How to Recognize and Treat a Rib Fracture in Dogs

By Jane Meggitt

Canine rib fractures generally result from trauma, particularly getting hit by a car or attacked by another dog. It's unusual for a dog to suffer just one rib fracture -- he usually receives additional injuries involving other broken bones. If your dog is hit by a motor vehicle, carefully take him to an emergency vet immediately, even if he doesn't appear hurt. And if your dog arrives home and has difficulty breathing, walking or appears in pain, take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Rib Fracture Diagnosis

Your vet will examine your dog and take chest X-rays and possibly ultrasounds. She'll also check for lung damage, since a broken rib can puncture a lung. Physical signs of lung damage include "flail chest," in which the chest wall moves abnormally as the result of rib fractures.

Treating Rib Fractures

While your dog may require treatment for other broken bones or injuries, most rib fractures don't receive treatment. That's because chest immobilization is extremely difficult. You must simply wait for the fractured ribs to heal. There are exceptions:

  • The vet might operate on the dog and surgically repair single fractures with wires or pins.
  • If the dog experiences flail chest, the chest wall requires stabilization so he can breathe properly. The surgery attaches the affected ribs to a splint on his skin.
  • Each fractured rib is fastened to the splint via sutures placed around the rib and through the skin.

Rib Fracture Recuperation

Helping your dog recuperate from a rib fracture consists primarily of keeping him quiet, limiting exercise to his calls of nature, and giving him pain medication prescribed by the vet. Expect recuperation to last several weeks. That's true whether or not he is recuperating from just broken ribs or flail chest. Your vet will likely have you bring your pet in for X-rays to check for healing.