Broken Bones in Dogs

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Lucky for us and our precious pooches, broken bones are not a common occurrence. They are almost always caused by a traumatic injury (with the rare exception) and can be obvious or unapparent. Below we will discuss common causes, symptoms and possible treatments for broken bones.

Most broken bones are suffered by small dogs and puppies as they tend to be more fragile than larger dogs. The most common bone fracture is a broken leg or forearm, usually caused by a small pooch or pup getting underfoot and subsequently being mashed on by an unintentional foot. Sometimes this happens to the tail as well. A jump or fall from a height, such as off a bed or outdoor embankment, is also a culprit of breaks in the extremities. Severe traumatic injuries, such as being hit by a car, can break ribs, legs, forearms and even the pelvis or skull.

More uncommonly, a specific type of cancer can form in the dog’s bones, making them brittle and prone to breaks. This condition is called osteosarcoma and is one of the more common cancers in young, large dogs. An injury can break a bone that has cancerous lesion, however the affected bone occasionally breaks with no previous trauma. This is rare, but a more likely reason for a young, healthy dog with no injury to develop a broken leg or forearm.

Symptoms of broken bones in dogs vary and are usually dependent on the location and severity of the break. A hairline fracture in a leg, for example, will likely cause a dog to limp and perhaps whimper when the leg is palpated, while an open fracture may cause the leg to dangle or lay in an odd direction and will almost always cause enough pain for a dog to cry out. A broken rib may not cause much more than lethargy and pain at the site of the break, or could cause enough pain to make a dog take short, interrupted breaths and whine or cry. Because of this variety of symptoms, any odd behavior after an injury should be evaluated by a veterinarian right away.

A veterinarian will perform a visual and physical exam on your dog to try and isolate the area that is painful. A broken bone is one of the more painful dog injuries. An x-ray will generally be ordered to detect a break in a bone. If a break is visualized, its severity and location will determine the course of treatment. A broken leg in a young dog may be splinted or placed in a cast for several weeks (usually 4-6 weeks, at least). As young dogs have bones that are still growing, they are more likely to heal with a cast or splint alone. Adult dogs may require surgical repair, such as the placement of a rod or plate, to repair severe bone damage. In the case of a shattered bone or bone cancer, many times the affected leg will have to be amputated. This seems drastic, however most dogs do very well with three legs; with cancer particularly, it is the best method of preventing spread to other areas of the body. Some bones, like the toes, don’t get much benefit from a cast or splint and are usually allowed to heal on their own with the assistance of pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. These drugs are commonly used after many types of fractures as they can be very painful.

Aside from prompt veterinary care, the best thing you can do for your dog with a broken bone is to prevent him or her from making it worse. Confinement is the best route to a fast recovery. Broken dog bones can seem frightening, but your veterinarian will know how to treat the issue fast and can help get your four-legged companion back on his feet in no time.