Understanding broken bones in dogs

June 14, 2024 - 7 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Rebecca MacMillan on June 14, 2024 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

A curly fur dog with a bandaged front leg is standing and eating from a bowl in an indoor setting.

As a pet parent, seeing your dog in pain is heartbreaking, especially when it's due to a broken bone.

But how can you tell if your dog has broken their leg or not? And what can you do if you think they have?

We'll cover the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for broken bones in dogs, so we can make sure your furry friend gets back on their paws as soon as possible.

Common causes of broken bones in dogs

Broken bones in dogs can occur for several reasons, often unexpectedly. Understanding these causes can help you prevent such injuries.

Traumatic incidents

Cocker Spaniel puppy falling next to green plastic green cup on grass

Traumatic events are the most common cause of broken bones in dogs. These incidents can include:

- Car accidents: Sadly, car accidents are a leading cause of severe injuries in dogs. Whether it's a momentary lapse in vigilance or a sudden dash into the street, the result can be devastating.

- Falls from heights: Dogs are curious creatures, and sometimes that curiosity leads them to take leaps they shouldn't. A fall from a significant height can easily result in broken bones.

- Rough play or accidental collisions: Dogs love to play, but sometimes their playful antics can lead to serious injuries, especially if they collide with something hard or land awkwardly.

Bone diseases

Vet examining puppy

Certain diseases can weaken bones, making them more susceptible to fractures:

- Osteodystrophy: Underlying health conditions that affect bone formation can lead to bones becoming porous and weak, significantly increasing the risk of fractures, even with minor impacts.

- Bone cancer: Cancerous growths can weaken bone structures, making them prone to breaking even with minimal trauma.

Nutritional deficiencies

dog with carrot

A lack of essential nutrients can lead to weakened bones, making fractures more likely. Ensuring your dog has a balanced diet rich in calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins is vital for bone health.

Knowing these causes can help you take steps to protect your dog from potential injuries.

Types of bone fractures in dogs

Fractures can vary in severity and type. Here are the most common ones:

Fracture type Characteristics
Simple fracture A clean break that does not puncture the skin
Compound fracture A break where the bone pierces the skin, increasing the risk of infection
Comminuted fracture A fracture where the bone is shattered into several pieces
Greenstick fracture An incomplete fracture, where the bone bends and cracks, often seen in puppies

Simple fractures

A clean break that does not puncture the skin. These fractures, while serious, are generally easier to treat and have a good prognosis if handled promptly.

Compound fractures

A break where the bone pierces the skin, increasing the risk of infection. These fractures are more complicated and require immediate and intensive care to prevent further complications.

sad injured labrador retriever lying on vet's office table with leg in splint

Comminuted fractures

A fracture where the bone is shattered into several pieces. These fractures are often the result of high-impact trauma and can be particularly challenging to treat due to the multiple bone fragments.

Greenstick fractures

An incomplete fracture, where the bone bends and cracks, is often seen in puppies. These fractures occur because young bones are softer and more pliable than those of adults.

Understanding the type of fracture is crucial for proper treatment and recovery.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Jack Russell dog on beach with white and brown markings, appears to be limping

Recognizing the signs of a broken bone in your dog and seeking prompt veterinary care is essential.

Observable symptoms

Identifying a dog's broken bone can be challenging, but common signs include:

- Limping or inability to use a limb: A key indicator of a broken leg. If your dog suddenly starts favoring one leg or avoids putting weight on it, this could be a sign of a fracture.

- Swelling or bruising: Around the affected area. Swelling indicates inflammation and possible internal damage, while bruising suggests bleeding under the skin.

- Visible deformity: Such as an unnatural angle of the limb. A bone that's visibly out of place is a clear sign of a serious injury.

Behavioral changes

Changes in your dog's behavior can also signal a problem:

- Whining or excessive licking of the affected area: Can indicate pain or discomfort. Dogs often lick their wounds as a way to soothe themselves.

- Reluctance to move: Due to pain or fear of worsening the injury. If your normally active dog suddenly becomes lethargic or avoids movement, it could be due to a broken bone.

Diagnostic procedures

vet wearing red shirt and white coat examines black dog's paw atop an operating table.

Veterinarians use several methods to diagnose broken bones:

- Physical examination: Initial assessment of the injury. The vet will palpate the area, check for pain responses, and look for signs of swelling or deformity.

- X-rays and other imaging techniques: Provide a clear view of the fracture. X-rays are the gold standard for diagnosing bone fractures and help determine the extent of the injury. Occasionally, other imaging techniques are used, like computed tomography (CT) scans.

A prompt and accurate diagnosis is vital for effective treatment, so if you suspect your dog has a broken bone, get to your vet ASAP!

Treatment options

Veterinarian bandaging paw of the dog at the vet clinic

Once a fracture is diagnosed, various treatment options are available to make sure your dog heals properly.

First aid for broken dog bones

Immediate first aid can stabilize the injury before professional care is available. Check out our first-aid tips for dog owners.

Veterinary interventions

Depending on the severity, treatment can include setting the bone, surgery, or placing a cast or splint. The goal is to help the bones heal properly and restore as much function as possible.

Pain management

Managed pain helps your dog rest and heal—just follow your vet's advice on activity limits to keep them safe. While medication can keep your pup comfy, it's important to make sure they don't get too active and risk further injury.

Post-treatment care

After treatment, there are a few ways you can help your dog heal up. Here are a few:

Home care instructions

Follow your veterinarian's instructions for home care. This will likely include limiting your pup's movement (you might need to use a crate), administering pain relief, and keeping the cast or splint dry and intact.

Small lap dog sitting on owners lap

Follow-up vet visits

It's important to make any follow-up visits so your vet can assess how well the bone is healing and make any needed adjustments to the treatment plan. Effective post-treatment care will help your dog return to normal activities faster!

Prevention strategies

Prevention is always better than cure, right? While you can't plan for every spill, there are some proactive steps you can take to minimize the risk of fractures in your dog.

puppy with black ears and white body with a pink shoe in its jaws

Environmental safety

Make your home safe for your dog by securing high places and supervising outdoor activities. Simple pup-proofing safety measures like using baby gates to block off staircases or removing potential tripping hazards can significantly reduce the risk of accidents.

Diet and nutrition

labrador retriever holds empty stainless steel dog bowl in its mouth

A balanced diet is key to bone health. Ensuring your dog gets the right nutrients can help keep their bones strong and healthy. Not sure what to feed your dog or if you need to adjust their diet? Ask your vet for advice!

Regular veterinary check-ups

Routine visits to the vet can help catch potential issues early, making it easier to detect health problems that could weaken your dog’s bones.


Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments of dog broken bones is vital for every pet parent.

And again, while you can't predict every potential ailment, you can at least focus on providing the best care possible, promoting swift recovery, and reducing the risk of fractures in the future.

By the way, when your dog becomes seriously ill (or has a broken bone!), having a good insurance plan could save you hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Having insurance can provide peace of mind and ensure your dog gets the best care possible without financial stress! Learn more about ManyPets dog insurance and get your risk-free quote today.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What are the most common signs that my dog has a broken bone?

Common signs include limping, swelling, and visible deformity. If you notice any of these signs, it's crucial to seek veterinary care immediately!

What should I do if I suspect my dog has a broken bone?

Reach out to your vet ASAP and try to keep your pet calm and still. Avoid trying to move or reset the bone yourself, as improper handling can make things worse.

How long does it take for a dog's broken bone to heal?

Healing times vary but typically range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the severity of the fracture and the age and health of the dog.

Can broken bones in dogs heal without surgery?

Some fractures can heal without surgery, but this depends on the type and severity of the fracture. Your vet can determine the best course of action based on your dog's injury.

What are the risks of not treating a broken bone in my dog?

Untreated fractures can lead to chronic pain and improper healing. These can severely impact your dog’s quality of life and mobility.

Are certain dog breeds more prone to broken bones?

Yes, some breeds may be more susceptible due to their size, activity level, or genetic predisposition.

Breeds with delicate bone structures like Italian Greyhounds or high energy levels may be at greater risk. Learn more about traits of different dog breeds.

Can puppies break bones more easily than adult dogs?

Puppies have more flexible bones but can still suffer fractures, especially during rapid growth phases. Their curious and adventurous nature can also put them at higher risk of accidents.

What should I do if my dog's cast or splint gets wet or damaged?

Reach out to your vet immediately for guidance on how to proceed if they didn't provide instructions on discharge. A damaged cast or splint can compromise the healing process and may need to be replaced.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.