Zee Mahmood, a veterinary technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.
Puppies love to play, and we love to play with them. While playtime is very important for growing puppies, the level of play and exercise should be appropriate for them. Inappropriate exercise can lead to injuries, including broken (fractured) bones.
While you might think puppies are resilient and strong, their bones are actually fragile. Dogs’ bones reach maximum strength after puberty. Less dense bones, accordingly, mean more potential for fractures.
Signs that a puppy has fractured a bone may include obvious things like limping or not using one leg. Other, not so obvious, signs might be swelling of the injured area or pain such as guarding the injury, crying, not playing, or not eating. If your puppy displays such signs, it is always important to seek help from your veterinarian or the emergency clinic immediately, as things can worsen as time passes.
Your veterinarian will start with a thorough physical examination. A sedative may be necessary, as puppies may find it difficult to sit still, especially when in pain. X-rays will confirm that a bone is fractured, and show how complex the fracture is. Depending on the severity of the fracture, the repair may involve various techniques and implants. While some fractures may require only a splint to heal properly, others may need pins, plates and screws. Below are some of the more common fractures seen in puppies. [You may also want to learn some key terms your vet may use.]
Elbow fractures in puppies
The humerus is the bone of the arm, between the shoulder and the elbow. Trauma to this bone can cause a fracture of the outside part of the elbow (called the lateral condyle). Jumping from furniture or from a person's arms and landing incorrectly is most often the cause. Repairing this fracture usually involves a combination of pins and screws.
Radius-ulna fractures in puppies
The bones of the forelimb are the radius and ulna. This is a common fracture that typically occurs when a puppy jumps from furniture or someone’s arms. Most often, both bones break right above the wrist. The vast majority of situations require a plate and screws to correctly realign and heal this fracture. Splints alone typically are a recipe for failure in small dogs, because their blood vessels (providing nutrients) are different than in larger breeds.
Toe fractures in puppies
Broken toes commonly stem from falling or jumping from a high surface, such as furniture. This may also result from being stepped on accidentally by a human. Toe fractures often require pins to help the pieces line up and heal correctly, as well as a splint.
Hip fractures in puppies
Fractures of the hip stem from a traumatic fall. A broken hip might be repairable, usually with pins. Other times, surgery is performed to remove the head of the femur, i.e. the ball of the hip joint.
Tibial crest fractures in puppies
A dog's tibia is similar to our shin bone. The tibial crest is the top, front part of the bone. A tibial crest fracture can occur in a puppy after trauma, such as a fall. Pins are required through the broken portion to repair this type of fracture.
Growth plate fractures in puppies
Growth plates are the areas at the ends of growing bones that contain dividing cells, enabling the bones to become longer as the puppy gets older. As the puppy reaches puberty, the growth plates eventually close.
Until this happens, the growth plates are soft and easily injured. Two injuries can happen:
- A fracture through the growth plate
- A “crushing” injury, which can lead to a shorter bone or a deformed leg
Surgery is most often recommended to repair a fracture, although a splint may work in some cases. Not much can be done about a crushing injury, and it is rarely diagnosed immediately. The end result (a twisted leg) is most often diagnosed weeks to months after the injury.
It’s still important to exercise your puppy
Don’t let this make you fearful of playing with your puppy! Exercise and play are very important for growing puppies, both physically and mentally, but it is just as important to know what type of exercise is appropriate. Your veterinarian can help you determine an appropriate exercise regimen for your puppy, bearing in mind the breed, age, weight, and overall health. With a proper plan in place for your puppy, he can grow into a happy and healthy dog for many years of play and quality time.
Questions to ask your veterinarian about your puppy:
- What kind of exercise is adequate for my puppy?
- What should I definitely not do?
- How long should play sessions last?
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.