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Broken Bones in Dogs

Broken bones in dogs are pretty common. Before discussing symptoms, let’s first discuss what bones are and their composition. The bone is living, growing biomaterial that has a multitude of functions, from providing a skeletal framework to storing minerals. Bone is mostly composed of collagen, calcium and other minerals. Collagen is a protein that provides a soft framework. Calcium is a mineral that adds strength and hardens the framework. This combination of collagen and calcium makes bone strong and flexible. To learn more about the anatomy of the bones, visit our section on the canine skeletal system.

Broken bones in dogs are typically caused from accidents, such as getting hit by a car, falling, and repetitive activity. In dogs, femur fractures make up 45% of the fracture cases (a majority of these involve the hind legs). The second most common long bone fracture in dogs is the tibia, followed by the radius and ulna. It is common for dogs to fracture both the radius and ulna in traumatic accidents such as car accidents or falls. Humeral fractures account for 10% of all limb fractures.

Some people mistakenly believe that a fracture and a break are different in their severity or type - this is not true. Anytime a bone breaks, it is called a fracture. There are, however, different TYPES of broken bones (i.e. fractures) in dogs. 

Causes of Broken Bones in Dogs

When an unusual or atypical amount of physical stress is exerted onto the bone of a dog, it can result in a break or fracture. Some common causes include:

Jumping from a Height - dogs can injure themselves when they jump from 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. Meanwhile, a 4 lb teacup Chihuahua or Maltese could very well suffer a broken leg from such a fall.

Pre-existing Injury – Dogs that have broken a leg before can often reinjure or hurt themselves in the same spot. 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.

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 cause fracture. 

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 can get seriously injured by the impact of a car. In some cases, these injuries can result in death.

Retractable Leashes - Retractable leashes may seem like a convenient way to give your dog freedom, but think twice. These leashes can be extremely dangerous for your dog, you, and anyone around you, if you have a rowdy or uncontrollable dog. Retractable leashes have the potential of wrapping around limbs and causing serious leg injuries.

Rough-housing - If you have multiple dogs or take your dog to the dog park, they often can get outsized by other dogs. Even innocent rough-play can result in injury and fracture.

Surgery– Certain orthopedic surgeries, such as a TPLO surgery, require the bone to be cut and reshaped. Even though a bone leveling or cutting procedure is supervised by a veterinarian, it is still considered a broken bone for healing purposes.

Types of Fractures in Dogs:

Based on the complications associated, fractures are classified as simple, compound or complicated.

Simple fractures involve only the bone, with little damage to the surrounding tissue. This type of broken bone is relatively simple to fix with a cast, crate, supplement, and restricted activity.

Compound fractures occur when a bone breaks and fragments penetrate the skin. This fracture is more difficult to fix due to the involvement of damaged soft tissue surrounding the fractured bone. Compound fractures usually require clean up of the fragments and a plate to ensure union.

Complicated fractures are the most serious type of broken bone. They are severe breaks accompanied by an additional problem, such as a pinched or torn nerve, a punctured vein or artery, or a pierced body cavity or joint.

fracture healing dogs boneo canine

How To Tell If Your Dog Has A Broken Bone

When dogs are in pain, they will often start whimpering, howling and exhibit visual signs of pain. Be observant for signs of swelling, an inability to put any kind of weight on the affected limb (dogs will often "carry" a broken limb rather than walk on it), inability or unwillingness to climb or jump down, and limping.

Also watch for behavior changes in your dog. When dogs are not feeling well, they don't usually act "normal". Growling or showing teeth when you touch the affected area is common, as dogs can get scared when something is wrong with their bodies. It's also very common to experience loss of appetite and start hiding. 

Want to learn more about dog fractures? Read our blog on How To Tell If Your Dog Has A Broken Leg and watch the video below:

Further Reading

The Stages of Fracture Healing in Dogs

Tips on handling the Recovery Phase

Options for Preventive Care

Blog post on How to Handle an Emergency Vet Visit

This content is written by our Clinical Advisory Board for informational purposes only. It should not be viewed as an endorsement for any product or as a substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.