femur fracture in dogs

Fracture of the Femur (Thigh Bone) in Dogs

Overview of the Canine Fractured Femur

Fractures of the femur (thigh bone) are some of the most common fractures seen in dogs. These fractures are usually the result of major trauma, but they can be caused by disease of the bone itself.

Generally, femoral fractures cause acute, non-weight bearing lameness of the affected hind leg. These fractures can occur in an immature bone (one that has not finished growing) or in a mature one; they can be “open” (skin wound with bone exposed) or “closed” fractures, and can be “simple” or “comminuted” (multiple bone fragments).

Depending on the nature of the fracture and the age of the animal, different methods of repair may be indicated for each situation. Femoral fractures can have serious complications if not repaired or if the repair fails.

What to Watch For

Symptoms of fractured femur in dogs

Diagnosis of Fractured Femur in Dogs

A thorough physical examination and medical history are important in any illness or injury. Based on the results of the physical examination, additional tests may be recommended. No laboratory tests are required to make the diagnosis.

Treatment of Fractured Femur in Dogs

Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the trauma. In general, anesthesia and surgical stabilization of the bone fragments are indicated for most femoral fractures because the femur cannot be adequately immobilized in a cast or splint to allow proper healing. Other treatment recommendations may include:

Home Care and Prevention

Take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible after any trauma for immediate attention. Try to prevent your dog from walking or moving too much. Do not attempt to place a splint or bandage on the leg unless there is profuse bleeding.

After surgical repair of the fracture, the dog will be kept restricted from activity for several weeks and the skin incision will be monitored while healing. A recheck with your veterinarian should occur in several weeks to evaluate how the bone is healing (with new radiographs), to monitor the animal’s progress, and to make sure it is safe to increase the animal’s activity level.

Many traumatic events are true accidents and thus unavoidable. Avoid the chance for motor vehicle trauma by keeping your dog confined in a fenced-in yard and walking him on a leash.

In-depth Information on Canine Fractured Femurs

Of all of the long bone fractures (humerus, femur, radius/ulna and tibia), femoral fractures are the most common, comprising approximately 20 to 25 percent of all fractures in small animal practices.

Motor vehicle trauma is the most frequent cause of femoral fractures, and the victims tend to be young, non-neutered males who roam away from home and get hit by a car. Dogs of both sexes and of any age are susceptible to this type of trauma if not kept restrained.

Dogs can develop non-traumatic fractures of the femur when certain disease conditions exist. These fractures, also known as “pathologic fractures” are commonly caused by:

In-depth Information on Diagnosis

A thorough physical examination is important to make sure your dog is not showing signs of hypovolemic shock secondary to the trauma or blood loss. It is also important to make certain that there are no other injuries present. Additional tests may include:

In-depth Information on Treatment

Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the injuries in your dog and may include:

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Fracture of the Femur

After surgery and discharge from the hospital, the dog must be restricted from activity to allow the fracture to heal properly. Activity must be restricted for several weeks after surgery; the duration will vary depending on the severity of the injury, the type of fixation that was used, and the age of the animal. Restricted activity means that the animal should be kept confined to a carrier, crate or small room whenever he cannot be supervised. He cannot play or rough-house, even if he appears to be feeling well; the use of stairs should be limited; and outdoor walks should be just long enough for him to relieve himself and then return indoors for more rest.

Animals whose fracture was repaired with an external fixation device will have pins exiting the skin. The “pin tracts” should be monitored daily for excessive swelling or discharge. Some discharge is normal and any crusty build-up that occurs at these sites can be gently cleaned with warm water.

Analgesics (pain medications), such as butorphanol (Torbugesic®), or anti-inflammatories, such as deracoxib, aspirin or carprofen (Rimadyl®), should be given as directed by the veterinarian.

The skin incision needs to be monitored daily for signs of excessive swelling or discharge. These can indicate problems with the incision or possible infection. Contact your veterinarian if these occur.

If at any point your dog stops using the leg again after some improvement following surgery, there could be a problem. Again, call your veterinarian.

Several weeks after surgery, the femur will need to be X-rayed again to make sure the bone is healing properly. If the healing has occurred as expected, the external fixator, if present, will be removed and the dog’s activity level will be allowed to increase slowly back up to normal over the next few weeks.

In general, any other implants that were used in the repair will be left in place unless they cause a problem at some point in the future. Potential problems can include migration (movement) or infection of the implant.