Fracture of the Femur (Thigh Bone) in Dogs

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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

  • Lameness
  • Abnormally positioned rear leg
  • Pain or inability to move
  • 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.

  • Chest radiographs
  • Complete orthopedic examination
  • Radiographs of the affected leg
  • 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:

  • Emergency care for concurrent problems caused by the trauma
  • Treatment of concurrent soft-tissue injuries
  • Injectable analgesics (pain medications) are given to the animal while being treated in the hospital and may be continued orally once discharged from the hospital.
  • 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:

  • Malnourishment
  • Systemic illness such as kidney disease
  • Endocrine disorder such as hyperparathyroidism
  • Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
  • Cancer (neoplasia) of the bone

    Immature bones have growth plates (physes) that are still “open” and growing. These regions of the young bone are generally weaker than the bone that has already been created. The energy of a trauma often results in fracture at these parts of the immature bone and can lead to premature “closure” of the physes resulting in abnormal growth of either end of the femur. Frequently encountered fractures of the immature femur include:

  • Physeal fractures at the end of the bone near the hip joint
  • At the distal physis near the knee
  • Fractures of the middle of the bone

    Mature bones have more uniform strength along their entire length and the energy of each particular trauma may lead to fractures in various portions of the bone. Frequently encountered fractures of the mature femur include femoral neck fractures, femoral shaft fractures, and joint fractures involving the stifle or hip.

    Fractures of the midshaft (diaphysis) of the femur can be classified as “open” or “closed” depending on whether the skin surface has been damaged during the injury. Open fractures have a greater chance of getting infected and may have more complications than closed fractures.

    As with all fractures, fractures of the femur can also be classified as “simple,” if the bone breaks into two pieces, or “comminuted,” if there are multiple pieces.

    Each case of femoral fracture needs to be evaluated in its entirety, including the age of your pet, the severity of the fracture, the experience of the surgeon and financial concerns of the owner, to determine the most appropriate treatment. Inappropriate case management, inadequate surgical stabilization, or poor aftercare can lead to complications such as non-unions (fractures that will not heal), malunions (fractures that heal in an abnormal direction or orientation), osteomyelitis (bone infection) or a non-functional leg.

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