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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

  • Jesse

    is it normal that my dog doesn’t use his leg that is broken when its winter time?

    • I am assuming you meant your dog has a broken leg and now he/she doesn’t use it during winter. Did you discuss this issue with your vet? This may be because the cold weather affects the old wound and the leg hurts.

  • Hector F Gonzalez

    Dear Dr. Robinson, thanks and congratulations for great web site. My question: I have an italian greyhound who had complete fracture, non exposed in radio and the other bone (English is not my first language), at 7 months old. Fixed with a plate and screws hard cast was removed by week 5, replace with soft one, but a new fracture appeared two days later between two lower screws (diagonal screw to screw). New surgery was made and fixed a longer plate and screws. Now, 4 weeks later after second surgery, bone is closed, original holes of first screw closed, but radio now seems surprisingly thin!!!! Our Vet, one of best clinics in the city seems not to be sure. He thinks is lack of use, but that is right for muscle and i dont think for bone. Is it possible if the screws were to thick they blocked the marrow of the bone? Some areas of the marrow in x rays seems the be closed weeks after second suegery. I would appreciate your comment, thank you doctor.
    Hector F
    1) original fracture
    2) first surgery
    3) and 4) new fracture after 5 weeks of first one (between screw 4-5 top to bottom)
    5) post surgery second fracture
    6) 4 weeks after second surgery radio is thinner!

  • Hi, Hector,

    Welcome to our site. A broken bone can heal as fast as five weeks with the proper intervention, but reaching its normal and completely healed state can take several months. You are correct about the effect of lack of activity to muscle, but in your Greyhound’s case, it is the normal process of regenerating bone cells after they got broken. I hope your Greyhound is feeling well now, both of you as well.

  • Mickey

    Medicine for animals has evolved rapidly in recent years, and it pleases. Very good that we can go to the vet at any time of day and get expert help and even a surgery.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      It is really a humbling experience that we now live in the convenience and rapid improvement of medical management for our pets. Veterinary medicine has been in a constant progress over the past few years and I just hope more people will gain access to medical treatment for their pets.

  • Jason Murzello

    Dear doctor robinson,

    I have a beagle whoes back left leg is fractured. Some wets say she does not a sugery, other says she needs one. We have done xray and there is a slight fracture in three places. Please advice if we need to do the surgery.

  • Dear Jason,

    Welcome to Dogsaholic! My recommendation would be to follow the evaluation of your dog’s primary veterinarian as he or she understands the implications whether or not a surgery is required.

    • Jason Murzello

      Dear Doctor,

      Thank You for reply.

      We have now done the surgery on 23/9/2016 for my beagle (Tiffy). Surgery is done successfully, Tiffy is still in the hospital and the doctor had said they would keep her for a month post-surgery. She is eating and drinking properly. But she is not going to toilet. Is this normal ? The doctor now do not want to keep her in the hospital, its not even a week since the surgery.

  • Lani Morris

    Dear Dr. Robinson,
    My 5 month old Mini American Shepherd puppy (mini aussie) fell off the bed and has a spiral tibial fracture of his right hind. The emergency vet did an excellent job applying an aluminum splint after xrays and we went home to our regular vet. Our regular vet xrayed the break at 5 days and said it was lined up perfectly and healing beautifully. He did not replace the splint at that time but asked us to come back for new xrays and recheck in 2 weeks. He was not overly concerned about the fact that the puppy is up on his feet and trying to run around with the splint on. He said he can do limited walking on lead. The puppy is confined to a 2×4′ pen at night and a 3×4′ pen during the day. The puppy runs circles in both pens when he sees me coming or the other dogs come around and I am concerned about his activity level which I am having trouble controlling. Should he be more immobilized than he is? I let him walk about 10 steps on lead then carry him but he is heavy and very wiggly. When I am not around he sleeps laid flat out(I have a puppy cam installed) but when there is any activity at all around him he is up thumping around on that splint-it is obviously no longer painful. We are 10 days out from his injury. I am worried about how he may be impacting his fx, and also his hip on the injured side and his patella on the non injured side. He is a conformation/show prospect. Am I letting him have too much activity? Thanks for any advice you can give a very worried mom.

  • Dear Jason,

    I just want to confirm if Tiffy already passed stool at this point? And how is she feeling?

  • Dear Lani,

    Thank you very much for your message. The current restriction in mobility is enough, although I would still recommend limiting its movement a week or two after the clearance period. While their bones can heal quickly, it still takes a bit more time to return it into its normalized structure. I understand that you are worried, but as long as your fur baby does not engage into something physically intensive like chasing other dogs or running around the lawn for extended periods of time – I believe he should be fine.

  • Em mezzon

    Dear Dr. Robbi,
    We are trying to save our Irish Wolfhound / Lab mix, 6
    yo, Daizee after what we were told that she was hit by a big truck.
    Turns out that 3 vets believe she was hit with a pipe or a bat after
    seeing the 4 broken bones in her 2 front legs, and both front legs
    broken, one with a compound fracture. No other wounds or injuries, no road rash, no gashes, nothing except a compound fracture on one leg. It has now been 16 days since the
    injury & the Vet Hospital wants $6,000 to $8,000 to surgically
    fixate her bones, which is the best way, but who can afford this – even
    though we have her posted on
    asking for $10 each or direct donations to UF on behalf of Daizee. We’ve already spent $1,300 in vet bills & have
    received only stabilization, a prognosis & casting/splinting. We are
    in Orlando, Florida area & took her to UF Vet School Hospital in
    Gainesville, FL thinking it would be cheaper there, but it wasn’t. 1) Do
    you know of any cheaper alternatives of surgically fixations and 2) How
    long can they wait to do this internal surgical fixation? We think time
    is running out even though they have casted one leg, they say if it
    heals, it could take 10 weeks, whereas surgical fixation is 3 to 4 days
    & she would be walking again. Also, we thought all vets could do surgeries, yet 3 of them, even at emergency clinics, referred us to UF Vet School for surgery. Why can’t any vet do this surgery? I know y’all are smart enough. Can you give us any advice? She is so huge that it takes 3 of us to
    care for her daily as she is only allowed to stay horizontal and flat
    with legs horizontal all the time – no standing on her front legs or
    dangling of her front legs at all. Pics of xrays are posted on that link above if you want to see how badly her legs were broken. It’s so traumatic. She’s very tall & her thin lean legs alone are at least 20 to 24 inches in height. Thank you so much. Alma Martin

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Hi, Alma,

      Thank you for your message. Not all veterinarians can perform such surgery because of 1. it is a rather uncommon subspecialty and 2. not all clinics have the facility and equipment to perform the surgery. Internal surgical fixation takes days to weeks to months depending on the prognosis of the case. As of now I don’t think there is any less expensive alternative for this. Let me know about her progress so we can also monitor the development here.

      • Em mezzon

        Thank you Dr. Robbi, Although we’ve gotten about $600 in donations to help with the surgical fixation, (hospital is 3 hours away) it looks like Daizee will have to try to heal with casts only, as it has now been 3 weeks and we were told that calcium starts to build at the 4th week. UF wants $4,500 down first. 4 of 5 Vets said casts will not work. Why not? 1 Vet said it will be hard, but eventually, if the calcium can build between the LARGE gaps of the bones, it might be ugly, but it will heal. She’s in good spirits, not depressed, sleeping alot as is expected for a dog that is confined to keep its legs flat. .The others said it won’t work & she absolutely needs surgical fixation to heal. But we know dogs who have had their legs broken, and were casted – and healed. We just dont understand first of all, why surgical fixation is an absolute must in their minds, and 2ndly, why they need this kind of money to do this. It seems really greedy to us especially when they do not ever have to worry about malpractice insurance. Malpractice insurance is highly expensive to human doctors – but we’ve asked all of these vets, and were told that not one of them carry it.

        • Wyatt Robinson

          That is the truth that we have to accept, Alma. Not all veterinarians carry the malpractice insurance as it is something that is very rare. I’m glad to hear that Daizee is in high spirits because that will make our experience as pet parents a little less of a burden. At least she’s trying her best efforts to stay strong.

  • Sherry

    Need advice for what to do if can’t afford emergency vet care for 65 pound lab mix hit by car & has broken back femur.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Sherry, please confirm if this is a complete fracture. If it is, there is no other way but to have it seen by a veterinarian. If the fracture is incomplete, immobilize the area with bandage and splint as well as alternating warm and cold compress to help relieve the swelling. As much as possible, you should be able to have at least one visit to the veterinarian to assess healing progress or to check for any signs of developing fracture-related infection.

  • Mike drehmel

    My dog broke both of her forearm bones we did surgery to put a plate in and after about a month the docter wanted us to remove the outer splint so her skin can dry and heal and so she can start using her wrist because she has had a splint on for the past 3 months and her wrist looked weird he called it something because of the lack of use the wrist bone was getting weak so after we removed the outer splint so she can use her foot 4 days went by with no problems but then the metal broke and that caused her bone to brake again is there any thing I can do about it I know I could do another surgery to replace the metal or amputate the leg but is there anything else I can do about the circumcenter.


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