Blog

How To Tell If Your Dog Has A Broken Leg

June 16, 2015

Broken legs in dogs are common. Dogs generally experience broken bones due to some kind of force or stress that their skeletal frame is unable to handle. If you are wondering how to tell if your dog has a broken leg, we’ve lined up all the signs that can help you figure it out.

HOW TO KNOW IF YOUR DOG HAS A BROKEN LEG - SYMPTOMS

How can you tell if your dog’s leg is broken? If you are wondering how to tell if a dog’s leg is fractured or broken, watch our informative video on the six symptoms that you should look for:

If you see any of these signs or symptoms (or a combination of these signs), you should take your dog to the veterinarian immediately for an examination and x-rays.

  • Visible Bone or Trauma: If you can see any actual bone sticking out or if your dog has a leg that is obviously in the wrong angle or position, there is definitely a bone-related issue (most likely fracture) that needs to be addressed.
  • Unwillingness to Bear Weight: When a dog has a leg injury, they often will be unwilling to bear weight on the hurt leg. Sometimes, they will pick up the leg and attempt to walk as a tripod.
  • Refusal to Play/Walk/Go up Stairs: A dog in pain may refuse to walk altogether or engage in normally playful activities. In such instances, there is a possibility that your dog is in pain because of a broken leg.
  • Watch for Unusual Aggression: A dog with a broken leg will often not allow you to touch their leg and will try to snap or bite if you come near their limb.
  • Howling or whimpering: If your dog is making unusual sounds, they may be in pain.
  • Loss of appetite/isolation: If your normally friendly dog starts to isolate himself and refuses to eat, there is usually some underlying medical issue. Combined with any of the previous signs, it could indicate pain from a fracture.

IS MY DOG'S LEG BROKEN OR SPRAINED?

Sometimes, what may meet the signs of a broken leg (especially when there is no visible trauma) could actually be a sprain. If your dog is still willing to put a little bit of weight on the leg, or is limping after a particularly active day but otherwise no injurious activities, you may want to keep an eye on it and see if the situation improves over a day or so.

It may be that your dog had a sprain/strain instead of a fracture. If you have noticed that your dog is suddenly limping, but can't tell whether it is serious, check out the following blogs: 15 Causes of Dog Limping and What to Do if Your Dog is Limping

Why is My Dog LimpingThere are some key differences between a sprain and a broken leg but unfortunately, many of the signs look the same. Furthermore, sprains can also be serious, as sometimes they require surgery when there is a tear that cannot be treated with rest and a brace. Instead of attempting to self-diagnose, the only way to tell whether a dog has a sprain or a broken leg is to take the dog for a complete visual exam and x-rays at the veterinarian.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOUR DOG HAS A BROKEN LEG

 How to Help a Dog with Broken Leg

If you think your dog may have a broken leg, read our post on How to Help a Dog with Broken Leg for specific instructions on how you should react.The key to a healthy recovery later on often lies in early detection and prompt treatment by a veterinarian. When a fracture is not addressed properly, the malformed bone can eventually result in infection, require surgery, and sometimes even amputation.

MY VET JUST TOLD ME MY DOG HAS A BROKEN LEG. IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO HELP MY DOG DURING RECOVERY?

YES! There are definitely some steps that will be key to supporting your dog's healthy recovery after a fracture. Make sure to read our guide on 11 Ways to Support Your Dog's Healing After a Broken Leg.  

If you followed all of our tips and your dog is home and recovering from a fracture, also make sure to read our blog The Bone Remodeling Process in Dogs Made Simple, to learn how to the bone healing process works and get your dog back on his feet faster.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO KEEP MY DOG'S BONES STRONG AND HEALTHY?

If you have a dog that has suffered from a fracture in the past, a tiny dog with fragile bones, a senior dog, an active dog, or even healthy dog that you want to keep healthy, you want to make sure to support their skeletal system as a preventive measure. 

Having strong bones can often help protect a dog from leg injuries becoming something more serious. Check out these 5 Ways to Make Your Dog's Bones Stronger for nutrition, supplementation, and other tips.

Boneo Canine

As far as supplementation, Boneo Canine, is definitely worth discussing with your veterinarian. This all natural lactoferrin-based supplement supports healthy bone turnover in dogs.

Causes of Broken Bones in Dogs 

Dog Broken Leg Causes_Dog Broken Leg Treatment

Broken bones in dogs can be caused for a number of reasons. When a situation arises where an unusual or atypical amount of stress is exerted onto the bone of a dog, it can result in a break or fracture. Some common examples that can result in a broken leg in a dog include:

  • Jumping from a Height - Dogs often suffer from fractures when they attempt to jump off of furniture such as a couch or tall bed. Just like with humans, your dog’s size and physical strength will determine whether this is something you should be concerned about. For example, a 90 lb Labrador may be able to regularly jump off a bed or sofa without injury, while a 4 lb teacup Chihuahua or Maltese could very well suffer a broken leg from such a fall. 
  • Pre-existing Injury – Dogs that have had a broken leg before can often re-injure or hurt themselves in the same spot because the limb is already weak. Even normal activities can cause problems if the dog’s is not properly set or strengthened after the initial injury. Make sure to speak with your veterinarian about preventive steps you can take to ensure that you are providing proper bone and joint support for your dog in such cases. Also check out our blog on 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Dog's Bones to see if you've been doing all you can do to keep their bones strong! 
  • Landing on Hard Surfaces - When a jump from a height is combined with a hard surface, such as concrete or wood flooring, the impact can be much greater. Carpet or a rug can sometimes prevent a fracture, while wood or tile can cause one. 
  • Getting Hit By a Car - Neo, the rescue dog who inspired Boneo Canine, suffered from a compound fracture after getting hit by a car. Dogs that get out of the yard or are somehow unsupervised on the street can break their legs by the impact of a car, and in many cases, even get killed. 
  • Retractable Leashes - Retractable leashes may seem like a convenient way to give your dog freedom while maintaining control but they can be extremely dangerous for your dog, you, and anyone around you, especially if you have a rowdy or uncontrollable dog. Retractable leashes have the potential of wrapping around limbs and causing very serious leg injuries, from breaks to even amputations. 
  • Rough-housing - If you have multiple dogs or take your dog to the dog park, they often can get outsized by other dogs. For example, if you have dogs that just go crazy to greet you at the door they can often jump over or on each other to be first in line. This can result in injury and even fracture. 
  • Surgery– Certain orthopedic surgeries, such as a TPLO surgery, require the bone to be cut in order for the orthopedic issue to be addressed. A bone leveling or cutting procedure is supervised by a veterinarian, but is still considered a broken bone for healing purposes.