Broken bones

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 levels.

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 on too.

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 specialist.

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 forever.

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 function.

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 further information.

This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally published in the Crufts Magazine -

Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton.  He regularly appears on UK television.  For more information about Marc please


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