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.

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Symptoms of Broken Leg in Birds

  • Obvious breakage/bend in the leg
  • Standing on one leg
  • Trying to shift balance
  • Unsteadiness
  • Stress

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.

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.

 

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.

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.