Is My Dog’s Leg Broken or Sprained?

As a dog owner, seeing your dog in pain is extremely difficult because it can make you feel helpless when it comes to making them feel better. In general, dogs are known to be rambunctious, fun, and energetic creatures, which makes them great pets and lifelong companions.

Unfortunately, these same characteristics can also cause them to unintentionally injure themselves from time to time as well. Whether they were playing with another dog, chasing a nearby squirrel, jumping off a wall, leaping for a toy, or anything else for that matter, they can easily injure themselves and begin to limp or struggle to walk as a result of their new injury.

If you see your dog struggling to walk, you may find yourself asking, “Is my dog’s leg broken or sprained?” To help you take the guesswork out of your pup’s condition, the experts at Canna-pet have put together an informational guide that will help you determine whether or not your four-legged friend’s leg is broken or sprained and what the next steps are to make sure they get the care and treatment they need.

A Broken Leg vs. a Sprained Leg

Telling the difference between the signs of a broken leg in dogs and just a sprained leg is incredibly tricky because many of the symptoms mirror each other, especially when there is no visible injury to the leg. To understand the difference between the two injuries, it’s first important to understand what characterizes a break versus a sprain. Below is a short description of both a break, sprain, and a strain.

  • A Break: When looking at the anatomy of a dog,  their front legs consist of the radius, ulna, and humerus, and the back leg consists of a tibia, fibula, and femur. Also known as a fracture, a broken bone occurs when there is a physical break within the bone.There are three classifications/types of fractures to know, which are listed below.
    • Incomplete or complete fracture: This type of break is when the fracture has occurred part of the way around the bone (incomplete) or broken through the exterior of the bone (complete).
    • Transverse, oblique, or comminuted: These are all types of complete fractures. A transverse fracture occurs straight across the bone, an oblique fracture occurs diagonally across the bone, and a comminuted fracture occurs when the break is in three or more pieces.
    • Open or closed fracture: If there is no visible wound in the skin where the fracture is located, it is a closed fracture, but if there is a visible wound, it is considered open.
  • A Sprain: A sprain is a type of soft tissue issue that occurs when the ligament that connects bones is damaged. Sprains commonly occur in the joints, such as the knees, elbows, and ankles.
  • A Strain: A strain is when a tendon that connects muscles and bones is injured. Strains can easily occur due to slips, falls, or jumps and are common for dogs in the hips and thighs.

If your dog is unable to put any weight on his leg, it is important to see a veterinarian immediately as his leg may be broken. However, if your dog can still put weight on his leg and walk relatively normal, you can wait a few hours to a day to see if his condition improves. It may be the case that your dog has actually strained or sprained his leg rather than fractured it.

However, it is important to keep in mind that sprains can also be very painful depending on the severity of the tear. If the tear is significant, it may require surgery to be resolved. The only true way to determine whether or not your dog has broken or sprained his leg is by visiting a veterinarian and having them do a complete visual exam and an x-ray.

Symptoms of a Broken or Sprained Leg

As mentioned above, many of the symptoms of a broken leg or a sprained leg in dogs are the same. Because the injured area is the same and internal, it can be extremely deceiving whether or not the root cause of their symptoms is a break or a sprain. Below are the most common symptoms that characterize a broken or sprained leg in a dog.

  • Pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen paws
  • Swollen joints
  • Reluctance to put weight on a paw or limb
  • Reddened joints
  • Limping
  • Excessive licking on the legs and/or joints
  • Abnormal movement of a limb
  • Whining
  • Unwillingness or inability to walk
  • Bruising
  • Holding the leg up

The Next Steps

If you believe your dog may have broken or sprained his leg, it is important to make an appointment with a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible. Generally, if there is concern that a fracture may have occurred, a veterinarian will run an x-ray and give your dog a physical examination. Once your veterinarian has determined whether or not your dog has a break or a sprain, they can tailor their treatment plan so that it provides your four-legged friend with the quickest relief possible.



  1. “Sprains and Strains in Dogs: What They Look Like, How to Treat Them.” WebMD, Accessed 5 Dec 2018.
  2. “Sprains in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost.” WagWalking, 6 Dec. 2016, Accessed 5 Dec 2018.
  3. “Broken Leg in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost.” WagWalking, Accessed 5 Dec 2018.
  4. “Accidents & Injuries: Dog.” PetMD, Accessed 5 Dec 2018.



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