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What is Broken Leg?

Domestic and wild birds have tiny, often hollow bones, that are prone to sprains and breakage. It is a mistake, however, to perceive the avian skeletal system as weak. Just as any living thing, the bird’s anatomy is adapted and refined to meet its primary life functions. The anatomy of a flying bird is built around an intricate skeletal system that enables takeoff, the soaring and gliding of flight and a safe, sturdy landing. While the wings are regarded as the powerhouse of a bird, a bird’s legs are just as significant. The leg bones of a bird are the heaviest, contributing to the low center of gravity that aids in flight. The legs must be durable enough to withstand take off, to bear its weight for landing, as well as to allow balanced perching whether in nature or in a cage.

Birds also depend upon their legs as humans do their hands. The thin, weak-looking legs execute food searches, and grasp, lift and assemble materials to build nests and care for their offspring. Though their legs appear straight and “sticklike” in appearance, they are divided into three sections: the femur (upper leg), the tibiotarsus (shin) and the fibula (sides of the lower legs). The tibiotarsus, the shin bone, is the most commonly fractured.

For these reasons, a broken leg in a bird is cause for great concern. Though they are stronger than we think, their legs are small enough that they are easily fractured from trauma, falls and animal attacks. Birds typically sprain or break a leg after a fall from a tree or a perch, or when attacked by an animal such as a cat. Aside from their minute size, a bird may also have an underlying condition, such as a nutritional deficiency, that contributes to weakness and a susceptible to sprain or fracture. 

Bird owners will be able to quickly spot a fracture, or even a sprain, in the leg. What a terrible sight it is to find your beloved bird unable to balance on its favorite perch. The bird will likely be standing on one foot, and trying to shift its stance to no avail. As soon as you notice this behavior, it’s imperative to seek immediate veterinary care. Not only is the bird in pain, but the sooner the bone is set, the better chance it should heal and return to normal function. If an immediate veterinary appointment is not possible, you can try to take some protective steps until you can visit the vet later that day.

Ideally, try to find another person to help you. Relocate the bird to a cage or tank without any other animals. A heating lamp helps to keep the bird more comfortable and discourage shock. In the case of bleeding, one tip is to use baking soda, corn flour (or, if available, styptic powder) to slow the bleed. Use a gauze pad and apply pressure to slow the bleeding. Antibiotic ointment can be used around the leg or foot, as well as a loose bandage. Restrain the bird by wrapping it in a towel. If the bleeding has slowed a bit, wrap the gauze around the injured area on the leg. The gauze can slightly extend above or below the break. While the gauze should be wrapped around in a few layers, watch for tightness. Do not make it so tight that you cut off circulation to the leg. If you feel a splint will be helpful, use a cotton swab, a piece of cardboard or even a Popsicle-type stick. The splint should reach the length of the leg; be sure it does not extend above or below the leg to prevent further injury. Use some kind of wrap (Vet wrap – sold as “Hurt Free” wrap in regular pharmacies or gauze) around the splint to keep it in place.

However, there is no substitute for immediate veterinary care, particularly an avian veterinary specialist. A break will not heal on its own, no matter how timely at-home first-aid care. Your pet bird must be seen when a leg is fractured.

Sprains and fractures in the legs of birds are often treatable with immediate veterinary care.

Symptoms of Broken Leg in Birds

  • Obvious breakage/bend in the leg
  • Standing on one leg
  • Trying to shift balance
  • Unsteadiness
  • Stress
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Causes of Broken Leg in Birds

The most common cause of a broken leg in a bird is a fall from a tree or a perch. Another cause is an animal attack. In rare cases, underlying skeletal conditions or nutritional deficits may weaken the bones.

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Diagnosis of Broken Leg in Birds

A broken or sprained leg is easy to diagnose because it is unable to bear weight on one leg. A break is easily identifiable by a vet. An x-ray will identify and isolate a potential fracture.

Along with the diagnostic process of viewing clinical signs, the veterinarian may want to discuss your bird's environment, his typical diet, exercise habits, and whether your bird has cage mates.

 

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Treatment of Broken Leg in Birds

The veterinarian will stabilize and treat the break. Your bird will likely have a cast, and might be kept one night for observation. If the bird is in significant pain, the vet will treat the discomfort. 

Some fractures may benefit from surgery, especially if located in the femur. In fact, some breaks can be set with pins; however, due to the size of a bird’s leg, stabilizing plates are unrealistic. Depending on severity and location, some breaks will not be healable. In this case, the vet may suggest humane euthanasia.

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Recovery of Broken Leg in Birds

Once the fracture is stabilized by the vet, improvement can be noticeable in as few as 1-2 days. Weight bearing may take 5-7 days. The vet will send you home with necessary materials to take care of the bandaging. At first, weekly or biweekly checks will be necessary to look for signs of bruising and progress. Keep the bird quiet and away from other animals.

An important take-away lesson is to keep a first-aid kit in the household in case of such injuries. Keep gauze wrap, vet wrap, cotton swabs, Popsicle sticks, styptic powder, etc. in an easily locatable place. A heat lamp is a worthwhile purchase. If you have more than one bird, be sure to keep an extra cage for separation. 

Be sure to discuss your bird’s nutrition with the vet. Fruits and green, leafy vegetables are essential to provide the vitamins needed for health and longevity. Make sure the bird (especially a female) is getting the calcium it needs for bone growth and protection.

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Broken Leg Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Pigeon

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4 months

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4 found helpful

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Broken Leg

Hello, My pigeon has a fracture close to the knee joint. Is this healable? And how long typically?

Aug. 30, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello I recommend that you take your pigeon to a veterinarian for an exam. They may want to give pain medication and take some x-rays. It typically takes 4-6 weeks for bone to heal. Good luck.

Aug. 31, 2020

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Turkey

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Four Months

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3 found helpful

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Broken Legs

My male turkey was killed this morning and I found my female injured laying in the brush about 6 feet from him. I don’t see any injuries on her body however her one leg is in bad shape with a definite break that is open and visible and the other leg doesn’t have an open break but it is broken as well. I called about 20 vets today and being that it’s a Saturday some are not open and the hospitals are guessing over $6,000 with no guarantee of survival. I wish I could afford that for her but I can’t. What can I do here at home to give her the best chance. She has drank some water a couple of time

Aug. 15, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I think having an examination would be the best place to start, as nobody can give you an estimate of 6000.00 without seeing the bird. If you can give them an idea of a budget to work with, they may be able to splint the legs and give antibiotics. Unfortunately, without seeing her, I can't say what might need to be done, but having an initial examination to see what needs to happen would be a good idea. I hope that your bird is okay.

Aug. 15, 2020

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Turkey

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Six Months

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1 found helpful

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Broken Leg

We have tried to wrap our turkey's broken leg but as soon as we let him go he freaks out and hurts himself worse. How do we keep him calm until he is used to the wrap so he can heal?

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Without seeing your turkey, there is no way that I can advise you on what to do with this problem. He needs to see a veterinarian, as they can examine him, apply a splint if needed, and prescribe medication is needed for Sedation for him. I hope that he is okay.

Aug. 8, 2020

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Wild sparrow

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Unknown

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0 found helpful

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Possible Dislocated Leg

A wild bird which we are guessing is sparrow fell out of the tree in front of our houseand we are pretty sure his leg is dislocacted. He still can grip with the toes but his peg is sticking straight out from his body just behind but in line with its wings when they are extended. He appears to still have feeling in his leg but cannot himself pull it under him. His little drum stick muscle part appears to be what isnt functioning properly. My twelve year old daughter is involved so weare truly trying to help. Thank you in advamce for the help and your time.

July 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, over an email, there is very little that I can do to help. It may be best to contact a wildlife rescue group in your area, as they will have knowledge of the birds and their physiology and needs and be able to help. I hope that all goes well with the little bird.

July 28, 2020

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Kakariki

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Four Years

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0 found helpful

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Using One Leg

One leg hanging not being used foot curled

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. If this is a long-term injury, this may be just how your pet is able to live, if it is a new problem, it would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian. They will be able to examine your pet, see if there's anything that can be done, and get treatment or medication if needed. I hope that all goes well for your pet!

July 26, 2020

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Curio

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Parrots

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4 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Broken Legs

I let curio out of the cage for sometime suddenly something scared him he started to fly and went into the next room where incidently my sister had put on the fan and he went straight for the fan.He managed to break both legs. we took him to the vet and he put on splint.It has almost been a month (the splint has been removed) since then I tried see if he can walk but he keeps on using his beak for support to walk.So the question is should he be allowed to walk? And if so how can I get him to walk without taking the support of his beak?.

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Amber

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Canary

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Not Using
Lifting Leg

My Canary pulled out his back nail and has not used it. The top is black.I was hoping someone could help. The foot looks normal. I cant afford a vet nor do I have one near me

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joey

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Parrotlet

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13 Weeks

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Moderate severity

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Standing On One Lef

I bought a baby parrotlet 3 days ago, since i have had him he has not put his right foot down once hes struggling with climbing ect, apart from that hes fine eating drinking chirping even going around his cage hes just not using that one foot any ideas? i cant afford the vets as i have only just bought him and a new cage

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Endigo and ari

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Budgie

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8 Months

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

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Dying Foot
Organs Hanging Out

Hi. I woke up today to hear my baby screaming in pain, I rushed to his cage to find he got it stuck in the door, it’s raw at the joint and the rest of it is turining grey and blue. We don’t have money for a vet and we need help fast. He can’t put weight on it but he seems fine. He can’t feel anything in it either, so maybe the nerves are dead? No blood going through the foot. We have another bird, Ari who’s got his organs hanging out? It looks like a dry blackberry but it’s coming from his stomach. You can’t see it unless you move the feathers. Thank you for your time

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Coco

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Mourning Dove

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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Limp

I have two pet doves and one day our cat knocked down their cage and chased them around the house. The female, Linda, appeared unharmed after initial shock but the male, Coco, seems injured. He is limping around and we don't know if his leg is broken or not. His feathers are all fluffed up but the weather is also cold so we don't know if he's fluffed up from the cold or the injury. Is there any medicine we can give him to relieve his pain? Poor Coco is still eating but we don't know if he has a broken leg or not since his feathers are so thick. Does anyone know what to do?!? Please help, Coco and Linda have two little eggs and we really want Coco to heal.