Is My Dog’s Leg Broken or Sprained? How to Tell and What to Do

As a dog owner, one of your worst fears may be seeing your furry friend in pain or distress. If your dog is limping or favoring one leg, you may wonder whether the limb is broken or just sprained. While both conditions can cause discomfort and mobility issues, they differ in severity, treatment, and prognosis. In this article, we will discuss how to assess whether your dog’s leg is broken or sprained and what steps to take to help your pet recover.

Dog broken leg can't afford vet

How to Tell if Your Dog’s Leg Is Broken or Sprained

Before you panic and rush to the vet or emergency clinic, you can try to evaluate your dog’s leg and see if it shows signs of a fracture or a sprain. Here are some clues to look for:

Pain and swelling: Both broken bones and sprained ligaments can cause pain and inflammation around the affected joint or bone. However, broken bones tend to be more painful and cause more swelling, especially if the bone is exposed or displaced.

Deformity or abnormal mobility: If your dog’s leg looks crooked, bent, or twisted, or if it moves in an unnatural way, it may be broken. Sprains, on the other hand, usually don’t cause visible changes in the bone structure or alignment, but may make the joint feel loose or unstable.

Sensitivity and resistance: If you touch or move your dog’s leg gently, it may react with a whimper, a growl, or a snap, especially if the leg is broken. Sprained legs may also be painful, but the dog may still allow you to touch or move them without much resistance.

Lameness and activity level: If your dog is reluctant or unable to put weight on the affected leg, or if it limps or hops instead of walking or running normally, it may have a broken or sprained leg. However, some dogs with mild sprains may still use their leg but avoid certain activities that require more effort or impact.

Of course, these signs are not always definitive or exclusive, and some dogs may show different symptoms depending on the location and severity of the injury. Therefore, it’s important to use your judgment and common sense, and to seek professional advice if you are unsure or concerned.

What to Do If Your Dog’s Leg Is Broken or Sprained

If you suspect that your dog’s leg is broken or sprained, your first priority should be to keep your pet calm and comfortable, and to prevent further harm. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

Restrict movement and activity: If possible, keep your dog in a small, quiet, and secure area, such as a crate or a pen, where it cannot jump, run, or play. This will minimize the risk of aggravating the injury or causing additional damage.

Apply cold compresses: If your dog’s leg is swollen or painful, you can wrap a towel or a bag of ice in a cloth and apply it to the affected area for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day. This will reduce inflammation and numb the pain.

Check for wounds or bleeding: If the skin is broken or bleeding around the injured area, you should clean it gently with warm water and soap, and cover it with a clean cloth or bandage. This will prevent infection and promote healing.

Call your vet: Whether your dog’s leg is broken or sprained, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible and describe the symptoms and circumstances of the injury. Your vet may ask you to bring your dog in for an examination and possibly an X-ray, to confirm the diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. Depending on the severity and location of the injury, your vet may recommend one or more of the following:

Pain medication: To alleviate your dog’s discomfort, your vet may prescribe or recommend pain-relieving drugs, such as NSAIDs or opioids. Make sure to follow the dosage and administration instructions carefully, and monitor your dog for any adverse reactions or side effects.

Splint or cast: If your dog’s leg is broken, your vet may immobilize it with a splint or a cast, which will keep the bone in place while it heals. You may need to adjust the splint or replace the cast periodically, and make sure that your dog doesn’t chew or scratch it.

Surgery: In some cases, especially if the bone is shattered or displaced, your vet may recommend surgery to repair or remove the affected area. Surgery may involve the insertion of pins, screws, plates, or wires, or the amputation of the limb if it cannot be saved.

Physical therapy: Once the initial phase of healing is over, your vet or a certified canine rehabilitation specialist may prescribe exercises, massages, or hydrotherapy to help your dog regain strength, flexibility, and mobility in the affected leg. Physical therapy can also prevent future injuries and improve your dog’s overall quality of life.

FAQs: How can I tell if my dog’s leg is broken or just sprained?

We’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions to help you determine what’s going on with your pup’s leg.

How can I tell if my dog’s leg is broken or sprained?

A broken leg will often be visibly crooked or bent at an odd angle. Your dog may also not be able to put weight on the affected leg or may yelp in pain when you touch it. A sprained leg will likely still be straight, but your dog may limp or favor the leg.

What should I do if I suspect my dog’s leg is broken or sprained?

If you think your dog’s leg is broken or sprained, it’s best to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet can assess the injury and provide the appropriate treatment.

Can a broken leg heal on its own?

No, a broken leg will not heal on its own. Your dog will require medical attention, including immobilization of the affected leg, to allow the bone to heal properly.

How long does it take for a broken leg to heal?

The healing time for a broken leg will depend on the severity of the injury. Some dogs may only need a few weeks of rest and immobilization, while others may require surgery and a longer recovery period.

How can I prevent my dog from breaking or spraining their leg?

While accidents can’t always be prevented, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of your dog injuring their leg. Keep your dog on a leash when out for walks, provide a safe and secure area for them to play in, and make sure your dog is at a healthy weight to reduce the strain on their joints.

What are some common causes of a broken or sprained leg in dogs?

There are several things that can cause a dog to injure their leg, including falls, jumping from high places, being hit by a car, or twisting the leg while running or playing.

Will my dog need surgery if their leg is broken?

It depends on the severity of the break. Some fractures may heal with rest and immobilization, while others may require surgery to properly align and stabilize the bone.

How can I make my dog more comfortable while their leg is healing?

Your vet may prescribe pain medication to help manage your dog’s discomfort during the healing process. You can also provide a soft and supportive bed for them to rest on, and keep them confined to a small area to prevent further injury.

How long should I keep my dog’s leg immobilized?

The length of time your dog’s leg needs to be immobilized will depend on the severity of the injury. Your vet will give you specific instructions on how long your dog should be confined and how often you should take them for short, supervised walks.

Can a dog’s leg injury lead to long-term complications?

Yes, if a dog’s leg injury is not properly treated, it can lead to long-term complications such as chronic pain, arthritis, or even permanent lameness. That’s why it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible if you suspect that your dog has injured their leg.

How much will it cost to treat my dog’s leg injury?

The cost of treating a dog’s leg injury can vary widely depending on the severity of the injury and the necessary treatment. It’s best to talk to your vet about the estimated cost of treatment so that you can be prepared.

Can a dog’s leg injury be prevented?

While not all injuries can be prevented, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of your dog injuring their leg. This includes keeping them on a leash during walks, providing a safe and secure area for them to play, and avoiding activities that are too strenuous for their size and age.

How can I tell if my dog is in pain?

Dogs may not always show obvious signs of pain, but some common indicators include limping, yelping or whining when touched, decreased appetite or activity level, and changes in behavior such as aggression or restlessness.

Can a dog still walk on a broken leg?

It depends on the severity of the break. Some dogs may still be able to walk on a broken leg, while others may be unable to put weight on the affected leg. However, it’s important to seek veterinary care regardless to ensure that the injury is properly diagnosed and treated.

What should I do if my dog refuses to put weight on their leg?

If your dog is not putting weight on their leg, it’s best to take them to the vet as soon as possible. This could be a sign of a serious injury such as a broken bone or torn ligament.

Can a sprained leg turn into a broken leg?

While a sprained leg won’t turn into a broken leg on its own, it’s possible for a dog to injure the same leg again, potentially leading to a fracture.

Will my dog need physical therapy after a leg injury?

Depending on the severity of the injury and the type of treatment, your dog may benefit from physical therapy to help them regain strength and range of motion in their leg. Your vet can recommend a qualified therapist if necessary.

Can I give my dog human pain medication for their leg injury?

No, it’s important to only give your dog medication that has been specifically prescribed by your vet. Human pain medication can be toxic to dogs and cause serious health problems.

How can I prevent my dog from re-injuring their leg?

To prevent re-injury, it’s important to follow your vet’s instructions for rest and rehabilitation. This may include limiting activity, providing supportive devices such as a sling or brace, and gradually increasing exercise as your dog’s leg heals.

Can a dog’s leg injury cause them to become depressed?

Yes, a leg injury can cause a dog to become depressed, especially if they are unable to participate in their usual activities and routines. Providing extra love, attention, and mental stimulation can help prevent depression and anxiety.

How often should I take my dog for follow-up appointments after a leg injury?

The frequency of follow-up appointments will depend on the severity of the injury and the type of treatment. Your vet will give you specific instructions on when to schedule follow-up appointments and what to expect during each visit.

Can a dog still play and exercise after a leg injury?

This will depend on the severity of the injury and your vet’s recommendations. Some dogs may need to avoid certain activities for a period of time, while others may be able to resume their usual activities with appropriate supervision and support.


Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Top