What to Do If Your Dog Has a Broken Toe

Dog in cast
Broken bones usually need a splint or cast to heal. Robert Daly/Getty Images

Just like people, dogs occasionally break their toes. Broken toes may not be as obviously seen as larger broken bones in the body are but there are still things dog owners need to do to ensure a broken toe heals properly.

What is a Broken Toe?

A broken bone is also referred to as a fracture. A fracture may simply be a hairline sized crack in the bone or a complete break causing one bone to now be in two pieces. Regardless of the size of the bone though, fractures, even in toes, are painful.

How Do Dogs Break Toes?

There are a number of ways dogs can break a toe. Some common reasons include the following.

  • Getting stepped on: This reason is especially true for smaller breeds of dogs that may get caught up in the legs of a person. Little dogs sometimes accidentally get stepped on by their owners and since toes are such small bones, they can easily fracture.
  • Jumping off of something: For larger dogs, jumping off of a high surface such as a balcony, deck, or staircase can cause a toe to break. The amount of force that is placed on the toes at landing is too much for some bones to bear.
  • Getting stuck in something: Occasionally a dog will try to wiggle through a fence or get its foot stuck in something like a rug, loose threads on a blanket, or wooden deck boards. It will try to pull itself free which can result in a broken toe.
  • Car accidents: A common cause of broken toes and other bones, car accidents can result in a lot of trauma to a dog. Sometimes the dog is inside the car and other times the car hits the dog while the dog is outside but regardless of how the accident occurs, fractured toes may happen.
  • Bite wounds: When animals fight they may grab at each other's appendages with their teeth. If another animal bites a dog's foot hard enough it might break that dog's toe.
  • Poor nutrition: If a dog is malnourished it may not have the proper bone density to support its weight. Broken toes often result in these dogs that aren't receiving enough calcium. Simply hopping off of the couch can cause some malnourished dogs to break toes or other bones. This most commonly occurs in dogs that are eating simple homemade diets that lack essential nutrients instead of nutritionally balanced diets such as those from the pet store.

Signs of a Broken Toe in a Dog

  • Limping
  • Crying in pain
  • Holding up a paw
  • Licking at a paw

Dogs with a broken toe may demonstrate they are in pain by crying or whining, especially when putting pressure on the broken toe or if someone touches it. They will most often also limp when walking or hold up the paw with a broken toe in it, even at rest. The toe or whole paw may appear swollen though this may be hard to see in long-haired dogs. Finally, a dog may lick at the broken toe in an attempt to relieve the pain.

Diagnosing a Broken Toe in a Dog

If a pet owner suspects a broken toe in their dog, a veterinarian will take X-rays to diagnose the fracture. They may also feel the feet to see if they can tell which toe is broken. X-rays of feet are usually quick and painless so a diagnosis is typically easy to obtain in only a few minutes.

Treating a Broken Toe in a Dog

Depending on which toe in the foot is broken, a splint or cast may be used to keep the broken bone isolated until it can heal. On rare occasions, surgery to place a pin in the broken bone may be needed. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications are usually prescribed to help a dog with a broken toe feel better and if there is also a wound associated with the fracture, antibiotics may also be used to address an infection.

Limitations for Dogs with Broken Toes

Activity restrictions will be necessary to help a dog with a broken toe heal as quickly as possible. Running and jumping should not be allowed or the bone may not heal properly. Baby gates and exercise pens may be needed to keep a dog with a broken toe from going up the steps or jumping on and off of furniture.

How Long Does it Take a Broken Toe to Heal?

A minimum of one month is usually needed for a bone to heal but it may take much longer depending on the break, the age of the dog, the presence of infection, and how well activity restrictions are followed at home.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.