A break in one or more bones of the dog’s skeletal system is called a fracture, for example the limbs, joints, hips, pelvis, head, jaw, ribcage; essentially where a bone exists there is risk of fracture if the following incidences occur:
1. Impact trauma
fall from height
crushed by being driven over
2. Physical trauma
kicking / beating
3. Medical condition
bone disorders which can be caused by poor nutrition, vitamin deficiency; or
other underlying diseases
The most common of all fractures to dogs is to the long bone (femur); located between the hip and the knee joint. Approximately 45% femoral fracture compared to 26% tibial fracture. 3 out of 4 small animals experience a long bone fracture in the hind limb 1.
types of fractures
“The shape and severity of the fracture depends on the force and type of the trauma”2
Fractures are classified as:
The break is only partway through the bone
The bone is broken through completely, including bone fragment
The break is at right angles, straight across the bone
The break is diagonal creating sharp bone fragments
The break is in multiple pieces or all shapes and sizes
As a dog owner it may only be possible to determine a fracture looking at signs and symptoms; concluding a closed or open fracture and then administer emergency first aid based on that and or where the fracture is located.
An open fracture means that the bone has pieced the skin and a closed fracture simply means it has not broken through the skin. We want to stabilise and protect from infection and further pain.
‘a major impact trauma could cause multiple bone fractures throughout the dog’s skeletal system’3
signs & symptoms
Your dog may show some or all of the following:
Dog reacts in pain to touch
Localised swelling or bone deformity
Loss of movement in the injured limb
Unable to walk or stand on leg; carries limb off the ground; limb may appear to be swinging
Bone has pierced the skin (open fracture)
Loud crunching noise (crepitus) on movement
Dog appears confused
Depending on location of fracture, dog could experience total or partial paralysis
Dog may experience intense pain when trying to sit down or get back up
Always manage for potential spinal injuries in falls
1. Undertake Primary Assessment
a) Check for Dangers – a danger may be that you are in traffic for example. A danger to your dog may be that they have sustained a spinal injury and not managing for spinal injuries may cause permanent disability or be life-threatening. Dog may become aggressive and bite you.
b) Is your dog responding to your voice or your touch? If not, your dog may be unconscious
c) Send for help; if there is someone else in the house get them to do things like get the first aid kit, prepare the car, call the Vet. They may help you lift your dog and maintaining spinal and fracture precautions
d) Check the airway for blockages or foreign objects; remove if there is. If your dog sustained an impact trauma there may be teeth in the mouth, swollen or injured tongue.
e) Check the breathing (respirations) e.g. count the rise and fall of the chest – start artificial respiration if not breathing. Is the breathing normal or shallow, fast or not breathing? If there was damage to the lungs or brain after a major trauma your dog may cease breathing at any time.
f) Check circulation (pulse) – does your dog have a pulse? Injury to the chest, brain, lungs, severe bleeding and or damage to other internal organs may cause the heart to cease - start CPR if no pulse
2. Muzzle your dog to avoid being bitten (unless dog has breathing difficulties, jaw injury
or chest injury).
3. Keep animal still, physically restrain to ensure remains still for treatment and to not
impact injury further.
4. Place a padded wound bandage on the injured limb.
5. Immobilise leg with splint; support the limb above and below the break.
Slide the splint under the limb; do not lift the limb if you can help it. If the break is in the
femur and you decide to splint, ensure the splint covers the entire leg, it will help reduce
pain when moving your dog.
6. Secure the splint in place
a) Makeshift splints: piece of wood; ruler; flattened box; cardboard; folded tea towel; are all good for stabilising fractures.
7. Put a cone on the dog if you have one. You could use a towel wrapped around the neck
and secure closed with a rolled bandage, belt etc.
8. For an open fracture where the bone protrudes out of the skin, put a donut bandage in
place. (or use 2 rolled bandages, one either side of exposed bone); wrap with bandage
to ensure the bone is covered and protected (ensure the donut / rolled bandages sit
higher than the exposed bone), then splint opposite side.
9. Place dog in carrier, crate or open box to transport to vet. Do not lie the dog on the
Carry in arms making sure injured side is not against your body. Support head and hips, or place into carrier before taking to car.
Place on blanket and get someone else to help ‘stretcher’ dog or if dog can walk despite one injured leg, support with a sling, e.g., Use a towel and place under hips to secure when walking to car or to lift into vehicle.
10. Wrap in warm blanket.
11. Monitor during transport to vet to make sure the dog is staying still and not resting on
If you have someone who can drive you:
If your dog stops breathing, begin artificial respiration on the way to the vet surgery
If your dog’s heart stops beating, begin CPR on the way to the vet surgery
Fursafe Emergency Dog First Aid Guide
1, 2 and 3Merck Veterinary Manual