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What is Broken Leg?

Our pets can fracture bones in either their front or back legs. The front leg consists of the radius and ulna (with the radius being the main weight supporting bone), and the humerus (forms the elbow and shoulder). The back leg comprises of the tibia and fibula (shin), and the femur (thigh). If your canine companion has an accident and suffers a broken leg, a veterinarian will need to assess the severity and location of the break.

Another name for a broken bone is a fracture. Dogs are no different than humans in that they can accidentally fracture a leg bone during times of exercise or play. Not all events lead to broken bones; legs can also be dislocated or may have smaller fractures known as hairline fractures (small crack in the bone).

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Symptoms of Broken Leg in Dogs

In many cases, a pet owner will witness the event that leads up to the fracture. Sometimes, though, our pets suffer a broken leg without us knowing it has happened. If your dog exhibits any of the symptoms below, be certain to bring him to the clinic without delay.

  • Abnormal movement of a limb
  • Holding the leg up
  • Swelling in a limb
  • Pain
  • Whining
  • Unwillingness or inability to walk
  • Severe lameness
  • Grinding or popping sounds of bone
  • Bruising

In the case of a serious trauma, there could be other critical issues that are not apparent such as internal bleeding or organ injury. Do not ponder the decision to go the veterinary hospital.

Types

There is a chance that a broken bone, contingent on the type and severity, could be life threatening. If the bone is impacting an organ or causing a part of the body to bleed, complications could quickly develop. The types of broken bones can be classified in a few ways.

  • Incomplete or complete fracture
    • This description means the fracture has occurred partway around the bone (incomplete) or broken through the circumference of the bone (complete).
  • Transverse, oblique or comminuted
    • This is a complete fracture described as transverse (straight across bone), oblique (diagonally across the bone), and comminuted (the break is in three or more pieces)
  • Open or closed fracture
    • If there is a wound in the skin where the fracture is located, it is called 'open'.  If there is no visible wound, it is called 'closed'
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Causes of Broken Leg in Dogs

A break in a dog’s leg can occur when you least expect it. Your dog will be in pain and may be feeling very anxious and frightened. Remain calm as you prepare for the trip to the clinic so as not to upset or excite your dog, which could result in making the situation worse.

  • Vehicular trauma
  • Play and exercise
  • Sports
  • Underlying disease
  • Diet (too much phosphorus or Vitamin A, not enough calcium)
  • Bone cancer
  • Inherited collagen defect (weakens bones)
  • Falls
  • Age (young bones are not fully formed)
  • Breed (toy breeds have tiny bones, easier to break)
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Diagnosis of Broken Leg in Dogs

Transport your dog as carefully as possible to the clinic. If the leg break is the result of a vehicular accident, be aware that your pet could have internal injuries. If another family member is at home, have them accompany you, so there is an extra person available in the seat beside your dog, to provide comfort and to keep him from trying to move. Depending on the type of break, you may choose to fashion a splint of sorts to keep the break still. Do not attempt to correct the position of the limb.

When you reach the clinic, the veterinary team will first concentrate on stabilising your pet’s vital signs if needed. The following steps and tools will be used for diagnosis.

  • Intravenous will be initiated if your dog requires it, to begin the use of fluids, pain medication or antibiotics
  • A urinary catheter may be inserted, so your dog does not feel the need to stand to urinate, and so he does not stress about not being able to pass urine
  • The veterinarian will check for organ injury or other signs of trauma
  • Blood work may be done
  • Your dog will most likely be sedated so the veterinary team can do radiographs of the body (leg views to check for the break, abdominal and chest views to verify that the heart and lungs are without complications)
  • An abdominal ultrasound will be done if needed for additional organ analysis
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Treatment of Broken Leg in Dogs

Once your furry family member has been stabilised, the fracture will be attended to. Immobilizing the break in order to ease pain and prevent further damage to muscles, blood vessel and nerves are key. Avoiding further trauma to the break is important, too.

The options will be of a non-surgical or surgical nature. In the case of a simple, closed fracture, a splint or cast may be all that is required for healing. With a cast or splint, emphasis must be placed on keeping the injured area, and it’s covering clean and dry.

Other surgical fixation methods (like metal devices) may be a better choice. The decision will depend on your dog’s age, your home environment (are you home with your dog most of the time?), and your financial options in regards to the method of treatment. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you best on the treatment alternatives.

It is interesting to note the following points about treatment options.

  • A cast may, at first, seem like the most economical choice for treatment
  • However, a cast or splint requires many additional appointments due to evaluations, changes, and possible repairs or replacements
  • The overall healing period may be longer with a cast or splint
  • An external metal fixation device will involve pins being put through the bone to splint it, without entering the body (except for the pins)
  • An internal fixation device will be implanted under the skin and in the bone with the use of screws, pins, wires or plates
  • As a pet owner, you may feel uncomfortable discussing the amputation of a limb, but this is sometimes the best decision when it comes to a severely damaged leg
  • Dogs adapt very quickly to living with three legs
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Recovery of Broken Leg in Dogs

The length of hospital stay will depend on the treatment. The stay may range from one day to two weeks.

Home care is a very important part of the recovery process. In the case of a splint or cast, you will need to monitor carefully the condition of the bandage or covering. Looseness can slow healing, and pressure sores could develop. Prevent your dog from licking the cast or pulling on the splint. An Elizabethan collar could be the answer.  Most veterinarians recommend weekly rechecks for splints to monitor for signs of underlying problems.  

In the instance of internal and external fixation devices, there may be a need for the removal of some of the metal device in the future. Your veterinarian will give you all of the information needed as to timing and requirements.

No matter which treatment method was used, follow-up radiographs will be necessary for eight to twelve weeks time so that the break can be re-evaluated.

In the meantime, continue the use of pain medication or antibiotics as prescribed. Do not allow your dog to jump or partake in high impact play. Walking, swimming, and wading in water are beneficial forms of exercise once your veterinarian says the time is right to begin.

She may recommend professional physical therapy such as an underwater treadmill. With the guidance of your veterinary team, you may be asked to do physical therapy at home in the form of ice treatments, flexion of joints, and massage.

Together, you and your veterinarian can have your pet back to walking in due time. Typical recovery length will be four to twelve weeks. The age of your dog will be a factor since younger dogs heal more quickly than older dogs do. The recovery may seem slow, but the prognosis for a broken leg can be good when care and diligence is taken.

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Broken Leg Average Cost

From 14 quotes ranging from $1,200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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Written by a Pugs lover Grace Park

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Published: 01/18/2016, edited: 04/05/2021

Broken Leg Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Schnauzer

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Nine Weeks

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Painful Leg/Paw

Children & wife were messing about however puppy got caught up and was squealing in pain as now holding up paw

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If he is still crying or limping on the paw, it may be broken, and It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them and see what might be going on, and get treatment if needed.

Oct. 12, 2020

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Dachshund

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One Year

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Noisy Breathing

Wont walk, any movement with leg he cries

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 15, 2020

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Tibetan Spaniel

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Three Years

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Pain Under Pad

My dog is limping occasionally, refusing to walk on grass when you feel between his pads on one foot he yelps and stops walking on it again. It only started today usually he is fine. Won’t run around either. What could it be please?

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay in my reply, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. From your description, it sounds like there may be an injury or a wound that is bothering your dog. If the problem is still going on, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 20, 2020

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Chocolate lab

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Thirteen Years

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2 found helpful

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Swollen Leg

She is arthritic & had a tumble down a couple of steps. She seemed okay but 24 hours later her foreleg was swollen, warm and tender. She also could not stand without assistance. Once up, she walked and urinated and bm like normal. Tramadol helped. Im wondering broken bone & vet visit or muscular bruising or sprain with lots of rest.

Aug. 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello, This may be a sprain or strain or she may have broken something. If she is walking on her leg, it is most likely a sprain or strain. Allow her to rest and if it continues to bother her see your vet for an x-ray. I hope your dog starts to improve quickly.

Aug. 22, 2020

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Blue Heeler

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Three Months

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Limping

Yesterday afternoon I came across a stray puppy in the middle of a main hwy. she either fell out of/ off a vehicle or was hit. She has a broken leg in two places. I was told she needs a ortho Surgeon or my other option was to amputate the leg. But the cost is extremely high for both options. If I continue to splint the leg and keep her as comfortable and no weight on that side is it possible for the leg to heal without surgery ?

Aug. 5, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, she is adorable. Some fractures will not heal with splints, and need surgery Depending on the location of the fracture, you may keep a splint on for years and it won't heal. If your veterinarian advised either surgery to repair the breaks, or amputation, it is likely one of those. Dogs do quite well with amputation, especially as young dogs, and you may be able to call different clinics and see if there is someone that can do it for less cost. From your description, just leaving it or splinting it does not sound like a good idea. I hope that all goes well for her.

Aug. 5, 2020

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Bowie

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Pomeranian

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3 Years

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Limping
Broken Leg

My 2 year old male Pomeranian/poodle (7lbs), Bowie, was attacked by a pit bull in the dog park and ended up with a broken femur. We brought him to the ER vet immediately and they recommended surgery with an orthopedic surgeon ASAP. We followed the advice and Bowie had surgery the next day and received a plate with screws to repair the fracture and a “butterfly wire” for a small fissure at the fracture site. It was my understanding that it was a fairly clean break. 10 days post op, the surgical plate snapped, which the surgeon blamed on “cycling” which I understand as a standard over use and gradual failure rather than occurring from a specific incident. We brought him back to another orthopedic surgeon, who recommended a surgical repair using an internal pin, and stronger plate with screws, and bone graph. We did this and post op excessively tried to limit Bowie’s activity with anti anxiety medication and crate restriction. Yet one month later, the plate snapped again. We brought Bowie back to the surgeon and he said the failure was again due to “cycling”. This time he said there was no good surgical option left bc Bowies bone is so compromised and small, especially for his weight. The surgeon said he could try to surgically repair with a larger, stronger plate but it would be very risky bc the screws are also bigger and could very likely pulverize what is left of Bowie’s healthy bone during attempting the surgery, in which case, he would then surgically amputate the leg. This was a situation I was not prepared to hear. I then brought Bowie to another specialist surgeon who was referred by our vet. This surgeon said he could attempt to place a large rod down the bone and use external fixtures, however it was also very risky and he felt it only had a 20% chance of working. So instead of this risky surgery, the doctor suggested we try a conservative method of rest and pain management and see if the leg heals on its own as is, with the broken plate, screws and pin still in place. He did not feel confident that it would work but said it was a similar chance of success as the surgery. So we opted for this route To give Bowie a chance to heal himself and keep his leg naturally. No cast, sling, nor anything else. Just cage rest and medication to keep Bowie comfortable and calm. Recheck X-ray in one month and one month again after that. We are having an extremely difficult time understanding and coping with this approach. Has anyone else ever had experience with something similar? I have read several articles and studies about bones healing naturally on their own, albeit usually misaligned. However it is my understanding that his surgeries would affect his bodies ability to natuRally heal bones on its own. If anyone could provide insight or similar experiences of bones healing on their own after surgery, please share.

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Coco

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Chiwawa

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2 Months

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Mild severity

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Limp

I have a question . I have a 2 month chiwawa terrier . Her back legs are facing each other . Like they are touching each other. I wonder what can I do to. make it better. I been stretching her legs it doesn't hurt her. She walks around but looks funny because of her back legs. Read more at: https://wagwalking.com/condition/broken-leg#

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Brody

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Labrador Retriever

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6 Months

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Serious severity

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My 6 month old lab puppy has had chronic soft stool since he came home. His weight has always been good. We did a full blood panel and discovered he was B12 deficient. My vet recommended B12 human grade tablets and they seemed to work but he went down hill again. Based on other's experiences, I ended up getting a pet grade B12 capsule that has intrinsic factor and I sprinkle it into his food. His stool has never been better. Is there any harm in the added intrinsic factor if blood panels indicated that he has no pancreatic issues?

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Rufus

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German Spitz

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5 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Fracture

I have a German Spitz who got run over Christmas Day he broke his front right leg in two places. It was explained to me that toy dogs bones don’t recover well using a cast and that the best option was a plate. The veterinary explained to me that where the fractures were it was too difficult to place a plate as there wasn’t much room for the screws to be attached in the end the option we took was having 11 pins fitted held together by some external fittings. We have now come into his 12th week with still 3 pins remaining and the fracture is still not healing as well as the vet would like. Potentially now he is starting to get an infection caused by the remaining pins which now need to come out - probably in 3 days he will have yet another operation to remove them. However, the fractures still need support. He has suggested a cast for 1 week with a substance injected that helps strengthen bones as they are unable to take further bone grafts. The downside is where he has an open wound potentially this will give him a type of body soar under the cast. Can you please advise of any other alternatives and whether the bone could still repair more even after 12 weeks ?

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Kiwi

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Pomeranian

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7 Months

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Fracture

Hi. My 7 month old puppy jumped from the bed and broke his right front leg. We took him to the veterinarian and they did x rays showing the fracture. The recommend surgery while other veteriarian recommends cast. I don’t know what is the best choice.

Broken Leg Average Cost

From 14 quotes ranging from $1,200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$2,000

Protect yourself and your pet. Compare top pet insurance plans.

Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

Save up to $273 per year

Compare plans
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