomplete fracture because there is a crack involved that may or may not progress into a complete broken bone.

Compound fractures: Compound fractures are defined as broken bones that involve the skin, where the bone punctures and is exposed. It is important to provide immediate medical attention to dogs that have compound fracture because prolonged exposure without proper treatment can actually lead into serious infection and other complications.

Epiphyseal fractures: Epiphyseal fractures are considered as the fracture more frequently observed in younger, growing dogs. Dogs, especially those that are less than a year old has a soft spot near the ends of long bones where skeletal growth takes place.

The diagnosis that determines epiphyseal plate fracture is sometimes considered as difficult, because the displacement is sometimes minimal and even absent. Injuries that made lead to pain, deformity, or swelling near the base of a long bone of a young dog or a puppy may indicate a probable fracture or epiphyseal plate injury.

The diagnosis is quite a challenge even with the help of an X-ray. A careful review should include growth plate thickness, the deviation of epiphysis from the metaphysis, as well as any possible variation from the contralateral epiphysis. Veterinarians can also observe swelling that involves the soft tissues that signifies trauma if it has occurred to near the location of the epiphysis or growth plate.

X ray broken leg

Injuries that are triggered by impact and crushing force are more difficult to identify because the epiphysis is typically aligned perfectly, while its bony substance has been crushed already. Lack of a diagnosis from a radiographic perspective of epiphyseal injury does not exclude the possibility of a diagnosis with all the potential consequences that surround it.

For puppies that are less than twelve months old, soft areas can be located near the ends of each long bone where growth takes place. These s are referred to as epiphyseal or growth plates. Because these are considered as areas of skeletal growth, epiphyseal plates are rich in immature and underdeveloped non-calcified cells that form a spongy and soft area of the bone.

Growth plates are more prone to fractures these are considered as the weakest parts of the bone, and by adding excess pressure or trauma can easily lead to fracture of varying extent. The humerus, which is the upper front legs, and the distal ends of the femur or the thigh bone are more prone to this type of fracture.

The projection for physeal injuries can pose as an actual problem. Considerable growth disturbance can lead to injury of the epiphyseal plate. Accurate prediction for potential significant problems among dogs is almost impossible. However, there are available guidelines currently available to assist both the veterinarian and the surgeon.

Primary causes of fracture in dogs

A great force or a sudden impact to the dog’s body causes fractures. This can be coming from a particular object, or a fall. While fractures occur more often in more mature dogs, younger dogs are also not exempted from having a broken bone.

Immediate care

Broken bones should be addressed with immediate care to address the pain and decrease the risk of additional complications like infection from the wound. These are the main rules whenever a suspected fracture is observed:

  • Do not try to re-set a fracture.
  • Do not use antiseptics or ointments on open fractures.
  • Get the dog to a vet immediately.

The most common fracture in dogs is a broken limb, and we will focus on how to address such condition.

How to fix a dog’s broken leg will directly depend on the extent of the injury. If necessary, the dog can be muzzled, followed by a clean towel that should be slid gently under the affected limb. You can even make an easy but effective DIY muzzle to help you out. If the fracture involves the skin, like in cases of open fracture, the exposed part should be covered by using a clean gauze like a sanitary towel or a bandage.

Remember: Do not apply any antiseptic or ointment on the affected part. While it is considered as a preventive method to inhibit bacteria or possibility to have an infection, it might actually work otherwise and form a more favorable environment for microorganisms that may lodge into the affected site.

In cases where the fracture is a closed fracture, there is no need to apply gauze. The pet owner can use an improvised splint such as a rolled-up magazine, a cardboard, or a newspaper. However, it should be observed if splinting aggravates the injured dog. If it does, do not force the splinting.

Dog's leg bandage injury

In both cases, the broken limb can be supported by using a folded towel. Keep in mind that you should not try to re-set the bone at any circumstances. Splinting allows the prevention of damage to the blood vessels, surrounding tissues, and nerves until the dog receives medical attention from a veterinarian that can provide the needed treatment for the injury with the help of an anesthesia.

Once the dog has been splinted, gently lift the injured dog and transport it as soon as possible to the veterinary clinic. During the time that the dog is in the vehicle, make sure that it is kept warm to prevent additional stress, agitation, and shock.

Immediate veterinary care

The fracture will be examined and promptly treated by the veterinarian. The medical management may include administration of pain relievers or may require general anesthesia in cases of bone re-setting and stabilization. This is the main reason why you should not give an attempt to re-set the broken bone at home because the extent of the damage may not be completely be observed through simple ocular inspection.

Management and living with a recovering dog

Similar to the management and treatment of fractures in humans, dogs can also be applied with casts, pins, plates, and even screws depending on the severity of the fracture. These attachments can be installed to promote bone healing and proper bone alignment. Such attachments can be used depending on the dog’s age, the kind of fracture, and the involved bone. The risk for infection is significantly higher for compound fractures, and is usually accompanied with a different management in both clinic visits and home instructions.

Puppies and young adult dogs can heal broken bones in as little as four to six weeks, depending on how severe the fracture is. Age and physical development plays an important role here because when dogs are younger, the tension and weight that the bones receive are considerably lighter and this allows better healing. Younger dogs also have more active bone cells that speed up the healing process. Thus, a fracture in a young dog or puppy can be treated with a simple cast.

However, the same fracture that an older dog receives may need the help of installed pins, and the healing may take more than eleven to twelve weeks. Simple hairline fractures can be confirmed with fewer tests and physical assessment, while surgical procedures might be needed in cases of more severe fractures. Proper treatment can be determined through the careful evaluation by a veterinarian. Check our comprehensive article on hip pain to learn how this can also make your dog unable to walk.

Managing injured dog

The dog’s size, fitness level, and age are some of the primary factors that will determine the prognosis of an injury. After the dog receives the immediate medical attention and treatment, the veterinarian will discuss rehabilitation options and the outlook of the injury. Larger dogs are easier to maintain during their recovery periods, while toy dogs are extremely fragile because a small bump or fall can actually lead to trauma, injury, and even broken bones.

There are cases of broken bones that can heal back to its original form. However, there are also cases, especially the more serious cases of broken bones that will form back into a solid and hardened state, but may manifest deformity. This occurs when a fracture was not properly addressed on time, or there is an overwhelming extent of the injury.

Recovering dogs should not be forced to do test walks and such. Any physical activity that the owner would like the recovering dog to try must be consulted with the veterinarian to avoid the possibility of worsening the injury instead of a more definite recovery time. It is important not to engage the injured dog into any kind of physical activity until the veterinarian approves the resumption of the normal routine. Our list of the best orthopedic dog beds can give you options on what to buy your recovering pet.

In conclusion

Broken bones in dogs is one of the more common injuries that a pet parent might deal with during the dog’s lifetime. This may become a traumatic experience for both the dog and its owner, but if you are aware of what should be done to properly address fractures in dogs, you should not worry too much.

Basic emergency first aid for pets

When a dog is injured, it may require your usual attention plus more. While it will take a couple of weeks before the dog can go back to its normal routine, a collaborative effort should be prepared between the owner and the attending veterinarian to make sure that the care and management that the dog needs will be provided to keep the recovery process less stressful and trouble-free.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

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