Prompt immobilization of a fractured bone will prevent a simple break from becoming a compound fracture (where the bone breaks through the skin) or a complicated fracture (damages internal organs). In most situations, broken bones are not life threatening unless they cause bleeding, interfere with breathing (broken ribs), or are crushing a vital organ.

Spotting a broken bone is not always easy. A dog with a broken leg will not use the affected leg and there may be swelling around the break site. The dog may hold the leg at an unusual angle or show movement in an area of the leg that should not be mobile. If a break is suspected, do not manipulate. Transport the dog to the veterinarian in the least traumatic manner possible. If the dog is small, hold the dog so the broken limb will hang free.

Although your main aim is to get the dog to the vet as soon as possible, immobilization of the break with a splint can prevent complications. Gently restrain the dog and apply a muzzle. Do not attempt to reset the bone. Any straight, firm object can suffice as an emergency splint, as long as it extends past the injured joint, immobilizing the joints above and below the injury. Tape or tie the splint into place so that it is secure, but not so tight that it cuts off circulation.

A back injury must be handled with extreme care. Transport the dog to the vet with the least movement possible. Do not bend the dog's back. Place it on a firm, large board or place it in a box that is large enough so it can lie flat. Skull injuries should be handled in the same manner. 

Care of Fractures

General Information:
Certain basic principles apply to fracture care, whether the injury is simple or complicated. These principles include:

  • Reduction of the fracture: placing the broken ends together.

  • Fixation of the fracture: fastening any fragments in place. 

  • Immobilization of the limb: keeping the parts motionless during the healing period.

To help your veterinarian employ these principles and achieve satisfactory healing, you must conscientiously follow home care instructions. Keep your pet away from wet grass, puddles, or damp ground. On rainy days, protect the splint or cast with a plastic trash bag. Remove the protective covering when indoors. Keep your pet away from dirt, piles of trash, garbage, or leaves. Isolate your pet from hazards such as throw rugs, slippery floors, and stairs. Remove objects or projections on which the splint or cast may get entangled.

Notify your veterinarian if any of the following occur:

  • The cast or splint becomes wet, damaged, or soiled.

  • Your pet chews away part of the cast or splint.

  • The pin, wire, or splint is bent, broken, or loose.

  • Your pet seems uncomfortable.

  • Your notice a bad odour from the cast or fracture site.

  • The cast slips down on the limb.

  • The limb is swollen or discoloured above or below the cast.

 Remember: Successful fracture healing depends greatly on home care.


Dogs sustain fractures and other traumas, just as humans do, most commonly as a result of being hit by a car, falls, abuse, and blunt trauma. Fractures can manifest themselves from dogs riding in cars when not properly restrained, from great falls, or from abuse. Depending on the mechanism of injury and what bones you suspect are broken or what other injuries are sustained will determine what emergency treatment technique is used. 

For the safety of the rescuer, it is important to muzzle the animal before evaluation and treatment commences, as even a friendly animal may attempt to bite if in pain. However, if the dog is unconscious and/or breathing difficulties are present, muzzling should not be done. 

In evaluating a dog with unwitnessed trauma, you should assess the Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. These are the A, B, Cs that are always part of a primary evaluation. Once any problems with the ABCs are corrected, airway maintained and bleeding controlled, you should quickly move to the secondary assessment of the animals condition. You may evaluate the dog’s level of consciousness by brushing a finger against the dogs 'eyebrow' whiskers. If the dog in not deeply comatose, you will observe the eyelid twitch. If the dog is breathless and pulseless, mouth to snout CPR should be started. You can receive special training in animal CPR. 

Start at the head and work your way along the dog’s body to the tail, palpating and examining each area. Then, examine all extremities. If you see blood in the ears, suspect skull fracture or brain injury. The dog’s pupils should be equal in size, otherwise there may be brain injury. Vomiting of blood may indicate brain injury or damage to internal organs in the chest or abdominal cavity. Any swelling of the abdomen could be related to the effects of the trauma or could be a sign of shock due to internal bleeding. Bloody froth coming from the snout or mouth is an indicator of internal injuries to the lungs and is a life threatening emergency. Deviation of the dog’s trachea, which is normally inline with the center of the neck, indicates a collapsed lung and requires immediate emergency care by a vet. Blood coming from the rectum or urinary tract may also indicate internal injuries. 

You can evaluate the strength, character, and rate of pulse by palpating the blood vessel in the dogs rear leg. You will feel a chord like structure on the inside of the dog’s upper hind leg, what we would consider the thigh. Use your fingertips to lightly press the vessel against the bone. Use an uninjured leg for this test. Do not use your thumb, because your thumb has a pulse and you will not be able to discern your pulse from the dogs. The pulse should be taken for 30 seconds (multiply the result by two to obtain the beats per minute) and should be strong, with no skips. The rate for a normal adult dog is around 70 - 180 beats per minute, a puppy is around 200. Weak, thready, or rapid pulse is indicative of shock. To treat a dog for shock, first immobilize the dog’s body as indicated below for spinal injury. Then, elevate the dog’s body so that the head is lower than the heart. 

Although there are many types of fractures, the emergency treatment is basically the same. For a compound fracture, where bone in sticking through the skin, do not attempt to straighten the extremity. You will need to use padded boards, rolled up newspaper, anything stiff to splint the injury with. All fractures must be immobilized “as they lay,” to prevent further damage. If bone is protruding and there is only oozing blood, protect the wound and broken bone ends with a clean, preferably sterile gauze pad moistened with saline or plain water. If there is spurting blood, a sign of blood coming from a damaged artery, you will have to use the animal’s pressure points to control bleeding. 

If there are no breaks in the skin and the dog is limping, you should look for deformities in the extremities, which are most commonly fractures, sprains, or strains. Treat any limp as though the extremity may be broken. Splint the extremity to prevent further damage and transport the animal to the veterinary hospital as soon as possible. Splinting will also reduce pain. Apply ice packs to any injured areas to reduce pain and swelling. The ice will also promote control of bleeding. 

If the animal has sustained a serious injury, such as being hit by a car and the dog cannot move its extremities, suspect a broken back. Gently pinch each extremity and the tail. If there is no response, the dog may be paralyzed. To transport an animal suspected of having a broken back, you must immobilize the entire animal. Enlist the help of bystanders to place the injured dog on a rigid surface, such as a board, even an ironing board may work in a pinch, large enough to hold the dog. One person should ensure that the dog’s neck moves as a unit with the rest of the animal as you log roll it or drag it onto the backboard. Use roller gauze, tape, rag strips, belts, or padded rope to help secure the dog to the board. Be sure to control any bleeding if present. For bleeding due to cuts or punctures, direct pressure is best. If the dog’s extremity is seriously mangled hanging by a thread, it may be best to use a tourniquet above the break. Loosen it slightly every 5 minutes and then re-tighten. Repeat the cycle as needed, but do not totally remove the tourniquet. Leave the tourniquet in place for the veterinarian. Use a wide strap or a belt, as thin materials, like rubber bands or string, may cause further damage to blood vessels. 

If the dog has sustained a penetrating injury, such as a gunshot, stabbing, puncture, or other penetrating injury, control the bleeding with direct pressure, but do not remove any impaled object. if the object, such as an arrow or stick is impaled in the dog, leave it in place and immobilize it with tape, gauze, and even a paper or styrofoam cup to prevent it from moving, causing further injury. 

Remember, time is of the essence, so conduct your assessment and treatment carefully but quickly. Then, package the animal for transport and proceed to the closest veterinary facility carefully and quickly. 

An untrained person can learn to save an animal's life, but the safest thing for you and the animal is to get some training. Check the resources below to learn where you may receive low cost training to assist animals in difficulty. 

By G. Petersen, Paralegal, PA EMT (Ret.) & Cynthia Elkey


"The most common cause of broken bones in pets is 'hit by car,' known as HBC among small animal veterinarians," says Dr. Ann L. Johnson, interim hospital director and veterinary orthopedic surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "Other causes include falling from a table, being bounced out of the back of a pick-up truck, bone disease, or repeated stress in active athletes."

A veterinarian's goals for repairing a broken bone are to align and reunite the pieces of bone, restore full function of the bone, and restore the normal appearance of the animal. The method used to achieve these goals depends on several factors, such as the severity and location of the fracture, the age of the animal, and anticipated patient and owner cooperation during post-operative healing.

Casts are a good method of stabilizing a fracture because their application doesn't require surgical invasion of the skin, muscle, or bone surrounding the fracture. However, the use of casts is limited to specific cases. The joints above and below the fractured bone must be immobilized, which eliminates use of casts on bones of the hip or shoulder. The fracture must be closed, meaning that there is no accompanying skin or muscle wound. Finally, the fracture must be relatively simple and easily realigned.

Some of the disadvantages of casts include the need to keep them clean and dry, the need for frequent changes and re-evaluations, and the possibility of developing cast sores, which would mean discontinued use of the cast. However, Dr. Johnson points out that in some cases the advantage of cast use, no surgical invasion of the tissue surrounding the fracture, outweighs these disadvantages.

Fractures too complicated to meet the requirements for a cast can be stabilized with surgically applied external fixators, intramedullary pins, orthopedic wire, bone plates, or any combination of these.

An external fixator consists of a rigid metal or acrylic frame outside the broken limb and long metal pins that go through the broken bone pieces and attach to the external frame. External fixation requires intensive postoperative care by the pet's owner, including daily cleaning and water massage, by whirlpool or hose, of the limb and limited postoperative activity of the pet. External fixators are removed once the fracture is bridged with new bone and is capable of supporting the animal's activity on its own.

Intramedullary pins (IM pins) are stainless steel rods inserted inside the broken bone. IM pins hold the pieces of bone together like beads on a string. Their use requires limiting the pet's post-operative exercise to prevent the rods from being dislodged, but they do not require intensive postoperative care by the owner. Like external fixators, IM pins are removed once the fracture is bridged with bone.

Orthopedic wire is used to connect fragments of bone or to anchor bone around IM pins, providing additional stability. One drawback is that orthopedic wire, if used improperly, may cut off the blood supply to the bone, which will prevent the fracture from healing. An advantage of using IM pins together with orthopedic wire is that the animal is able to use the fractured limb fairly well early in the post-operative period. Orthopedic wire may be left on the bone when the IM pins are surgically removed.

Another way to surgically stabilize broken bones is through the use of bone plates and screws. Stainless steel plates that span the length of a fractured bone are screwed directly to the bone to securely hold bone fragments together and promote healing. Plates and screws can be used for fractures of joints or for fractures of odd-shaped bones, like the pelvis, as well as long bones of the limbs. The advantages of bone plates are early post-operative pain-free use of the limb and minimal aftercare. Bone plates are usually left in place after the fracture has healed.

For more information on bone fractures in pets, consult your veterinarian.

Kim Marie Labak
Information Specialist
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
Web Site

  • Hernidisc, Joint Ease, Calcium Flour, Tissue Salts, Calcium Sandoz, Glucosamine + Fish Oil capsules are all good for broken bones.

  • Smearing Comfrey all over any breaks, sprains or bruising also "pulls" the pain out and helps heal. Comfrey is also known as Knit Bone.

  • Cartrin is also great for tendon and ligament tears.



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