pet broken leg

How to Care for a Pet With a Broken Bone

Just like humans, dogs and cats can suffer from broken bones. Read on to learn about the symptoms of fractures, what you can do to help your four-legged family member before you get to the vet, and how to manage after-care as they’re healing.

Are you concerned about your pet?

Book a video consultation with an experienced veterinarian within minutes.

What is a fracture?

Fracture is the medical term for a broken bone. Fractures can occur in any bone in the body, from the toes to the jaw to the tail but are most common in the long bones of the limbs, such as the femur (the thigh bone of the hind leg) and the humerus (the bone in the front leg that runs from the shoulder to the elbow). Any pet can sustain a fracture but the most commonly affected are puppies and kittens.

The majority of fractures are caused by trauma. Examples include:

  • Being dropped or falling from a height
  • Being stepped on
  • Hit by car
  • Fights– especially involving a big dog/little dog
  • Kicked by a horse or cow

Signs That Your Pet Has a Broken Bone

  • Pain – vocalizing, attempting to bite if the injured area is touched, hiding
  • Severe lameness (limping)
  • Reluctance to use an affected limb or put any weight on it
  • Swelling
  • Presence of a wound

Types of Fractures

Incomplete: The bone is partially broken.

Complete: The bone is completely broken through its full thickness, creating two or more fragments.

Open: A fracture in which an open wound is created either by the bone penetrating the skin or an object piercing the skin and breaking the bone. Open fractures are at high risk for infection.

Closed: A fracture in which there is no open wound associated with the broken bone.

What to do if you suspect your pet has a fractured bone

  • Seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Call the veterinary practice and let them know you are on your way.
  • Keep your pet as still and quiet as possible.
  • If small enough, place your pet in a crate or box.
  • Do not give any pain relievers or any other type of medication unless directed by a vet.
  • Fractures cannot be treated at home.

How are broken bones diagnosed in pets?

Fractures are not always obvious, so diagnosis is best done by a vet. A complete physical exam will be performed to ensure that no other medical issues are present. Your vet will gently examine the affected body part and will likely recommend taking multiple radiographs (x-rays) to fully evaluate the break. This will also aid in planning the best way to treat the fracture. Your vet may also recommend sedation to relieve your pet’s pain as well as keep him quiet and still.

Fracture Treatment for Dogs and Cats

Depending on the type of fracture and the age of the patient, fractures may be treated in the following ways:

Splint or cast applied to the outside of the limb

*Internal fixation: Surgically applied pins and/or plates implanted inside the bone or to the surface of the bone under the skin.

*External Fixation: Surgically applied pins that come out through the skin and attach to a rigid bar on either side of the fracture

*Typically performed by a Board Certified Veterinary Surgeon

What to Expect if Your Pet is Being Treated for a Broken Bone

It’s best to follow the instructions of the veterinary surgeon who placed the splint/cast or performed the surgery. Some general guidelines include:

Fractures can take between 6-8 weeks to heal and longer if complications arise.

It’s important to keep bandages and splints clean and dry. If they become wet, soiled, or slip, serious complications can result. Contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these signs or if an odor develops. Make sure to follow the schedule for bandage or splint changes closely.

Keep your pet’s activity restricted. Keep your pet on a leash every time they go outside.

Return for follow-up exams and radiographs (x-rays) as directed.

Physical Rehabilitation

Physical Rehabilitation can be hugely beneficial following a fracture repair. Often, when a limb is immobilized after a fracture, muscle mass is lost very quickly, and joints tend to stiffen. Rehabilitation therapy can provide pain relief and improved return to function. Your vet can also recommend a home program to help regain lost muscle safely and effectively.

Caring for a pet who had sustained a broken bone is not easy, but with careful monitoring, exercise restriction, and physical rehabilitation our pets can heal fully and go on to enjoy a normal active life.

Read more:

Nothing to bark about! Causes of Limping in Dogs (and what you should do!)

Causes of Limping in Cats

How to Examine Your Pet at Home: A Step-By-Step Guide

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet's broken bone or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

Are you concerned about your pet?

Book a video consultation with an experienced veterinarian within minutes.

Book Video Consultation
  • Low-cost video vet consultations, 24 hours a day
  • Experienced, licensed vets
  • Over 500,000 satisfied pet owners

More articles about Dog