How to Recognize a Rib Fracture in Dogs

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Any bone fracture or break is a serious medical concern that has to be addressed immediately. A dog could fracture their ribs if they're involved in a traumatic event, such as falling or being struck by a vehicle. This type of injury can occur in dogs of all ages, not just older dogs, and regardless of a pet's activity level. Knowing how to recognize the symptoms is key, but it's also imperative that you get help from a veterinarian who will give your pooch what they need to heal.

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Symptoms of broken ribs in dogs

A dog with a fractured rib will likely behave in a way that shows they're in pain. However, the symptoms might not always be obvious and will depend on the severity of the injury. For instance, if there is a severe break in the rib cage, you might see the broken bone pushing through your dog's skin, but other symptoms may include:

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  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Whining, yelping, or other signs of pain
  • Reluctance to move, sit, or lie down
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Limping
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What to do if your dog’s ribs are fractured

Even if you only suspect that your dog's ribs might be fractured and you aren't sure your pet is hurt, take them to the emergency vet to be assessed and receive the necessary care before the problem worsens. Don't delay, as your pet will require prompt emergency care to recover, especially if the lungs have been punctured.

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If there are open wounds or it looks like the bone might be pushing through the chest, you can gently wrap the area with a clean towel, making sure you don't apply any pressure.

Use caution when transporting your pet to the veterinarian. For example, when getting your dog into the car, do so with extreme care to avoid placing any pressure on their chest. Allow your dog to remain in a position that's comfortable for them while helping to ensure they remain still to avoid further injury.

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Keep in mind that your dog might bite you if they're highly stressed or in a lot of pain. You might need to muzzle your dog to prevent them from biting, but this should be done only if your pet is able to breathe normally.

Diagnosis of dog rib fractures

The veterinarian will perform a thorough exam, carefully listening to the lungs and checking your dog's chest for signs of fractured bones and soft tissue injuries.

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X-rays can be used to determine if there is a serious injury or a minor one, as this information will help the veterinary team choose the best course of treatment. Radiographs can show a veterinarian if any of the organs are affected as well.

An ultrasound can indicate if your dog is suffering from pneumothorax, which occurs when there is air in the chest cavity. The veterinarian may also insert a needle into the chest to diagnose pneumothorax and provide emergency treatment for it. In serious cases, chest tubes might be needed, and your dog may need to be hospitalized.

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Treatments for a dog's fractured rib

If it's determined that your dog has a simple rib fracture, it may only need to be treated with rest and painkillers. On the other hand, your dog may need to undergo surgery to repair a serious rib fracture.

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No matter what, follow your veterinarian's aftercare instructions closely. These may include restricting movement and exercise, giving your pet pain medications, and taking your dog to follow-up exams to ensure they're healing properly.

Remember that if your pet's condition doesn't improve or they're still in pain, don't hesitate to contact your veterinarian right away.

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The bottom line

Any injury to a dog's ribs and chest cavity has to be taken seriously and treated promptly under the direction of a qualified veterinarian. Your dog will be in pain, and the condition could be dire if the injury involves the lungs or other tissues and organs. Don't waste time getting your companion the emergency veterinary care they need.

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