How Do I Know If My Dog Has a Broken Bone and What Should I Do?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Dogs play hard, and it is not unusual to see a dog tossing another to the ground and grabbing his leg during play. If you own a Min Pin, an Italian Greyhound, or one of the other dog breeds with thin legs, every fall is frightening.

It is not unusual for a dog to limp after a play-fight, but when should you worry?

Signs of a Broken Bone in Dogs

SymptomType of Break

Swelling of the joint or toes

Closed fracture


Usually not broken, but can be a closed fracture

Inability to bear weight

Closed or open fracture

Leg hangs free, unnaturally

Open or closed fracture


Open or closed fracture

Wound and exposed bone

Open fracture

Bone sticking out through the skin

Open fracture

How to Handle Your Injured Dog

If your dog is limping, but does not have an open wound or a bone sticking out of a wound, you can try the simple exam in the video and pain medication if you really cannot afford to take him to a vet.

Your dog might have internal injuries you cannot see or is suffering from shock. He will also probably be in a lot of pain that you may not be aware of because most dogs will hide their symptoms.

If you have a credit card or any other method to pay the vet, please go ahead and get your dog checked out.

Your dog may not even have a broken leg. This is not a wasted trip to the vet—be happy! The vet might be able to put your dog on some pain meds and suggest rest.

If your dog has an open wound, however, there is no way you can wait. Some of these wounds get dirty quickly and when the bone becomes contaminated, it is very difficult to heal. If you put this off now, your dog might end up lame for the rest of his life, or even have his leg amputated.

What you need to do, of course, is to get your dog in the car and take him to the vet. Unfortunately, a dog in pain may end up biting you, no matter what his normal personality is like.

1. Muzzle your dog.

Most dogs will already be down, but if your dog is still standing up, try to encourage him to lie down. (Don’t force it. If he does not want to lie down it may be because he is in a lot of pain in the down position.) If you have roll gauze around the house, it makes a good quick muzzle. Just slip it over your dogs muzzle and wrap it around a few times. Do not make it too tight, and when his mouth is closed tie the gauze off behind his ears.

(Watch the video for details on how to do this correctly. I suggest you practice now when your dog is healthy.)

If you do not have gauze, muzzle your dog with a leash. You may not feel comfortable muzzling your dog, but besides keeping you from being bitten, the light pressure on his muzzle sometimes helps to calm him down.

2. Put on a temporary splint before trying to move your dog.

The next thing you should do before moving him is to keep the bone from moving and becoming worse. If you have an idea where the fracture is you can splint it with a rolled-up magazine and some duct tape, but do not try to put the bone back into position before applying the temporary splint.

Roll the magazine around the leg and put the tape on the outside of the magazine, not on your dog's leg. If he screams in pain when you try to splint the leg just leave him be and put him on the board that you are going to use to transport him.

If your dog has an open fracture, put a gauze pad (from your first aid kit) on top of the wound to keep it as clean as possible. If you have not made up a first aid kit, at least cover the wound with a paper towel.

3. Put your dog in the car and take him to the vet.

A small dog can be lifted up and carried. Put one hand under the belly and use the other to support his chest and draw him up next to you.

If you have a big dog, or you are worried that your small dog has a broken back, pick him up and put him on a board. Look around right now. What do you have around your house that you can use to move your dog?

Move him to the car and put him in the back seat. You should already have a regular vet, but even if you do not almost every clinic will be willing to help you.

Do I Really Need to Do All of This?

A broken bone might heal up with just a cast and some rest, but unless you take your dog into the vet and get him checked out you are not going to be sure of that.

Remember that your dog is like a child—he depends on you to do the right thing. Be responsible.

This is the best method of applying an emergency muzzle. It does take some practice, however, so now is the time to try it, not when your dog is injured and needs your help.

This muzzle is only for emergency situations and does not allow your dog to pant normally like with a "cage type" commercial muzzle. If you really need it, though, it is quick and may help.

Watch this now so you will be prepared if you ever need it.

Questions & Answers

Question: My Rottweiller was running and I thought he broke his back leg when he fell. I took him to the vet and he told me he will need surgery on his knee. What should I do?

Answer: Your dog most likely damaged his cranial cruciate ligament (ACL). There are several alternatives to surgery, and surgery is not always the answer to your dog's problems. Take the time to learn about the procedure and the alternatives before putting your dog through a major operation. You can learn more by reading

© 2014 Dr Mark

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 10, 2020:

Peter, that is not nearly enough information to help. All I can suggest is that you take her in to your local vet so that he or she can localize the pain and give you an idea what to do next.

peter on August 09, 2020:

my dog is yelping when i touch her back left side

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 27, 2020:

Cortney-- I am reluctant to suggest any sort of pain meds without examining the dog as there might be other injuries, internal bleeding, etc. The best thing you can do is make sure she stays confined, very calm. Are you able to crate her until you take her in for a vet exam?

Cortney on June 26, 2020:

Hi my dog was pushed down my stairs by my other dog while going outside and now her elbow looks like it’s out of place or something and she is limping really bad and she looks in pain is there anything I can do before having to go to the vet

Lauren on February 12, 2019:

I was told a week ago my 16 week old French bulldog pup has broken her elbow after jumping from my arms

Sandy Ege on April 12, 2018:

My shortie broke her left paw. The Vet put her in a cast. Last month we took her in to be check. Everything was healing fine. We took her in today & they stayed her leg & took cast off. If her leg had not healed all the way not put another cast on.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 13, 2014:

Thanks for stopping by and reading, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on July 10, 2014:

Excellent advice. Some dogs play so hard, and do damage to their legs. I hope it doesn't happen, but this is good to know if it does!

Linda Crist from Central Virginia on July 07, 2014:

Things are good, thanks. She does have one behavior that is quite strange and if you don't mind, I may email you about it.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 07, 2014:

Hi Linda thanks so much for those comments. This is one of those hubs I hope no one ever needs, but, as an Iggy owner, you know how important this info can be.

I hope things are going well for you and your new dog.

Linda Crist from Central Virginia on July 07, 2014:

Another terrific hub that everyone needs to read. Of course I love that you mention the Italian Greyhound too as they are probably the breed that is most susceptible to a break. They have no concept of fear and think they can fly. The gauze muzzle trick is a tool I have used over the years with 100% success. It was especially helpful with my Chow Chow who turned into Cujo when we walked into a veterinary office. :-) Voted up and across Dr Mark and sharing too. Also notimating for an Editors Choice!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 03, 2014:

Thanks for reading, Bob. Most of these health hubs do not get the kind of page views the big sites get, but hopefully they will help some dog owners make the right decision, some of the time.

Bob Bamberg on July 03, 2014:

Great hub, Doc, and very useful information! You do a lot to help people become more self-sufficient regarding their dogs. While we'll often treat our children for various maladies without medical intervention, we're a little more nervous about treating our dogs. Your hubs help people become do-it-yourselfers when it's appropriate to do so, while at the same time indicating to them when to seek a vet's advice or treatment. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Strains vs. Sprains

The words sound alike, but they mean different things.

Strains injure tendons that link muscles and bones. This can happen if your dog stretches too far, too much, or too often. Athletic dogs get strains, but this injury also can happen when a dog slips, falls, or jumps during normal play. In dogs, strains are common in the hips and thighs.

Sprains harm the ligaments that connect bones, which causes joint damage. Sprains can happen to hunting dogs who jump hurdles, as well as to the average dog who may hurt himself taking a hard landing off the couch, or even by something as simple as stepping in a hole. The wrist and knee are common joints for dogs to sprain. One of the most serious injuries is a torn cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which connects the bones of the knee.

The good news

Fractures do heal and bones often resume near normal shape and strength. Being vigilant, getting the right treatment, and easing your dog back into normal activity slowly means your injured pet can usually return to a completely normal, happy, and active life.

Broken bones are just the kind of unexpected accident that pet insurance is designed to cover, given that it’s not a pre-existing condition and the two-week waiting period after enrollment has passed. With Healthy Paws, you can be reimbursed up to 90% of your vet bills for broken bones and other incidents.

Types of Tail Injuries and Their Treatments

Your dog’s tail can become injured in a variety of ways, and each requires a slightly different treatment strategy. Some of the most common types of tail injuries include:

Cuts and Scrapes

Cuts (lacerations) and scrapes (abrasions) can happen for a variety of reasons, including fights with other animals, running through thorny bushes, or simply brushing up against something sharp. Cuts can also occur if your dog bites his tail (such as may occur in response to fleas), or if he slams it into something while wagging it enthusiastically. Some dogs may even suffer scrapes after wagging their tail across cement or asphalt.

Minor cuts can be treated with typical first aid techniques just wash the wound, apply a little triple-antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) and try to keep it clean and protected until it heals.

On the other hand, major cuts – those that will not stop bleeding, appear deep, or extend for more than an inch or two – will require veterinary attention. Such wounds may require stitches, elaborate bandages, and prescription antibiotics.

Skin Infections

The skin on your dog’s tail may become infected just like anywhere else on his body. This includes ailments like flea allergy dermatitis and hot spots, among others.

The treatment for skin infections of the tail mirror the treatments used to treat skin infections in other places, and typically involve cleaning of the afflicted area and the application of appropriate medications.

Your dog may also need to be fitted with an e-collar to prevent him from licking or chewing on the afflicted area.

Strains and Sprains

The muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your dog’s tail can become strained or sprained just like any other muscles — a condition vets often call “limber tail.” This normally occurs following overuse, but it can also precipitate from some type of trauma.

Many dogs suffer tail sprains or strains following extended swimming sessions, although hunting and herding dogs can also develop similar problems after working long hours.

These types of injuries usually resolve on their own with a few days of rest. However, it is important to visit your veterinarian if these types of problems linger.

Breaks and Dislocations

Breaks and dislocations are some of the more serious tail problems from which dogs can suffer. These types of injuries frequently occur when a dog’s tail is stepped upon, shut in a door or pulled (please do not pull your dog’s tail). In the case of a break, one or more vertebrae are fractured in the case of a dislocation, two or more vertebrae are separated.

Broken or dislocated tails are often extremely painful, so immediate veterinary attention is warranted. It isn’t usually possible to place a cast on a dog’s tail, so the treatment options are relatively limited. Nevertheless, broken and dislocated tails usually heal with time, rest and protection. However, they are often permanently kinked at the damaged spot.

Nerve Damage

The nerves connecting to your dog’s tail can become damaged through traumatic events, such as being hit by a car, or as a byproduct of slipped or damaged vertebral discs (in the back or tail). Because some of the nerves and muscles in your dog’s tail are connected to his rectum and bladder, these types of injuries can significantly compromise your pup’s quality of life.

Nerve damage can sometimes be treated through the use of steroids, and pain medications can help keep your dog comfortable. It will usually be necessary to treat the underlying cause (such as disc-related diseases) to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

Treating 6 Common Puppy Fractures

Zee Mahmood, a veterinary technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.

Puppies love to play, and we love to play with them. While playtime is very important for growing puppies, the level of play and exercise should be appropriate for them. Inappropriate exercise can lead to injuries, including broken (fractured) bones.

While you might think puppies are resilient and strong, their bones are actually fragile. Dogs’ bones reach maximum strength after puberty. Less dense bones, accordingly, mean more potential for fractures.

Signs that a puppy has fractured a bone may include obvious things like limping or not using one leg. Other, not so obvious, signs might be swelling of the injured area or pain such as guarding the injury, crying, not playing, or not eating. If your puppy displays such signs, it is always important to seek help from your veterinarian or the emergency clinic immediately, as things can worsen as time passes.

Your veterinarian will start with a thorough physical examination. A sedative may be necessary, as puppies may find it difficult to sit still, especially when in pain. X-rays will confirm that a bone is fractured, and show how complex the fracture is. Depending on the severity of the fracture, the repair may involve various techniques and implants. While some fractures may require only a splint to heal properly, others may need pins, plates and screws. Below are some of the more common fractures seen in puppies. [You may also want to learn some key terms your vet may use.]

Elbow fractures in puppies
The humerus is the bone of the arm, between the shoulder and the elbow. Trauma to this bone can cause a fracture of the outside part of the elbow (called the lateral condyle). Jumping from furniture or from a person's arms and landing incorrectly is most often the cause. Repairing this fracture usually involves a combination of pins and screws.

Radius-ulna fractures in puppies
The bones of the forelimb are the radius and ulna. This is a common fracture that typically occurs when a puppy jumps from furniture or someone’s arms. Most often, both bones break right above the wrist. The vast majority of situations require a plate and screws to correctly realign and heal this fracture. Splints alone typically are a recipe for failure in small dogs, because their blood vessels (providing nutrients) are different than in larger breeds.

Toe fractures in puppies
Broken toes commonly stem from falling or jumping from a high surface, such as furniture. This may also result from being stepped on accidentally by a human. Toe fractures often require pins to help the pieces line up and heal correctly, as well as a splint.

Hip fractures in puppies
Fractures of the hip stem from a traumatic fall. A broken hip might be repairable, usually with pins. Other times, surgery is performed to remove the head of the femur, i.e. the ball of the hip joint.

Tibial crest fractures in puppies
A dog's tibia is similar to our shin bone. The tibial crest is the top, front part of the bone. A tibial crest fracture can occur in a puppy after trauma, such as a fall. Pins are required through the broken portion to repair this type of fracture.

Growth plate fractures in puppies
Growth plates are the areas at the ends of growing bones that contain dividing cells, enabling the bones to become longer as the puppy gets older. As the puppy reaches puberty, the growth plates eventually close.

Until this happens, the growth plates are soft and easily injured. Two injuries can happen:

  • A fracture through the growth plate
  • A “crushing” injury, which can lead to a shorter bone or a deformed leg

Surgery is most often recommended to repair a fracture, although a splint may work in some cases. Not much can be done about a crushing injury, and it is rarely diagnosed immediately. The end result (a twisted leg) is most often diagnosed weeks to months after the injury.

It’s still important to exercise your puppy
Don’t let this make you fearful of playing with your puppy! Exercise and play are very important for growing puppies, both physically and mentally, but it is just as important to know what type of exercise is appropriate. Your veterinarian can help you determine an appropriate exercise regimen for your puppy, bearing in mind the breed, age, weight, and overall health. With a proper plan in place for your puppy, he can grow into a happy and healthy dog for many years of play and quality time.

Questions to ask your veterinarian about your puppy:

  • What kind of exercise is adequate for my puppy?
  • What should I definitely not do?
  • How long should play sessions last?

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Watch the video: How to treat Broken Bones and Bone Pain in Your Dog u0026 Cat

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