Limb Fractures in Pets: Understanding and Care


Fractures, or broken bones, can occur suddenly and unexpectedly in our beloved pets. These injuries often result from significant trauma, such as accidents or falls, but can also be associated with underlying bone diseases like bone cancer. Even activities as simple as jumping after a Frisbee can lead to a fracture. Young, growing dogs, especially around their growth plates, are particularly susceptible to these injuries.

At Life Care Pet Hospital, we recognize the distress these situations can cause for both pets and their owners.

Types of Limb Fractures

Limb fractures in pets are diverse and may result from various causes, including accidents, diseases, or congenital factors. The primary types of limb fractures include:

  • Simple Fractures: These are clean breaks in the bone, sometimes without breaking the skin.
  • Compound Fractures: More severe, these fractures involve the bone piercing through the skin, demanding immediate attention and care.
  • Greenstick Fractures: Typically seen in young pets, greenstick fractures are partial breaks where the bone bends but doesn't completely break.
  • Comminuted Fractures: In this scenario, the bone shatters into multiple pieces, posing a more complex treatment challenge.

Recognizing and Diagnosing Fractures

In many cases, a broken bone is just one aspect of a larger traumatic event. It's vital that, after any traumatic incident, your dog receives prompt evaluation by a veterinarian. This is to ensure that life-threatening conditions are swiftly identified and treated. If the incident occurs during regular hours, contact your usual veterinarian. For emergencies outside regular hours, don't hesitate to seek help from an emergency veterinarian. Waiting is not advisable in such situations.

Immediately following trauma, it may not be clear if there are any broken bones. Your veterinarian or the emergency veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive assessment, which typically includes:

  • Radiographs (X-rays) of the chest, abdomen, and limbs
  • Possibly an ultrasound of the abdomen and chest
  • Blood work
  • Monitoring of vital signs

Pain management is a top priority, and your pet may require intravenous fluids and medications for stabilization. Fractures, if present, will be identified. In some cases, the fractured limb may be temporarily placed in a bandage or splint (for lower limb fractures) until surgical treatment can be scheduled. It's not uncommon for fracture management to occur 24-72 hours after the trauma. This time frame allows for the assessment of any damage to vital organs and ensures your pet is fit for the anesthesia required for fracture repair.

Treatment Options @ LifeCare Pet Hospital

Surgery is frequently recommended for most fractures. The choice of fixation method depends on the specific bone and the type of fracture. Our experienced surgeons offer a range of options for fracture repair, including:

  • Intramedullary pins and wire
  • Bone plates and screws
  • External skeletal fixation

Post-Surgery Care

After surgery, your pet will require a period of rest and limited activity, typically lasting 8-12 weeks. This means no running, jumping, or play. Leash walks for bathroom breaks are essential, and excessive climbing or jumping on/off furniture and stairs should be avoided. When not directly supervised, confine your pet to a crate, a small room, or a designated area to prevent overexertion. Excessive activity can lead to implant breakdown, soft tissue injuries, or delayed healing.

Around 2 weeks after surgery, staples/sutures will be removed or the incision will be evaluated. Radiographs will be taken at approximately 6 or 8 weeks, and possibly at 12 weeks post-surgery to assess healing. During these follow-up visits, an orthopedic exam will also be performed to ensure the surgical site is healing as expected.

We strongly recommend starting physical rehabilitation about 2 weeks after surgery. Rehabilitation includes once-weekly formal rehab sessions and at-home exercises. Patients undergoing formal rehabilitation often experience faster healing, maintain muscle mass and range of motion, and achieve superior outcomes.

Life After Recovery

Following surgery, we recommend that patients begin oral joint supplements, maintain a healthy body weight, and resume normal activity once fully healed. These steps, combined with surgery, help minimize and slow down the progression of osteoarthritis (OA).

Potential Complications

While we strive to ensure the best possible outcome, all surgeries carry some inherent risks. With fracture fixation surgery, the most common complications include:

  • Implant breakdown (pins, plates, or screws breaking or bending)
  • Infection (risk is relatively low, especially if the bone hasn't penetrated the skin)
  • Soft tissue injuries

In cases of infection, once the bone has healed, the pins, plates, or screws may need to be removed to resolve the infection. Implant breakdown and soft tissue injuries typically result from overactivity, which can often be managed with rest, rehabilitation, and medications.

At Life Care Pet Hospital, we prioritize your pet's well-being and are committed to providing the highest level of care and support throughout their recovery journey.

Please contact us if your pet is in need of Fracture repair.