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May 11, 2016

First Aid tips for Fractures in Animals

Fractures simply mean broken bones. The break in bones may be a complete break or a partial break meaning that the bone may just be cracked or bent. However, this kind of partial break is usually much more painful than a complete break. Also, fractures may be closed – where the skin is unbroken and unexposed; or open – where a wound leads to the fracture or the bone may be exposed. Open fractures are generally more serious because it may result in infections and extra care is required for healing to be complete.


Generally, fractures are usually one of the most painful conditions in both humans and animals. For dog owners, it is common to see them panic and/or feel very emotional about their fractured dogs as it is almost evident to “see” or “feel” the pain and great discomfort that the dog experiences. Leg fractures are the most common fractures and generally, an animal with a fracture is definitely a much less active animal needing urgent attention and care.

Causes of fractures

Fractures in animals may be caused by the following;

  • Direct force; which is the most common cause of fractures in animals. It is usually due to being hit by automobiles such as cars, trucks and bicycles.
  • Falls; like being dropped or thrown
  • Being stepped on or kicked
  • Getting the leg caught while the body is still in motion.

Signs and symptoms of fractures

  • The limb may appear deformed, twisted or shortened.
  • The animal will be limping and not be able to use the leg at all. If the animal can use the leg, it will be mostly held up. Sometimes the foot will be rested on the ground when the animal is standing at rest.
  • There will be severe pain at or near the fracture site. Some animals will not allow the limb to be handled at all by their owners and they may even become aggressive or bite their owners over it.
  • There will be swelling around the fracture. Also, bruises may be observed especially if the hair around the fracture is parted
  • If you move the joints or limbs, you may feel the animal’s bones grind or grate under your fingers.
  • The animal may go into shock due to severe pain and/or blood loss as commonly associated with femoral or pelvic fractures.
  • There may be behavioral changes such as lack of appetite, depression, and aggression when the sore area is touched
  • Paralysis may occur if the nerve is affected
  • The bone may be seen protruding through the skin as in common with compound fractures


First aid treatment for fracture in dogs

First of all, it is important to emphasize that all fractures need professional veterinary attention. However, in cases where help from veterinarian is not available immediately, it would be very helpful for the animal (and the owner) to administer some key first aid/emergency health interventions. Besides, the first aid will go a long way in easing the pain and discomfort of the animal before being transported to the veterinarian. Note that these first aid advices are mainly used as a first line of treatment and professional veterinary care is still very necessary to provide full treatment.

For this purpose, we would give a model first aid process using a case of a dog fracture as an example. First Aid materials in case of a dog fracture include;

  • Muzzle or leash for providing gentle restraint for the dog
  • Clean water or saline solution to clean any wounds
  • Towel, cardboard or strong flat board to carry and support your animal
  • If you attempt to splint just in case there are no veterinarians around, splint materials needed include sticks, straightened wire hanger which should be taped at the ends, stiff cardboard, rolled newspaper or magazine, rulers. Materials to secure splint in place such as gauze, strips of fabric or adhesive tape

Before administering first aid, make sure your dog is as comfortable as possible and someone is available to watch the animal.

For general first aid management for dogs, you should take the following important steps

  • First approach the animal carefully and speak in a soft, soothing voice. You should remember that a dog with a fracture may not recognize you at that time or may bite you out of fear or pain.
  • Ensure that your pet is muzzled or restrained with a leash in such a way as to minimize head movement of the animal
  • Gently lay your pet on a flat surface for support and allow your animal to make itself comfortable instead of forcing it into a position you think will be comfortable.
  • Control bleeding
  • Examine the leg carefully and gently and determine if the fracture is open or closed as previously described
  • If the fracture is open, flush the wound thoroughly with clean water and cover the wound with a sterile bandage, clean cloth or napkin. Then, hold a folded towel or pad under the limb for support and transport the dog immediately to the veterinarian. It is strongly advisable not to splint the fracture yourself. A splint that is badly done will worsen the fracture.
  • If a compound fracture has occurred, wet a towel, blanket, or other cloth and gently place the cloth over the area where the bone is protruding from the skin. Then try to gently immobilize the area or keep your dog as still as possible as you transport the dog to the veterinarian
  • If you must splint immediately especially in cases of closed fracture when there is no vet immediately around, use any of the splint materials you have to immobilize the limb. Attach the splints to the fractured leg with torn strips of cloth or gauze. Tape the strips or tie firmly. Do not make it tight so that blood circulation will not be disturbed. If you are using a tape, wrap a towel or even tissue paper around the splinted leg before taping so that it doesn’t get stuck to the animal’s hair and cause pain during removal. Then, transport the dog immediately to the veterinarian.

For large domestic animals, the process of first aid and intervention, treatment and healing is much more complicated than this. Also it requires even more specialized care such as can be seen in equine specialists. It also requires that the owner is able to make a good decision on further keeping the animal depending on the function of the animal. For example, a bull or horse that was kept strictly for its reproductive purposes would be deemed less useful for that purpose if a fracture occurs and lameness sets in.


What Your Veterinarian Will Do

A veterinarian will provide holistic treatment for the sensitive nature of incidence of fracture in your animal. The treatment for a fracture will depend on the severity of the break and the dog’s age. Some fractures can be treated with a simple splint or cast, while other fractures require surgery and pins in order to stabilize and repair the break. In addition, a veterinarian will help to monitor the cast and provide rehabilitation for the animal where necessary. Generally, younger dogs heal much quicker than older dogs, and younger dogs usually require casting for less amount of time than older dogs.

Your veterinarian will also examine the fracture through a series of x-rays (and follow-up x-rays) and will also check the dog’s vital signs for any impending symptoms of shock. In case of required surgery, blood tests may also be carried out to ensure that the dog is stable for surgery and that no other underlying medical conditions or injuries are present.

The healing process will additionally be monitored by the veterinarian to make sure that the fracture is stabilized and fully healed, and to estimate when any cast or splints can be removed.

References; Vet Info, AVMA, PetWave




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