A closer look: Limb Fractures in Dogs
Broken legs are usually not an emergency. Severe bleeding or open fractures are indications to seek emergency attention. Even if not life-threatening, broken bones are painful and warrant veterinary intervention. Proper setting and early intervention are required to ensure the bones are able to heal in the most optimal position possible.
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Symptoms of limb fractures vary depending on the location and type of the fracture. Fractures can be a combination of types.
Types of fractures include:
- Incomplete: fracture extending part way around the bone
- Complete: fracture is through the circumference of the bone
- Comminuted: the bone is broken into at least three fragments
- Open: often seen with other wounds; fracture in which the bone is exposed to the outside environment through the skin
- Closed: often referred to as an internal fracture, this occurs when there is no exposure to the outside environment
- Salter-Harris: fracture goes through the growth plate of the bone
- Articular: fracture that involves the joint
Old age is a risk factor for limb fractures as older bones are less flexible and more brittle. Certain breeds may also be more prone to limb fractures. For example, toy breeds have tiny bones, which are easier to break.
Possible underlying causes of fractures include
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Sports, play and exercise
- Traumatic injuries
- Gunshot injuries
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Phosphorus toxicosis
- Vitamin A toxicosis
Testing and diagnosis
First steps may involve intravenous (IV) fluids, pain medications, and antibiotics to treat immediate symptoms. X-rays of the broken limb are taken, as well as potentially chest and abdomen x-rays to check for internal organ damage. Blood work may be done as well as an abdominal ultrasound.
Steps to Recovery
Treatment of the fracture depends on the location and type. Surgical repair is more likely to be recommended in dogs than in humans.
Types of fracture treatment include:
- External coaptation (casts and splints): More common in younger dogs, dogs with stable fractures, or fractures that occur below the knee or elbow
- Internal bone fixation with pins, rods, wires, plates, screws and/or nails
- External skeletal fixation with a device attached outside of the bone via pins, wires, etc. This is more common in open and comminuted fractures.
Sometimes amputation may be recommended in the case of a severely damaged leg.
Multiple rechecks with repeat x-rays are needed to make sure the bone is healing as expected and to reshape or mold the cast and change the bandage, if there is one. Physical therapy and rehabilitation will most likely be necessary.
Typical recovery is four to twelve weeks, depending on the size and age of the dog, the type of fracture, and the treatment selected.
Broken limbs due to motor vehicle accidents can possibly be prevented by leashing and keeping dogs confined to secure areas when outdoors. Ensuring a complete and balanced diet may help to prevent certain types of fractures. Regular veterinary care can help detect underlying health conditions that may contribute to the likelihood of broken bones.
Are Limb Fractures in Dogs common?
Broken limbs are fairly common in dogs.
- Stabilize patient
- IV fluids
- Pain medication
- X-rays and ultrasound
- Fracture immobilization/fixation
- Cast or splint
- Surgery (internal or external bone fixation)
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation
- Multiple rechecks and x-rays to monitor healing
- Home care of splits and fracture repair hardware