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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Bone Fractures View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Dogs have about 319 bones and cats have 244. Every single bone from the jaw to the tail tip can be broken. The bones most commonly broken are the femur, pelvis, skull, jaw, and spine. Fractures are classified as open or closed.


Signs of bone fracture include pain, faster breathing, swelling, inability to bear weight, and deformity with shortening of the affected leg. Pets will often favor the injured part of the body.


Fractures usually happen due to trauma, like being hit by a car or falling out of a high window. Fractures don't kill pets, but they are always extremely painful. Other important organs can also be damaged in the initial accident, however, that can cause life threatening problems.


In open fractures, the bone can often be seen sticking through the skin which provides immediate identification. With a closed fracture, the bone remains inside the tissue. You will still know there is a problem if you pet holds a leg at an odd angle or if it dangles in a strange way.


Pets with fractures need immediate medical care. Prompt first aid will help prevent further damage and ease your pet's pain and distress.

  1. Watch for shock - Injuries that cause fractures can also cause shock, blood loss, and trauma to the internal organs. Controlling shock takes precedence over treating fractures. With shock, circulation shuts down and your pet will act dizzy, seem unaware of her surroundings, and have pale gums. Shock happens very quickly, and pets need medical attention within 10 - 20 minutes to save their lives. Wrap your dog or cat in a blanket to keep her warm - this can help slow down the process and give you a few more minutes to get to medical help. You can also put a drop or two of Karo syrup or honey on your pet's gums to help keep her conscious.
  2. Restart breathing - A pet in shock can stop breathing. Artificial respiration can keep them alive until you reach medical help. Hold her mouth shut with your hands, cover her nose with your mouth, and blow into her nostrils with two quick breaths, just hard enough to expand the chest. Stop and let the air escape. Continue giving 15 - 20 breaths per minute until your pet breathes on her own or until you reach medical assistance.
  3. Perform CPR - If your pet's heart has stopped beating, you will have to administer CPR. Determine if your pets heart has stopped by taking her pulse. Search for a pulse where the inside of her thigh meets the body - on the femoral artery. If you can't feel a pulse, try listening or feeling for a heartbeat. Put your ear or hand flat against your pet's left side directly behind the elbow.

    If you don't detect a heartbeat, you will have to begin chest compressions. For cats or small dogs, cup your hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows. Squeeze firmly, pressing in about 1/2 inch, with your thumb on one side and fingers on the other. This action not only pumps the heart, it also makes the pressure inside the chest (and against the heart) rapidly increase and decrease and helps move the blood. Ideally, one person will give chest compressions while a second performs artificial respiration. Alternate one breath for every 5 compressions. The goal is 80 - 100 compressions and 15 - 20 breaths per minute until your pet revives or until you reach medical help.

    Put a medium to large sized dog on a flat surface. you can lay him on either side. Put one hand on his chest and your other hand on top of the first. Use both hands to thrust down firmly, compressing the chest by 25 - 50%.

    Pressing over the heart won't help dogs who weigh more than 30 pounds because their ribs are so rigid that even strong thrusts will not affect the heart. Instead, use both hands to thrust down firmly on the highest part of the chest. This will change the pressure inside the body, which will in turn move the blood.
  4. Muzzle if necessary - Even the friendliest dog or cat may lash out when she is in pain, and you can't help her if she is trying to bite you. As long as she is breathing normally, and the injury doesn't involve the jaw, you can muzzle long nosed dogs with a necktie, panty hose, or a standard leash. Make a loop, slip it gently over her nose, and tie a knot. Loop the ends beneath your dogs chin and make another knot. Then take the ends back over the neck and tie them in a knot or bow firmly behind the ears. This will keep her mouth from opening.

    A cat or short nosed dog like a pug is hard to muzzle. Put a pillowcase over her head so that she has something to bite on before she can get to you. Don't use a pillowcase or muzzle if your pet is having trouble breathing.
  5. Don't move exposed bones - Broken bones sometimes cut an artery - look for blood clotted fur where an open fracture has punched through the skin. If the bone is outside the skin, LEAVE it alone, do not try to put it back into place, or you could cause even more damage to the tissue. Exposed bone is very susceptible to infection. use a sterile gauze pad or a non-stick absorbent pad like a Telfa pad if you have it, or a clean cloth. The pad or cloth should be large enough to cover the area completely and heavy enough to not fall off. soak the material in sterile saline contact lens solution and then gently cover the bone and open wound with it. The saline solution will help keep the tissue moist and the bone healthy.
  6. Stop the bleeding - If there is bleeding from a wound but no exposed bones, apply direct pressure. Use a sterile gauze pad, a clean absorbent cloth, or even a sanitary napkin. Put it on top of the wound and press with your hand or fingers. Most bleeding stops in about 5 minutes. Don't lift up the pad or it could disturb the clot. If the pad soaks through, stack another on top of the first. You can use an elastic bandage like an ACE bandage, panty hose, or tape to hold the pad in place.
For Back Fractures
  1. Take your pet to the veterinarian immediately - Transport her carefully, with as little movement of the injury as possible. Every bump not only hurts, but can also make the broken bones cut into tissue or arteries and cause more damage. This is especially important with back fractures which could injure the spinal cord and cause paralysis.

    A pet with a back injury should be transported to the animal hospital on a rigid, flat object if possible. For a small pet, you can use a pet carrier, a large book, a cutting board, or even a sturdy trash can lid. A bigger dog may fit on a large board or an ironing board.

    Set the rigid surface next to the injured pet and gently slide a sheet or towel under her. Use the fabric to gently pull her horizontally onto the surface. for a big pet, 2 or more people may be needed to shift her. One person should lift her by the shoulders and neck while the other lifts her at the hips (at the same time) to place her in the carrier. Another option is to gently slide a sheet or towel under the pet and use the fabric to slide her onto the rigid surface. Once the pet is on the carrier, each person should pick up an end and carry her to the car.

    If you don't have a rigid object to use for transport, put your pet in the middle of a blanket and use it like a stretcher. Have 2 people lift the blanket by the corners.

    You need to avoid jostling your pet as much as possible. Cover her with a towel or blanket, then tape her to the surface. Use strips of duct tape or other heavy tape over her body behind her front legs and in front of her rear legs. Do not tape her legs, tail, or neck because your pet could further injure herself if she struggles against the restraint. You can put a larger dog in the backseat or cargo area of a car after stabilizing her on the rigid surface. One person should sit with the pet to calm her and keep her still on the ride.
For Leg Fractures
  1. Check for stopped breathing - If your pet is in shock and not breathing, follow the instructions for artificial respiration, described above. Forgo a splint and get to the veterinarian as soon as possible, continuing artificial respiration in the car if necessary. Attempt to stop any bleeding on the way.
  2. Splint broken legs - When you are more than 30 minutes away from veterinary care, it is helpful to put splints on broken legs. This keeps the bones from moving and prevents additional damage or bleeding under the skin. Always immobilize the joint above and below the break.

    A fracture in the femur (the large upper bone in the rear leg) or humerus (the corresponding bone in the front leg), both of which are attached directly to the body, has no joint that is easy to immobilize. For these fractures, it is best not to attempt to splint them unless there is exposed bone. In that case, cover the open wound with a non-stick absorbent covering like a Telfa pad or a clean cloth, then wrap the limb in a towel to pad the wound.
  3. Splint correctly - For fractures in the lower leg, make sure that the splint reaches all the way up the leg. Wrap a soft towel or cotton wrap around the leg, then use a rolled up newspaper, magazine, or split open the cardboard roll inside paper towels and position the leg inside. Don't try to straighten or reposition the fracture. You are trying to pad the leg and add stability with the rigid splint. Wrap the leg with an elastic bandage, panty hose, or plastic wrap (Saran Wrap) to hold the splint together. Start wrapping from the foot, leaving the toes exposed, and move up until you have covered the whole leg.
  4. Watch for swelling - Once the bandaged splint is in place, hold a piece of paper against the foot and mark the distance between the two center toenails. You can use the marks on the paper to monitor whether the foot swells from a bandage that is too tight - the toes will start to separate and turn cold. If the swelling doubles the space between the nails in 10 - 15 minutes, loosen the bandage and reapply it.


There is no prevention for fractures other than keeping a close eye on your pets when in situations that can lead to injury.


It takes most fractures about 6 - 8 weeks to become stable and up to 18 weeks to completely heal. For at least the first month, your pet must rest and avoid using the injured part as much as possible. She shouldn't be allowed to climb stairs, run, or jump.

Contamination of an open fracture wound can cause infection, and the vet will prescribe antibiotics. For closed fractures, antibiotics probably won't be prescribed unless there are also cuts and scrapes on other parts of the body. To give pills, place you hand around your pets muzzle and gently press your fingers against the sides of her lips so that they rub against her teeth. This will prompt her to open her mouth. When she does, you can push the pill to the back of her tongue, close her mouth, and stroke her throat to encourage swallowing. Some dogs will easily take pills that are hidden in treats such as cheese or a piece of hot dog.

To treat pain in dogs, your vet may prescribe drugs like carprofen (Rimadyl). You can also give buffered aspirin like Burrerin to dogs. The usual dose is 10 - 25 milligrams per 2.2 pounds of body weight 2 - 3 times daily. DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN TO CATS.

Your vet will prescribe appropriate drugs to ensure that your pet is comfortable and pain free. if you think that she is still in pain after she takes the medication, call your veterinarian for further advice.

Keep any surface wound clean with a mild antiseptic liquid soap like Betadine Skin Cleanser.

Continue to watch for swollen toes, which can mean a bandage or splint is too tight and needs to be reapplied.

Splints and bandages need to stay dry, or they will rub your pet's skin, causing sores or infection. To protect the bandage, tape a plastic garbage bag or plastic wrap over it when your pet needs to go outdoors.

Dogs and come cats may chew at bandages, splints, or sutures. If this is the case, you can put an Elizabethan collar (cone) on your pet. It will keep her from damaging the bandage, which could interfere with healing.
For Pelvic Fractures - Pets with pelvic fractures that have not been repaired surgically should not walk because it will make the broken bones move and keeps them from healing. Confine your pet to a kennel, cage, or very small room and carry her outside or to the litter box as needed. If the fracture has been surgically repaired, follow your veterinarians advice regarding exercise and movement.

For orthopedic surgery - pets who go through orthopedic surgery to fix their fractures may not be sent home with antibiotics because the procedure is so sterile. Watch the stitches or other wounds closely - a red tinged watery discharge, a bit of redness, or some soreness is ok. If the discharge becomes thick and white or green, smells bad, or feels hot to the touch, see your veterinarian because your pet may need antibiotics.

For broken jaws - Pet with broken jaws need soft foods for up to 4 weeks, until the wire stabilization is removed. Regular canned food works for some pets, while others need to have it pureed with low-fat, no salt chicken broth in the blender to make a gruel that they will not have to chew.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

1 Comment For "Bone Fractures"



How many bone fractures occur each year in dogs and cats?

October 19, 2011 at 6:45PM  Sign In or Join to Comment