What are they?
Although in popular use a "fracture" means an incompletely broken bone, technically it means ANY break in a bone. These may be complete or incomplete (like a Greenstick fracture), compound (penetrating the skin), comminuted (multiple overlapping fractures, also known as "splintering"), multiple (several non-overlapping fractures) or simple (one clean break that doesn't interfere with any other structures).
What causes them?
90+% of fractures are caused by trauma - being hit by a car, falling from a height, or tripping while running fast are all common causes. More rarely, a fracture may result from an underlying disease process, such as a dietary deficiency (like rickets) or bone cancer.
What dogs are at risk?
Any dog can break a bone! Dogs that exercise a lot, or throw themselves around are probably at slightly higher risk, as are very unfit dogs whose musculoskeletal structure is less robust, but the most broken bones are RTAs - road traffic accidents.
What are the symptoms?
The key signs of a fracture are focal pain, swelling, loss of function, and abnormal movement. The majority of fractures are in the legs, where this is often obvious as non-weight bearing lameness (the dog cannot use the limb or put any weight on it). Fractures to other areas may be harder to diagnose, but usually at least three signs will be present. The exception is in incomplete or partial fractures, especially of bones that are naturally splinted (e.g. the toes). These are still very painful, but the dog may be able to use the affected limb to some extent.
How are they diagnosed?
The presence of a fracture may be easily obvious (especially if the bone is bending in the wrong place, or a paw is facing the wrong way round!) but to determine exactly what is broken, how and where, we need to X-ray the dog.
How can they be treated or managed?
It depends what, and where, the fracture is. Some fractures (like incomplete toe fractures, for example) will heal with just a support dressing. Others require surgical fixation, with pins, screws, or even an External Skeletal Fixator (a kind of scaffolding surgically attached to the bone(s) to hold them in place while they heal). It is unusual to be able to effectively cast a fractured limb in a dog, but it is sometimes appropriate, especially in puppies. If a cast is used, it is VITAL to keep it clean and dry, and have it checked regularly for rubbing or sores.
Can they be prevented?
The best way to prevent a fracture from occurring is to keep your dog under control so they can't run out into roads!