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What are Growth Plate Injuries?

Puppies have growth plates associated with their long bones that slowly ossify as they grow.  Once he is completely grown, the growth plate completely ossifies and your dog has finished growing.  It is possible for your dog to injure his growth plate acutely or chronically.  Acute injury involves some form of trauma such as being hit by a car or jumping off the couch.  

A chronic injury, while less likely, is possible; he can have some sort of injury or condition that causes stress on the growth plate that eventually leads to injury of the growth plate itself.  Either way, you will likely see symptoms of lameness and discomfort of the affected leg. Your veterinarian will want to take radiographs of the leg to confirm and diagnose the severity of the injury.  The treatment will depend on the condition of the injury as well as the prognosis of recovery.

If your dog is showing any sign of a limp or discomfort in his leg that lasts for more than a couple days, it is best he be evaluated by his veterinarian as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

Symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Lameness
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Stiffness of the limb
  • Abnormal bone conformation (abnormal angle, abnormal length)
  • Early development of osteoarthritis

Types

There are growth plates associated with the long bones of your dog.  There can be acute or chronic injuries, as well as mild to severe.  Acute injury happens all of a sudden, typically from some sort of trauma.  Chronic injury is the result of damage to the area over a longer period of time.  In this situation, it is possible your dog had an abnormality since birth that is just now showing signs of clinical symptoms or it may be that you have been training him for agility and his bones are exhausted to the point of injury.  For a mild injury, it may be simply a bruise while a more severe injury would be a break.  The source of injury may be trauma, such as hit by a car, or may be accidental such as your rambunctious puppy jumping off a too high bed.

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Causes of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

In a developing puppy, ossification of the bone growth plates begins in the center and at each end of long bone.  Eventually, it all ossifies and unites and results in a formed bone.  When ossification remains incomplete, it leaves the bone weak and vulnerable.  If there is injury to the growth plate, it can lead to malformation or improper ossification of the bone.  This can lead to an abnormality that may affect your dog for his lifetime.

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Diagnosis of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

Your veterinarian will begin her diagnostic process by collecting a verbal history from you in regards to your dog’s symptoms.  She will want to know all details surrounding when you first noticed your dog acting abnormally.  She will then continue by performing a full physical exam on your dog.  While the injury may be obviously affecting a specific leg, your veterinarian will want to check for other signs of injury in different areas as well.  

To confirm your pet’s condition, the veterinarian will want to take a radiograph of the affected limb and the joints above and below it.  This is the only way to get a 100% diagnosis to see if the growth plate is involved.  It will also show if it is a fracture, break, or other type of injury. This radiographic image will also assist the veterinarian with deciding how to proceed with her treatment plan.  

Your veterinarian may also recommend routine blood work to see if your dog needs any other medical assistance to develop and heal properly.  A complete blood count and chemistry panel will give the veterinarian information on how the organs are functioning, how the blood is supporting the body, and whether your dog is fighting off any type of infection.  The red blood cell count results can also indicate how the bone marrow is functioning as it is all tied together.

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Treatment of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

The severity of the injury will determine your dog’s treatment plan.  If your dog simply has a deep tissue bruise near or including the growth plate region, your veterinarian will likely suggest symptomatic treatment and monitoring of the situation.  She will suggest kennel rest for your dog with no extended exercise, jumping or running while the injury is healing.  She may also suggest pain management to keep your dog comfortable.  As for an additional treatment options, laser light therapy treatment may be suggested as a way to promote healing and offer pain relief.  

If your dog fractures or breaks the growth plate, his treatment plan will be more involved.  He will likely need some sort of brace, but nothing permanent if he is still in his growing process.  If you apply a brace in the incorrect position or do not adjust it as he is healing, it can lead to an abnormal healing angle.  He will need to be kept quiet and calm for as long as possible while it is healing.  However, puppies tend to grow quickly so it may heal quicker than a different region of the bone.  She will also offer pain medication and a possible joint supplement to promote comfort and good bone health.  Laser light therapy will also be beneficial in the case of a fracture or break.  

While the injury is healing, you will likely need to go in regularly for checkups.  Radiographs may be taken at every visit to allow the veterinarian to visualize the healing process.  This will allow her to monitor the progress as well as adjust her treatment plan accordingly.

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Recovery of Growth Plate Injuries in Dogs

A growth plate injury prognosis has a wide variety of outcomes.  Your dog may heal without any issues and show no symptoms that he was ever injured.  Other dogs never heal correctly and are left with a lifelong limp or angular deformity.  Your dog’s prognosis will depend on where exactly he damaged his growth plate and how severely.

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Growth Plate Injuries Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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German shepherd mix

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Sixteen Months

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Ulna Plate Stopped Growing

Is there something I could use to give her some support for her front leg? Her ulna plate stopped geowing and is causing her wrist down to turn outwards. There are no fractures.

July 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, I'm sorry to hear that your dog is having growth plate issues. Unfortunately German Shepherds are genetically pre-disposed to this issue. This is an issue that surgery is needed to fix. I recommend talking to your veterinarian about referral to an orthopedic surgeon, or to see if they have other suggestions. The risk of not having it surgically addressed is that it could cause long-term limb and joint issues. I hope that everything goes well with your dog!

July 27, 2020

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Gouda

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Pomeranian

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14 Weeks

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Limping
Not Moving

my 9 week old Pom jumped off the couch and injured her growth plate. the ortho said she would heal fine to just keep her crated with minimal exercise. She has been fine for the last 1.5 months no limping running and jumping and playing. All of a sudden yesterday she can't use it at all. there was no sign of re injury, crying or pain. Our vet recommended the same treatment of crating and minimal movement. Is there some kind of splint i can put on this so she is able to at least go potty by herself. we have to harness her just so she is able to at this point.

Aug. 8, 2018

Gouda's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Splints can cause more damage than good in dogs, and aren't generally recommended except for specific situations. Since I cannot see Gouda or examine her, it is hard for me to comment on whether she may benefit from having that joint immobilized or not, but you have had her seen by your veterinarian, and a specialist, and a phone call to either of them would be a good idea, since they know more about her specific situation and how best it should be handled at this point.

Aug. 8, 2018

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Onyx

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Miniature Schnauzer

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5 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limping
Lameness

Last week I took my 5 month old Miniature schnauzer to the vet because he was playing with my sisters dog when they came over and they both sneaked up to the second floor to play and when i got up there, his left back leg was limping. (They might have crashed into eachother) i took him to the vet and he said it was a swollen growing plate and not a fracture. So he gave him a shot in the leg for pain and recommended rest and prescribed pain and swelling pills which he has been following doctors orders. That was on saturday and it is thursday now and he puts more weight on the leg (before he didnt put any weight) but he is still limping. Will he stay like this forever or does this take more time to heal?

July 26, 2018

Onyx's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Sprains and strains can take a while to heal, and it is a good sign that Onyx is putting more weight on the leg. You may need to continue to rest or restrict his exercise, but a gradual return to normal would be expected. If you're not sure, a recheck with your veterinarian is never a bad idea.

July 26, 2018

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ace

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Yorkshire Terrier

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4 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Crying
Crying, Doesn'T Walk On Leg

I was wondering how would i sleep through the night if i have to keep monitoring my pup, do i sleep on the floor with him or so i even sleep at all ? i'm worried something might happen

May 5, 2018

ace's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Monitoring may involve staying up all night (many people cannot sleep when their loved one is in pain), set an alarm to wake up every hour or two, sleep together on the bed (floor, sofa etc…) or another method. If Ace is in pain and is crying, you should visit an Emergency Veterinarian for an examination and for pain relief. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 6, 2018

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Rocky

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pit bull terrier

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5 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

My Pit Bull fractured a growth plate in his hip. The veterinarian said that the fracture was only partial and not all the way through. She recommended getting surgery and that he would most likely need FHO surgery. Is there any other option besides surgery to have him heal properly? It’s been 2 days since the injury and his behavior is starting to return to almost normal

March 4, 2018

Rocky's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. WIthout knowing more about Rocky's injury, i don't have any way to comment on options other than surgery. It would be best to ask your veterinarian, as they know what his injury is, know what his health status is, and will be able to advise you on any other options. Puppies do tend to heal fairly quickly from some injuries, so there may be non-surgical options, but without knowing what is going on with him, I cannot assess that.

March 5, 2018

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Iceman

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Labrador Retriever

dog-age-icon

11 Months

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Limping
Limping, Shifting Weight

We have an 11 month old yellow Labrador Retriever. He loves to fetch ball like the speed of lightening. He is very well behaved. One day, he ran to get the ball on a grass field and came back limping on his left front leg. That night, he was barely using his front leg. Our lab never cried, whined, just limping. We question if he put his foot in a hole or something as he was running. We took him to the Vet. He completely fractured his growth plate in the left shoulder. The Vet did all kinds of x-rays looking for anything he could find, including the back legs (for free) and the only thing he could find is the complete fracture in the shoulder on the end of bone which is just floating around in his humerus area. Looks like our lab will be getting surgery soon, just in time for Christmas. We are told healing for 6 weeks with pins and screws placed. This is going to be difficult since our lab loves to run, walk, fetch, etc. Sucks big time! We have NO IDEA how this happened. Our puppy acts broken-hearted as he cannot play with his ball. He picks ball up and bounces it near the front door for us to go play ball with him, but he cannot as he is to have no activity. He is on complete rest. Only should go out to potty and poop. We do not allow him to jump up and down from vehicles and we even use a steps that fold for our lab to get into a truck. More to come after we speak to the surgeon in the next week.

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Nala

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Pit bull

dog-age-icon

5 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

My 5 month puppy was hit by a car, after second xrays at her checkup they see that her growth plate next to her hip joint was pulled apart. Due to stitches from other injuries, we didn’t do surgery right away. She does limp a little bit but otherwise can run, jump, and do everything. She doesn’t seem in pain. Is the FHO surgery necessary? It will leave her with a shorter leg so she will limp anyways..

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Poppy

dog-breed-icon

Beagle

dog-age-icon

7 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

My Puppy jumped to get on the bed but didn’t make it, she fell to the floor and screamed for about 5 minutes....we took her straight to the vet who said she may have dislocated her hip, she didn’t. Then vet said she may have fractured her hip, she didn’t. Not vet is saying she may have squashed her growth plate but they are not sure and to go back in 6 weeks for x-ray. She is still limping but starting to put foot down. She doesn’t seem to be in pain. Is there anything we can do to help her or find out if she has damaged growth plate and a plan of action to get best recovery? Thank you so much

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ROLO

dog-breed-icon

Boxer

dog-age-icon

4 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Appetite
Lameness
Tired

My pup jumped off the couch, and his feet slid out from under him. He was walking on it normal with a slight limp, and then out of nowhere he refused to bear weight on his left leg and it began to swell. I took him for xrays and everything showed normal. The vet suggested that I should take him to a specialist as there may be damage to his growth plate. Is it common for growth plate injuries to not show on xrays? Is my only option surgery if there is damage? I just want him to live a long and happy life.

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Rex

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German Shepherd

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8 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

Rex as hit by a car. Vet said it growth plate was out of place so xrayed and put in a splint type case. He had wore in 3 weeks when leg had grown and splint rubbing caused infection on skin. It stunk.that was a month ago. Rex runs, gets around but won't putuse that leg. It looks just like the other. I've massaged the muscles in that leg. He will use the foot at times to brace then picks it back up. While running it looks like he will use it then remember and stop. Is their therapy for him? A dvd or youtube that would show me how to help him? Would swimming help him to start using the leg normally? His dad was full blooded Belgium Malinois and mom full blood German shepherd.