Treatment for a Dog's Broken Toe

Dog in cast
Robert Daly/Getty Images

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, they 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.

Dogs and Broken 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.

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
  • Abnormal movement of the toe
  • Instability

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

According to veterinarian Dr. Phil Zeltzman on Veterinary Practice News, metacarpal and metatarsal fractures are fairly common canine injuries. However, treatment methods can be somewhat controversial.

Dr. Zeltzman recommends that "incomplete or complete fractures of one or two metacarpal/metatarsal bones can be treated with external coaptation (splinting), which needs to completely immobilize the carpus/tarsus in order to be effective." This requires six to 12 weeks for the bone to 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.

However, he notes that "If three or four metacarpal/tarsal bones are fractured and displacement is present, external coaptation may be a poor choice. When multiple bones are fractured, the splint cannot maintain reduction properly, and while union may occur, the recovery will be prolonged and deformity is likely. Surgery is considered a better choice in such cases."

Home Care

Immediately following the accident, 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 car 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.