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Broken Bones in Dogs

What are Broken Bones in Dogs?

Broken bones in dogs represent a traumatic experience, coupled with the challenges of recovery and stress, making it one of the most daunting medical conditions. Typically, fractures in dogs result from falls, motor vehicle accidents, gunshot injuries, or cancer.

When a bone undergoes excessive force beyond its core strength, it leads to a break or fracture. Most fractures occur in the hindlimb, with the femur being the most commonly fractured bone, followed by the tibia and fibula. Fractures of the radius, ulna, and humerus in the forelimb, as well as pelvic fractures and mandible fractures, also occur, albeit less frequently.


There are various types of breaks and fractures that can occur in any bone of a dog’s body, and a fracture may also be a combination of one or more of the following types:

  • 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 associated with other wounds, where the bone is exposed to the outside environment.
  • Closed: Also known as an internal fracture, occurring when there is no exposure to the outside environment.
  • Salter-Harris: This fracture type involves the growth plate of the bone.
  • Articular: A fracture that affects the joint.


Most broken bones in dogs occur following some form of activity or accident. Alongside signs of a broken bone, there may be other injuries linked to the incident. For example, a dog hit by a car might sustain a broken leg along with internal bleeding and respiratory issues.

Common signs associated with broken bones in dogs include:

  • Lameness, often observed 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
  • Bone protruding from the skin
  • Swelling or bruising of the limb or body part

What To Do If Your Dog Breaks a Bone

If you suspect or confirm that your dog has a fracture, it’s crucial to seek emergency veterinary care immediately. Proper support for the fracture and confinement of the dog are necessary, while attempting to manipulate the fracture yourself is strongly discouraged and can exacerbate the situation.

Here’s what to do if your dog breaks a bone:

  • Safely and gently move your dog out of harm’s way, avoiding manipulation of the fracture.
  • Refrain from administering any medications or cleaning the area unless instructed by your veterinarian.
  • Take precautions such as placing a muzzle on your dog before transporting them to the vet, as a dog in pain may bite.

How Veterinarians Treat Broken Bones in Dogs

Diagnosing a broken bone in dogs typically involves a straightforward physical examination followed by radiographs. However, treatment is more complex and depends on three key factors:

  1. The patient: Considerations include the age and health status of the dog. Are there any underlying health issues or comorbidities?
  2. The environment: Can the dog be confined and supervised during treatment?
  3. The injury: Factors such as the type, severity, and location of the fracture are taken into account.

After stabilizing the dog, the next step is to immobilize the affected segments to prevent further trauma to surrounding structures. This often requires heavy sedation or anesthesia, followed by one of the following treatment options:

  1. External coaptation (casts and splints) may be suitable for younger dogs or those with stable fractures occurring below the knee and elbow.
  2. Intramedullary fixation involves the use of pins, rods, wires, and/or nails and is a common treatment option.
  3. External skeletal fixation utilizes a device attached externally to the bone via pins, wires, etc., and is often preferred for open and comminuted fractures.
  4. Plates and screws are directly attached to the bone and are another treatment option.

Fractures associated with joints, open segments, or major weight-bearing bones or digits often require surgical intervention. These types of fractures are more common in larger breeds or athletic dogs. Additionally, small-breed dogs may also require surgery due to their bones lacking sufficient blood vessels for the healing process.

Can a Broken Dog Bone Heal on Its Own?

While bones have the potential to heal on their own, there is a notable risk of malalignment or malunion without proper treatment. Additionally, there’s a concern for further instability, exacerbation of the fracture site, and prolonged pain and discomfort if left untreated.

Living and Management

Recovering from a broken bone typically takes around three to four months for adult dogs and one to two months for puppies. It’s crucial to adhere to your veterinarian’s instructions throughout the healing process, which may include multiple re-checks with repeat radiographs to monitor bone healing progress and make adjustments to casts or bandages if necessary. Ensure that your dog receives all prescribed medications, including pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics.

During the recovery period, your dog’s activity will likely be restricted to prevent further injury—this means no jumping, running, or playing. For limb and pelvic fractures, you may need to assist your dog when it stands or walks using a harness or a rolled towel under its chest or pelvis.

Physical therapy and rehabilitation may be recommended at some point to strengthen muscles, tendons, and improve overall function and comfort. It’s important to follow these recommendations and perform at-home exercises as advised. Providing a soft and well-padded bed can significantly enhance your dog’s comfort and emotional well-being during recovery.

If your dog is wearing a bandage, ensure it remains clean and dry at all times. Avoid attempting to change the bandage at home, but monitor it daily for signs of slippage, soiling, swelling of the extremities, or increased irritation by the dog, such as attempts to chew, lick, or scratch. These signs may indicate the need for a bandage change.

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