The Paw Print Blog

Pet Parenting Articles

What to Do If Your Pet Has an Orthopedic Injury

At a visit to the park with my family today, I saw a little girl with a pink cast on her arm, signed by all of her classmates. This made me think of the many orthopedic injuries we see in pets in the veterinary ER. Just like humans, pets can suffer from broken bones, torn ligaments, and dislocated joints. And just like people, many of these injuries will require surgery to repair them.

Emergency Steps to Take First

If you suspect your pet has a broken bone, get him to the vet so he can be stabilized and treated for pain. The 1st priority, however, is to take measures to protect yourself, as an injured pet may try to bite.

  • Fashion a muzzle out of pantyhose or cloth and tie snugly around the muzzle so he can still breathe through his nose.
  • Use an Elizabethan collar (also called an E-collar) to keep him from being able to bite.
  • Place cats in a pillowcase for emergency transfer if a carrier or sturdy box is not available.
  • Do not try to soothe the pet by petting on the head or get your face too close to theirs.
  • Once at the veterinary hospital or ER, prepare for pain medication, sedation, and X-rays. To tell you what it takes to fix it, the vet has to be able to know the extent of the injuries. And if you’re going to the ER,  prepare to wait. A pet with more severe injuries may require the doctor’s attention until it’s time for your pet to be seen.

Most Common Injuries & Related Costs

Broken Bone

Also known as a fracture, broken bones can be either a nuisance or a big-ticket medical headache. The method of repair and the cost all depend on:

  • Which bone is broken. A bone in your pet’s foot may only require a splint for a few weeks, while the only reliable way to fix a broken thighbone is surgery.
  • How it happened. A bone that was injured in a high-speed car accident is likely to be more severely fractured than one that happened in a minor accident. Other injuries like skin wounds and internal injuries tend to be more serious as well, which increases cost and hospitalization time.
  • If it's open or closed. An open fracture, formerly known as a ”compound” fracture, is one that has a break in the skin over the broken bone. They are more serious, more prone to infection, and have a higher complication rate.

Costs for broken bones can go from a few hundred dollars for a splint and some X-rays up to $10,000 or more if your veterinary orthopedic surgeon needs to get involved, though most are in the $2,500-5,000 range. If multiple bones are broken at the same time or complications set in such as infection or a bone that won’t heal properly, expect a longer recovery time and higher expenses.

Ligament Injuries

The most common ligament injured in dogs is the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in the knee. Similar to many career-ending sports injuries, injuring this ligament can mean a big change in lifestyle for many dogs and it often happens while running or jumping.

Dogs with a torn CCL can become acutely lame and limp on a leg right after the ligament tears, or they may have a chronic and subtle lameness if it’s a partial tear. X-rays, an orthopedic exam under sedation, and sometimes a CT scan or MRI can help diagnose a torn CCL.
The CCL stabilizes the knee and when it tears, the joint becomes unstable and inflamed. Over time, arthritis develops as the cartilage of the knee breaks down, so the sooner it’s repaired the better. Repair methods, costs, and recovery times vary.

Some general practitioners are able to stabilize a torn CCL with certain surgical techniques, but for the cutting edge and minimally invasive stuff, you’ll likely need to visit an orthopedic specialist. Costs can run anywhere from about $900 to $4,500 per knee depending on the procedure you choose, and if one knee goes, the other one is likely to follow suit.

Dislocated Hip

Often the result of trauma, a dislocated or luxated hip can be a challenge to fix. About half of them can be put back in without surgery, but this requires several weeks in a very difficult to manage sling called an Ehmer sling. Rub sores, frequent visits for sling adjustment, and slipping or soiling of the sling are constant threats with an Ehmer sling.

If surgery is needed, either due to failure of the sling or complicating factors like shallow hip sockets, there are a few options. For cats and smaller dogs (up to about 20lbs), there is a procedure called femoral head ostectomy, or FHO, where the head of the femur is removed and the body forms a false joint of scar tissue over time. It sounds odd but works in many cases. These can run about $500 for simple ones or up to $2,500 for complex ones.

”Open reduction” is the term for a surgical procedure to seat the femur back in the hip joint, often using a toggle device similar to a molly bolt you might hang a picture with. These can cost somewhere in the range of $1,500 to $3,500.

I certainly hope the little girl in the park healed up well after her injury, and I hope your pet never suffers an orthopedic injury. Keep your pets safe and free from harm with a sturdy fence and always use a strong, non-retractable leash. There’s almost always something that can be done to help pets with orthopedic injuries, but pink casts don’t look as cute on dogs as they do on little kids.

Leave a Comment
An unknown error occurred while submitting your comment.
Please wait a bit and try again.
Your comment has been successfully submitted and is awaiting moderation.
Check back soon!

My dog recently hurt his leg while we were out playing, and I am concerned that he may have broken it. I want to be sure that it heals properly, so I would like to take him to a good animal hospital that can look at his bones to see if he needs surgery. It seems to me that he broke his thigh bone, which means that he will have to get surgery to make sure that it heals properly. Do you know about how long he will be in a cast for if he goes through this kind of surgery?

My little puppy fell hard on her back while she was playing last week. She cried and started limping heavily.  I thought she must have broken or dislocated her shoulder.  However, she seems to be playing like normal now and no longer limps.  She’s the kind of dog that will hide her pain.  Is there a simple way for me to tell if she fractured her bone?

Our dog just recently had a little injury when she tried to jump over a fence and hurt her leg in the process.  We have never had to take her to an animal clinic before, so we just aren’t sure what steps need to be taken.  After reading this, it sounds like we may need to take her in just in case her body won’t heal itself, and in that case will need surgery.  Thanks for sharing this information.

I really like how you explained that, “The 1st priority, however, is to take measures to protect yourself, as an injured pet may try to bite” I had no idea that even as the owner they will get very defensive. My dog got injured last week and when I wen to help him, he tried to bite me. Thanks for sharing this article because I wanted to see if that was a normal reaction.

Hi Stephen,

It sounds like your puppy just had a sprain/strain, but you can check with your vet to be sure.

Thank you for the help. I have had my dog for just over a month now and last night I noticed that he was limping a little bit. I hope that it is not broken, as you mentioned. I will be sure to take him to the animal hospital today. Would he be walking on it at all if it is broken?

Hi Joe,

Some dogs try to walk or limp around even with a broken leg, so it’s best to go to the vet to be sure.

We hope your puppy is okay! Thanks for reading!

Great post-Tony! My pets have never had an orthopedic injury before but it never hurts to be prepared for one if one were to occur.  I like how you said that “Just like humans, pets can suffer from broken bones, torn ligaments, and dislocated joints. And just like people, many of these injuries will require surgery to repair them.” My parent’s dog suffered a ligament tear. Taking her to an animal hospital was a good choice because the surgeons there were able to repair the ligament.

Planning for emergencies is a good idea even when it comes to your pets. I am glad to know that it is common that pets can break bones as well and may need to visit an animal hospital. Finding an animal hospital that has trained doctors is smart to ensure your pet’s health and safety.

Thanks for the helpful information with pet injuries. I have a few dogs and a cat, and I don’t really know what I would do if something happened to them. I think it is good to have something planned out and ready in case of an emergency. It is good to know that an injured pet might try to bite you. I didn’t really think about the possibility of that. I also like your idea of using a pillow case for a cat if you have nothing else. Thanks for the help!

Tony, thanks for putting together some things you can do to treat your pet’s orthopedic injury.  You make a good point about how it is important to make sure that you take your pet to the veterinary hospital to get x-rays.  I would think that it is vital to make sure you bring your animal to the hospital as soon as you notice that something is wrong so your pet can be as comfortable as possible and heal quickly.

I value having a vet. I am a big dog lover. I have had to run my dog to the doctor last week, because she swallowed a rock.

This is great information to have not only in the even of an orthopedic accident with a pet but for any pet emergency, I think. I’ll have to keep your advice for emergency situations in mind, like using a makeshift muzzle, an emergency carrier, etc before taking them to the animal doctor. I also like your advice for estimating the cost of the orthopedic care by what bone is broken, the severity of the fracture, and if it is a compound fracture or not. Thanks for the helpful info.

Your advice for steps to take in case of a pet emergency are very helpful. I’ll have to keep in mind that if my cat is injured he may try to bite, so I may need to place him in a cardboard box until we arrive at the animal hospital. I hadn’t thought about how to transport a pet in an emergency but this seems like a fast way to get him to the vet. Thanks for the helpful advice.

Thanks for the tips. My dog has been walking funny on its front right paw for a couple of days. I have been worried about what it might be. I looked for any kind of barb that may have been caught up in his paw. I have had issues where dogs have had barbs caught in their paws before. He does not appear to have any kind of object caught in his paw. When I touch his paw he winces a little. I think he may have broken his foot. I will take him to the Vet today if I can. Hopefully, in just a few weeks he will be back to normal.

Pets are great. They can provide a lot of comfort to people. I did not know that pets could get orthopedic surgery, I will have to keep that in mind.

My cat has been walking with a limp lately, and I want to make sure she’s not hurt. I didn’t even think about the fact that cats can get broken bones too! I’ll be sure to take her in to see if she can get helped. Thank you for sharing!

I didn’t know that you should try soothing your pet when they have a broken bone. I would have done just that. Why is that though? Is it because they may be scared and try and nip at you? I would like to know the reason why!

Hi Kendall,

Yes, injured pets sometimes nip, scratch, or bite when they’re in pain.

They may lash out if you accidentally jostle the painful area, or they might be distracted and not realize it’s you.

Your pet probably doesn’t know what’s going, and he doesn’t mean to hurt you. His fight or flight response might just be to fight whatever he thinks might be a threat.

I like your tip to use a pillowcase to transfer your cat in an emergency if you don’t have a carrier. That is a smart idea.  I also like your tip to stay away from their mouth so they can’t bite you. That will be hard since it is natural to want to comfort them while they are in pain. Is there anything that you can to do help them relax while you are on your way to the vet?

Hi April,

You can pet them as long as you can move them without jostling the injury or getting in range of a bite.

You can also try pheromone sprays and offering calming toys.

Thanks for reading!

© PetSafe. All Rights Reserved. Content is provided as a public service. Links and views may lead to companies that may or may not be affiliated with PetSafe or other brands of Radio Systems Corporation.