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

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

A cast is only one way to take care of a broken leg.

A cast is only one way to take care of a broken leg.

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 playfight, 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 a roll of gauze around the house, it makes a good quick muzzle. Just slip it over your dog's 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.

If the toes are next to each other, there is no swelling in your dog's foot and it is probably not broken.

If the toes are next to each other, there is no swelling in your dog's foot and it is probably not broken.

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 to 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.

Some breeds of dog are prone to fractures and must be handled carefully.

Some breeds of dog are prone to fractures and must be handled carefully.

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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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 Mark dos Anjos DVM


Mark dos Anjos DVM (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

Mark dos Anjos DVM (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.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (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.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (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!

Mark dos Anjos DVM (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.