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How to Know if Your Dog's Leg is Broken or Sprained

by Geoff Works |

Dogs are naturally active and full of energy, which can be inspiring, especially when they can eat a full meal, then turn around and run laps around us! However, they are not immune to injury and can hurt themselves even if we supervise their activities. A common injury that pet owners should look out for is leg injuries. Whether a broken limb or just a sprain, they can become serious problems and lead to chronic disorders that drastically reduce their quality of life and yours.

As pet owners, it's our responsibility to assess the needs of our dogs and educate ourselves on what type of injury they may have. Here are some common ways to evaluate whether or not they sprained or broke a leg and solutions you can examine before and after you take them to the vet.

Is my Dog’s Leg Broken or Sprained?

Leg-related injuries are caused by numerous factors like trauma, underlying diseases, excessive play, etc. They can also be due to genetics. For instance, big and high-energy dogs like golden retrievers and German shepherds are more likely to have leg injuries due to their size.

But regardless of whether or not your pet is a high-energy breed, you must know how to tell if your dog's leg is broken or sprained so you can give it appropriate care. Even though both injuries have similar symptoms, a fractured or sprained leg needs specific treatments and maintenance.

Fractures are divided into 3 categories; incomplete or complete fractures, transverse or comminuted fractures, and open or closed fractures. The first type of fracture happens when the exterior of the bone has a partial or total snap.

  • Transverse Fractures are cracks that occur straight across or diagonally on the bone. Diagonal breaks are called oblique fractures, while bone breaks in three or more pieces are called comminuted fractures.
  • Open or Compound Fractures are breaks that are further aggravated by a wound. This usually involves the bone sticking out of the limb. The opposite is true with closed fractures, wherein the bone is broken internally while the skin remains intact.
  • Sprains occur when one or more ligaments connect bones to other bones, and joints become damaged. This condition depends on the severity of the injury. Sprains often happen around the knees, elbows, ankles, and other joints that are always moving.

Evaluating if Your Dog’s Leg is Broken

Proper assessment is the key to treating the injury of your dog correctly. To determine the best course of action to take for your injured pet, you need to learn how to evaluate your dog's condition. And if you’re unsure, please take your dog to a veterinary professional. There is nothing worse than finding out your dog has been living with a broken limb, and the bones fused back together wrong. Here are three visual signs you need to watch out for if you suspect your dog has a broken leg.

Exposed bone

Okay, this one is obvious, but especially with breeds that are hairy, you should know, if your pet is suddenly no longer putting weight on their leg or howling in pain when you approach them, examine him or her carefully for any open fractures, which will be easy to see, but then immediately go to the nearest vet or emergency hospital.


You can also check for any bruising around the leg of your dog if you suspect it has a sprain but also a fracture. You may not see it right away if your dog is furry, but the affected area will slowly turn purple, swell, or become tender to the touch. Your dog will also squirm, cry, or have a violent reaction whenever you try to touch and press the area. Take your pet to a verterinary clinic for x-rays to assess the underlying problem.

Sudden or unprecedented aggression or behavior

Pain can cause even the friendliest canines to turn reclusive, aggressive, or even violent. If youre normally social dog is isolating, licking excessively, or barring their teeth, there may be pain beneath the surface, and a veterinary doctor should have a look. These changes can take place suddenly so be cautious if you notice a quick change in the temperament of your dog, it might be dealing with an internal break that’s causing it pain.

How to Tell if a Dog’s Leg is Sprained

Let’s now focus on what would happen if a dog sprained its leg and the symptoms to watch out for:


One of the most apparent signs of a sprained leg is sudden inactivity or limping. If your dog starts to stagger around your home or changes its natural gait, chances are it sprained one of its legs. This symptom is also noticeable once your dog take weight off one leg, or alternatively, puts more weight on one leg as it walks and moves around.

Excessive licking

It's animal instinct for dogs to clean their wounds by licking them. It will try to alleviate the pain of an injury by licking the affected area, even if licking is the exact activity that’s causing the problem. If you notice that your dog is licking or nibbling on one spot on its leg, it could mean that that specific area is in pain.

Hiding or reluctance to activities

Suppose you notice your dog is more lethargic than usual and isn't as active or enthusiastic for walks and playtime. It may even hide under a bed to get away from anything that might cause most pain. In that case, it might be nursing an injury. Dogs will often sit in a favorite, or hidden spot and wait until they feel better.

Helping your pet through the process

When your pet is injured you need to address the immediate pain, get it to a vet, and help it recover better. Here three steps you can take:

Ice packs

It can be challenging to determine the severity of your dog's injury. Your priority should always be to get them to a vet for an immediate and accurate diagnosis. If your sure it’s a sprain, you can apply cold packs as they permit you. Applying packs to the injured area for 15 minutes, twice a day can help improve circulation and reduce the swelling of the affected area.

Seek veterinary care

If any of the sprain symptoms listed above lasts for more than 24 hours, you should immediately seek immediate veterinary care. Your local vet will conduct a proper diagnosis on your pet and give you a concrete answers as to what is going on with your pet.

Find a cone alternative

If your dog has to undergo surgery to deal with the issue, then you’ll likely be sent home with an elizabethan collar, or e-collar. This is used to prevent them from licking and infecting the incisions. While these cones are common, they can be challenging for both the dog and owners. It prevents them from moving around and drinking water properly.

Instead of using the cone-of-shame, you can instead let your dog wear a Lick Sleeve over its recovering leg. This gives total coverage and protection without hindering the mobility of your pet. This can improve your pet's recovery time and keep them active as they heal.

Know How to Take Care of Your Dog’s Injuries Properly

It can be difficult for pet owners like yourself to know that their dog is in pain. It is a frightening and frustrating experience that leaves you clueless about what you should do. If you want to learn more about how you can keep your pets happy and healthy, check out Lick Sleeve’s blog here.

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