There are many reasons dogs may break (fracture) bones. Common
examples include road traffic accidents, or incidents such as falls
from a height. Frequently broken bones are the femur (thigh bone),
pelvis, skull, jaw, and spine.
How to spot a breakage
Fractures can be very obvious - the broken bone sticking out
through the dog's skin - but any sign of pain or discomfort after
an accident or injury could indicate a possible break or
dislocation. Crying, limping, swelling, even deformity with
shortening of affected leg, also tells us that something is
seriously wrong. Abscesses, migrating grass seeds, muscle, tendon,
and ligament injuries can cause similar symptoms and equal pain
What type of fractures are there?
Fractures are classified as open or closed. Open fractures (also
known as compound fractures) are where the wound exposes the bone,
often contaminated by dirt and bacteria, and are accompanied by a
high risk of infection. Closed fractures are broken bone that have
not penetrated the skin.
What to do if you suspect your dog has a broken bone
Your primary treatment goals are always to reduce pain and risk
of further accidents, as well as avoiding infection. If you suspect
your dog has broken a bone, please don't try to re-set the bone
fragments or apply antiseptics or ointments onto open fractures.
Just get your dog to your vet immediately.
Muzzling your dog may be necessary too as pain, anxiety and
aggression (biting owners in self-defence) are common. Exposed open
fractures should be covered with clean gauze -such as a bandage,
clean T-shirt or tea towel - and gentle pressure applied to
continued bleeding. On the way to your vet, try supporting broken
limbs with towels, and keeping your dog warm to prevent shock.
Which dogs may be prone to broken bones?
All breeds are prone to fractures, but as most breakages are
caused by a sudden impact or great force - whether from objects or
falls - they most frequently occur in older dogs and young,
adventurous pups. Toy breeds with tiny fragile limbs may be trodden
How are broken bones treated?
The way in which vets treat fractures depends on age, size,
fitness, broken bone, type of fracture, and budget available - some
fracture repairs can cost thousands of pounds - otherwise
amputation may be indicated. Open, closed, and hairline fractures
all require treatment, usually undertaken when patient shock, blood
loss, and pain are successfully stabilised with analgesics,
anti-inflammatories, and the risk of infection controlled - often
days after initial incident.
Treatment and best repair options often involve general
anaesthetic, X-rays and surgery, enabling bone edges to come
together again for re-alignment (fracture reduction) so they can
knit together firmly and form a healing callus.
Once reduced, the position of the bones must be maintained. In
most dogs, with fractures above the knee or elbow, the position is
held with pins and metal plates. Fractures below the knee or elbow
are immobilised with splints and casts. Fractures involving joints
usually require open surgery and repair with pins, screws, and
wire. Your vet may even choose to refer your dog to an orthopaedic
What can I do to help my dog heal?
Post-operative healing is greatly enhanced with strict crate
rest (often up to six weeks) preventing walking, playing, running,
or jumping, including special bandaging care and support, as well
as extended courses of antibiotics and pain killers. Some implants
require future removal and some may need to remain in the patient
Healing is often more rapid in younger, quiet, calm, healthy,
eating patients of all shapes, sizes and breeds with single limb
injuries; however, delayed healing is common in older, bouncy,
active, sick, debilitated, giant or toy breeds, especially if they
suffer other injuries too. Your dog may require owner assistance to
stand, walk and go to the toilet in the first few days or weeks
after surgery, especially on slippery surfaces.
When limbs are not used properly for several days to weeks,
joints stiffen up, muscles shrink, and bone healing is often
delayed. Physiotherapy during healing aims to improve comfort and
limb use without causing harm. Careful coordination between the vet
and physiotherapist can help the patient to return to normal
Other simple methods you can try at home include cold therapy
(applying cold packs to the fracture site), motion therapy (flexing
and extending joints), and massage therapy (this helps prevent
restrictive scar tissue), but it is important to speak to your vet
before trying any of these. Other complementary therapies, such as
hydrotherapy, may also be indicated in specific cases but always
seek your vet's approval or a referral first.
How long do broken bones take to heal?
Your vet will explain how long the bone may take to heal, but
generally canine fractures need a minimum of four weeks in young
puppies and eight weeks in older animals to heal sufficiently and
eventually return to normal.
As dog owners, we can't just tell our dogs to "take it easy" or
"stay off of it", so it's up to you to impose restrictions, even
when your four-legged friend is begging to play. It can be a long
two to three months when the sun's shining and squirrels are asking
to be chased; but catastrophes can happen if fracture repairs are
stressed too soon.
Finally, on a positive note
Fractures do heal and bones often resume near normal shape and
strength. Close attention, appropriate treatments and preventing
your dog from 'running before it can walk' mean our 'broken' pets
can often return to completely normal, happy and active lives.
Who can I contact for further advice?
The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable
to provide general or case specific veterinary advice. If you
have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this
article then please contact your local veterinary practice for
This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally
published in the Crufts Magazine - www.thecruftsmagazine.com.
Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton. He regularly
appears on UK television. For more information about Marc