How Do You Tell If a Dog Has a Broken Leg? (5 Signs of a Break)

How Do You Tell if a Dog Has a Broken Leg

It’s extremely common for dogs to injure themselves during play, and then for us owners to realize what’s actually wrong. Believe it or not, leg injuries can be one of those ailments in dogs that’s are not always obviously diagnosed… is it sprain, strain, muscle tear, or worse… a broken leg.

But if your dog does have the more serious of injuries, just how do you know if your dog’s leg is broken?

This guide will give you a little guidance on what to look for. As you can appreciate, nothing can replace professional advice from a vet, so please seek expert help if you are worried.

How do I know if my dog’s leg is broken?

Although most leg injuries are easy to identify, some shared symptoms do not necessarily indicate that a dog’s leg is broken. For example, most dogs will be reluctant to put weight on their leg regardless of the severity of their injury.

Instead, they will often limp or refuse to walk altogether. If your pooch has ever had to wear doggy socks or similar on its feet for protection, you will probably have seen them do this before.

Can a dog still walk with a broken leg?

It depends on the severity of the break, so yes, a dog can still walk with a broken leg.

Usually, any slight change or inkling of pain in their limbs will cause them to start limping. Therefore, it is easy to see why this is sometimes an unreliable way of gauging how severe their leg injury is.

Signs of a dog’s broken leg

To tell if your dog has a broken leg, look out for the following signs.

1. Swelling in the leg

Instead, you should look for any signs of swelling in the limb, as well as whether their leg lies at an awkward angle when they are resting. This can be very indicative that your dog has a broken leg.

2. Your dog is whining and howling

Your dog may also indicate that something is seriously wrong by howling, whining, or whimpering, or by moving their leg in odd and unusual ways.

3. Check for bruising

Additionally, you might also notice bruising in the affected area, which will quickly begin to turn purple if the break is particularly bad.

4. Notice changes in behavior

Other warning signs can include aggression (even in the most placid natured dogs), as well as a loss of appetite and unusual isolating behaviors.

5. Visible bone with an open fracture

The most obvious sign of a severely broken leg in a dog is called an open fracture. Particularly unpleasant, open fractures are characterized by the skin splitting open and the bone protruding from the leg.

If this happens to your dog, it goes without saying that you should head straight to the vet to save them unnecessary pain and reduce the risk of complications from blood loss.

Thankfully, it’s important to note that this kind of fracture is much rarer than closed ones (breaks that do not puncture the skin).

Please get expert help from a vet

Although knowing how to tell your dog has a broken leg is useful for us as owners, it is important that you prioritize taking your dog to the vet before trying to diagnose and treat it yourself.

Failure to do so could lead to complications and put your pup’s life in danger, potentially leading to a situation that could have been avoided.

Despite the belief that most broken legs are non-life-threatening, there can sometimes be internal bleeding or injury to organs caused associated with broken legs, often difficult to spot for untrained eyes.

How long will it take for my dog’s broken leg to heal?

The amount of time it will take for a dog’s broken leg to heal can vary depending on different factors. For example, puppies usually heal much faster than older dogs, with some returning to their normal selves within as little as 2 to 4 weeks.

The reason for this quicker healing process is due to puppies having more bone-building cells which helps them to constantly mature and grow at a faster rate.

However, the amount of time this takes can change depending on the severity and nature of the broken bone.

Concerning older dogs, the average time it takes for a broken leg to heal could be around 8 weeks, give or take a few days. However, as previously mentioned above, this can all depend on how severe the break is.

For example, complete breaks will take longer to heal compared to fractures that only go partly through the bone. Additionally, other injuries and health problems can play a role in this too, as can the activity level of your pooch.

Can a dog’s broken leg heal on its own?

In theory, some broken legs in dogs can heal on their own.

But and this is a BIG but.

All dog’s bodies will start to naturally heal a broken bone fracture in their own body. However, whether the broken leg will heal correctly and straight, is another matter. It’s might heal at an odd angle, and not be as strong as before.

Here’s a great explainer I saw on

“Vets don’t heal broken legs in dogs. What they do is immobilize the broken bone in a place so that the natural healing will result in the best possible healing – straight and strong – while also providing protection for the healing joint and pain management for the pet.”

 The bottom-line is don’t leave your dog’s broken leg to heal on its own. It’s not responsible, will cause the dog pain now, and in the future.

How do I care for a dog recovering from a broken leg?

Similar to the treatment of broken bones in humans, dogs can also be supplied with casts and other methods of recovery, depending on the severity of the fracture.

For example, if the fracture is particularly bad your dog may have pins, plates, or screws inserted inside its leg to help the bone heal correctly. This is particularly relevant to older dogs who heal much slower than their younger counterparts.

If your dog is recovering from a broken leg you should make sure not to take them out on walks too early. Instead, you should wait for them to naturally start putting weight on their leg first. You can then ask your vet whether it is a good idea to take them for a short walk.

Although it may be depressing to see your dog in this state, you should make sure not to push them too much either. After some weeks have passed and with the correct amount of caution, your dog should be back to its normal happy self within no time.

You can also make your dog’s life easier whilst it is recovering by confining it to one area of the house. Ideally, this should be in an area with carpeted floors that are much softer on the injured leg.

Likewise, your dog should be prevented from walking on slippery surfaces or going up any stairs. If you own a dog who likes to spend its time near you, you can pick them up and move them into the room you are currently working or relaxing in (of course this depends on the size of your pooch).

Other common leg injuries with dogs

Seeing our dogs in pain can make us feel helpless, especially if they have had a serious injury.  It is all too easy to panic and lose control of a situation when our dogs are visibly in pain. However, staying calm and collected is often the key to keeping a situation from getting any worse.

One reason we love our dogs so much is due to their energetic and playful natures. However, because of these personality traits, injuries are not all that uncommon for dogs. Unfortunately, leg injuries are particularly common for canines and account for a large percentage of visits to the vet in the USA every year.

These leg injuries can vary in seriousness, from small sprains to full-on breaks. Due to similarities, it can sometimes be unclear whether a dog has strained a muscle or has broken or fractured its leg.

Although you may think it’s easy to tell if a dog has broken its leg, it’s not always immediately obvious and can depend on how badly broken the limb is. Likewise, sprains can sometimes appear more serious than they are and can be mistaken for breaks to the untrained eye.

How do I know if my dog has sprained or strained its leg?

Although these words sound very similar, they are in fact two separate injuries. Strains involve the damage of tendons linking muscles and bones, whilst sprains are associated with the harm of ligaments that connect said bones. (PS: here’s advice on broken toes).

The former is very common in dogs that are athletic but can happen to any pooch who takes a tumble whilst playing. Likewise, strains can also be caused by overstretching. Sprains, on the other hand, are often reported in hunting dogs who often jump over obstacles in pursuit of their prey. However, any type of dog can be at risk, no matter the breed, especially if they have been running or playing on uneven ground.

Handy Hint: Dogs can also get leg cramps, which are not to be confused with breaks or sprains.

Warning signs of strains or sprains will usually become apparent in your dog when they start limping or showing signs of lameness (inability to use their leg).

Unfortunately, strains and sprains can quickly become chronic, lasting for long periods, and can flare up regularly in affected dogs. Additionally, they can also become acute, meaning that they can happen suddenly without any warning.

If you notice your dog has been limping throughout the day or showing any other symptoms of a strain or sprain, you should take them to the vet. There they will be able to rule out any chance of a broken leg and diagnose them with either a sprain or a strain.


As pet owners, seeing our dogs in pain can be an extremely frightening and harrowing experience. It is safe to say that most of us will have accidentally stepped on our dog’s paw at least once, but thankfully that tends not to leave a lasting injury.

Broken legs are an entirely different matter though.

If this article has helped you to figure out and know your dog’s leg is broken, please seek immediate veterinarian assistance.

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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