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A fracture is a broken bone. Just like humans, dogs are also prone to bone fractures. Dogs are more likely to fracture the bones which are longer and bear more weight, like the femur (thigh bone) or the radius and ulna (the bones in the limb).

While most fractures occur after a traumatic event, like after being hit by a car or falling from a height, some dogs may also get fractures due to weakening of the bone, seen either in the case of cancerous conditions, such as osteosarcoma or in case of calcium deficiency in the body. The owner needs to be careful while taking the dog to the vet.

Not only limbs, dogs can fracture various other parts of their body like ribs, back or tail. Different fractures require different approaches for their management. The treatment of the fracture depends upon the type and area of the fracture. For instance, a complete fracture in an older dog would require surgical plating whereas an incomplete fracture might get healed with the help of a cast only. 

Once the fracture has healed, the dog may require assistance to stand up and walk for the first few days after the treatment. Compressions, physical therapy and massages would be required by the dog for complete healing of the fracture site. 

  1. Signs of fracture in dogs
  2. Causes of fracture in dogs
  3. Types of fracture in dogs
  4. Diagnosis of fracture in dogs
  5. Management of fracture in dogs
  6. Treatment of fracture in dogs
  7. Aftercare for fracture in dogs

Signs of fracture could vary depending upon the area fractured, but the common signs of fracture in dogs are:

  • Crying
  • Limping while walking
  • Swelling at the site of the fracture
  • Lameness (disturbance in gait)
  • Shortening of the fractured limb
  • Holding up the fractured limb while walking
  • Not being able to stand up (if the backbone or ribs are fractured)

There are certain causes of fracture in dogs:

  • Breed: Some toy breeds like chihuahuas, Shih Tzus and pugs, have tiny bones that can easily break.
  • Age: Older dogs are more prone to fractures. Overexcited puppies also tend to break their bones because their young bones are not yet fully formed.
  • Road accidents: Trauma due to vehicular accidents cause the maximum number of fractures in dogs.
  • Falls: Fall from a great distance can fracture bones in dogs.
  • Playing: Overexcited dogs tend to fracture their limbs while playing.
  • Diet: If your dog is not getting enough calcium in their diet then their bones will grow weak and can fracture more easily. 
  • Underlying disease: Diseases like hypertrophic osteodystrophy (a developmental disease in large breeds) and osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) tend to weaken the bones, thus they get prone to fractures.
  • Bone cancer: Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer diagnosed in dogs. It causes sudden fractures.

There are different types of fractures that can be seen in dogs.

Depending upon the extent of the fracture:

1. Complete fracture: Complete fractures are the ones where the bone has fully broken. The two pieces of the bone could be overriding each other or could deform the site completely. These kinds of fractures are most common in dogs. 

2. Incomplete fracture: An incomplete fracture is the one where the bone has cracked but not detached completely. Since some portion of the bone remains intact, the ends of fracture won’t be seen riding each other.

Depending upon the exposure of fracture:

1. Closed fractures: Closed fractures are also called simple fractures. In the case of a closed fracture, the fractured bone remains in place within the skin and musculature that surrounds it. There is no visible wound overlying the fracture, so the fracture is not exposed to the outside environment.

2. Open fractures: Open fractures are also called compound fractures. In these fractures, there would either be a large wound on the skin or a small puncture on top of the fracture site. This exposes the fracture to the outside environment, thus making it prone to contamination.

Depending upon the angle of fracture:

1. Transverse fracture: The fracture line is horizontal across the bone.

2. Oblique fracture: The fracture line is diagonal across the bone.

3. Comminuted fracture: The fracture is in three or more places.

Depending upon the number of fractures:

1. Single fracture: There is only one fracture site in the bone.

2. Multiple fractures: There are more than 2 fracture sites in the bone.

The signs of fracture can be easily noticed by any owner at home. If you find your dog crying, limping, and walking in a different manner, rush your dog to your vet.

If the dog has been in a vehicular accident, then you need to be careful while you take them to the vet, as the dog might have some internal injuries too. 

X-rays and CT scans are done to find out the exact location, extent and severity of the fracture. Ultrasonography and blood tests are done to detect possible chest, abdominal, brain or spinal damage.

Fractures in different parts of the body require different management before taking the dog to the vet.

Broken ribs

If your dog has broken ribs:

  • Check if there are any open wounds in the chest area. If present, cover the wounds with clean gauze and then wrap the whole chest with clean sheets. 
  • Do not wrap the sheets tightly or else they would interfere with the dog’s breathing. 
  • If you notice any soft bulge in the chest that could mean that the lung has been punctured.
  • If you notice any hard bulge in the chest that could be the end of a broken rib.
  • If your dog is finding it difficult to breathe and is making a sucking sound, then you need immediate medical assistance. 
  • While taking your dog to the vet do not lift or carry them by their chest.

Broken back

If your dog has a broken back:

  • If required, put a muzzle on your dog.
  • Now put your dog onto a flat board without bending their back and strap them to restrict any movement.
  • Do not try to splint the back and rush to your vet immediately.

Broken limb

If your dog has a broken limb:

  • If required, put a muzzle on your dog.
  • With the help of a folded towel, support the broken limb. Do not try to reset the bone. 
  • If you see deep laceration on top of the broken limb, cover it with clean gauze, a bandage or a towel. Do not apply any antiseptic or ointment.
  • If there is no outer injury, try to splint the limb with the help of sturdy material like a hardcover book. This will help prevent damage to the nerves and blood vessels.
  • Once splinted, take the dog to your vet for further treatment. Keep the dog warm to reduce the chances of shock.

Broken tail

If your dog has a broken tail:

  • If the tip of the tail is fractured, it heals without any treatment. The tail might have a bump or a kink at the fractured site, but it is harmless.
  • If the bones of the tail are completely crushes, the tail might have to be amputated because, if the injuries near the base of the tail spread, it could lead to nerve damage.

Treatment of fracture in dogs is not easy because unlike humans, you cannot restrict the movements of your dog by much.

  • Fractures in young puppies can be treated using fibreglass casts.
  • A cast or a splint could be applied onto the fractured limb to restrain the movement of the bone.
  • External frames are surgically attached to the fracture site with the help of pins that thread into the bone. These pins are connected to a rigid bar with clamps to splint the bone on the outside. Once the fracture is healed, the pins are removed.
  • Various implants like plates, screws, nails, pins and wires are used to fix the broken site in the bone. These are permanently fixed onto the bone and stay forever in the body of the dog.

Once the fracture site is treated by the vet, there are some measures that the owner needs to take:

Bandage care

A bandage can be applied by your vet for the fracture treatment or after the surgery to help with pain and swelling. The bandage should be carefully monitored and maintained for it to work effectively. 

  • The owner should monitor the bandage regularly because if it changes position or becomes wet or loses its integrity, serious problems may occur with healing. A loose bandage can also develop new pressure sores so it should be replaced by the vet.
  • In case of a limb fracture, if the paw is free of bandage, make sure that the two central toenails are close together. If the toenails are spreading apart, it could indicate swelling on the toe. You need to take your dog to the vet within 4-6 hours to assess the situation. 
  • To keep the bandage clean and dry, place a plastic baggy on the end of your dog’s feet every time they go outside. Do not cover the feet while indoors.
  • Get your dogs’ bandage changed if it gets wet or stinks. 

Activity restriction

Activity restriction is required throughout the healing period.

  • To restrict the activity of your dog, you may use baby gates. This would prevent the dog from accessing slippery floors or stairs. 
  • Do not let them jump on or off the furniture. Restrict running and jumping for a while. 
  • You may use a short leash when you take your dog out for bathroom breaks. 
  • Continue the restriction until your vet confirms with an x-ray that your dog’s bone is healed completely. 

Assisting your dog

You need to help your dog during the recovery period after the treatment.

  • Once the sling/bandage is off or just after the surgery, help your pet stand and walk in the first few days or weeks. Even if your dog is able to move on their own, it is advised to provide them assistance on slippery surfaces or when going up or down the stairs. 
  • There are several sling-type products commercially available that are specifically designed to help you help your dog walk during their recovery. 

Physical therapy

When the fracture heals, the dog might feel that the leg is weak or hurts while standing, so they don’t use it properly. If a leg is not used for several days to weeks, the joints start to stiffen up, the muscles get smaller and bone healing delays.

To make the fractured part function properly, your dog might need physical therapy. Careful coordination between your pet’s veterinary surgeon and physical therapist can have excellent outcomes.

There are some simpler methods that can be used at home:

  • Cold compressions: In the first week after injury, apply cold packs to the fracture site to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain.
  • Range of motion therapy: In the first month after injury, try to flex and extend the joints of the injured leg without creating pain. You can keep this range of flexion and extension small initially. As healing improves, more stretching can be done to get a complete range of motion.
  • Manual massage: Once the inflammation subsides, begin massaging the skin and muscles around the injured bone. Massaging will help prevent the formation of tough scar tissue, which can restrict normal movement.
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