Broken Toes in Dogs

Treatment will depend on how severe the break is

Dog in cast
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Dogs play, jump, run and do all sorts of activities which can lead to accidents. It's possible that sometime in your dog's life, it will break a toe.

Some of the bones are more prone to fractures than others and treatment options vary depending on where the break is. If you suspect your dog has a broken toe, there are signs to look for and a visit to the vet is warranted.

How Do Dogs Break Their Toes?

Dogs have four larger bones on the hind limbs (metatarsals) and forelimb paws (metacarpals). Three smaller bones attach to each of the metatarsal and metacarpal bones, forming the toes. These toe bones are called phalanges. The two middle toes bear most of a dog's weight. Fractures in these digits are more likely to lead to lameness than when the outer toes are broken.

When the joint is not affected by the fracture, the long-term effects are usually very mild or even not apparent. However, when a joint surface is affected, arthritis can develop down the line, leading to chronic pain and lameness.

One of the leading causes of toe injuries in dogs is car accidents, specifically being hit by a car. It's yet another argument to keep your dog leashed at all times outside the home.

Having its toe stepped on or catching its foot on something like a stray board on a wooden deck are some of the other ways dogs may break their toes.

Signs of a Broken Toe

If you notice that your dog is exhibiting any of these signs, it's possible that they have broken a toe:

  • Swelling
  • Lameness or limping
  • Abnormal movement of the toe
  • Instability

Of course, if the break is severe, your dog will be in pain and will likely cry or whine.

X-rays are needed to determine the nature of the fracture, its location, severity, and whether the break includes the weight-bearing toes.

Treatment

Treatment varies based on the severity of the injury and whether the dog has suffered any other secondary issue. Treatments may include:

  • A splint on the foot to immobilize the limb
  • Injectable pain medications continued orally upon discharge
  • Surgery

Metacarpal and metatarsal fractures are fairly common canine injuries. If your veterinarian recommends using a splint to immobilize the toe, your dog may need to wear it for up to 12 weeks for the bone to fully heal.

During this time, splints should be changed at least weekly to reduce the risk of pressure sores due to the lack of soft tissue coverage. If the splint gets wet or dirty, it will need to be changed more often.

If more than one bone in your dog's foot is broken, a split may not be sufficient to treat it properly. Most veterinarians will recommend surgery in these cases, to prevent any malformation of the foot as the bones try to heal.

During the surgery, the veterinary surgeon will realign the bones and secure them in place with wires, screws and pins.

In extreme cases, or when a previously splinted toe does not properly heal, amputation of the dog's toe may be recommended. If it's an outer toe, most dogs can tolerate amputation without too much impediment to walking.

If the toe is on the inner part of the foot, amputation would be considered a last resort, since losing one of the larger toes can affect how well a dog walks and otherwise gets around.

Home Care

If your dog falls or is involved in an accident and you suspect it has broken its toe. prevent your dog from using the foot or bearing weight on the leg with the injured toe. Bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

If your dog is put in a splint, limit its activity for the requisite amount of time. Recheck how the bone is healing with your vet in several weeks. Another X-ray will be taken to monitor your dog's progress and the vet will let you know when you can increase your dog's activity.

Prevention

Of course, most accidents are unavoidable, but you can take steps to increase safety:

  • Avoid potential accidents by keeping your dog in a fenced-in yard and always walking it on a leash.
  • Take care with your dog around heights, a door that can catch little paws, and unfamiliar neighborhood dogs that may be unfriendly.