How long does it take for a broken bone to heal?
I’m frequently asked how long it takes for a broken bone to heal, especially by owners who are dreading the prospect of keeping their hyperactive dog on short leash walks.
Bone healing time varies depending on several factors including the age of the dog or cat, the location and complexity of the fracture, the amount of associated soft tissue damage, and the type of repair that was performed.
Age: Younger dogs or cats heal faster. They are already producing new bone in order to grow, and the cellular /chemical processes for growing bone are the same as those needed to heal a fracture; enzymatic momentum is on their side. Juvenile pets heal broken bones 2-4 weeks faster than adult pets.
Fracture location: Regions with an abundant blood supply heal faster. Some regions are easier to immobilize than others and immobilization acclerates repair.
Fracture complexity: A simple two piece fracture with no displacement of the bone ends and no disruption of the surrounding soft tissue is going to heal much faster than a high energy fracture with many broken fragments that are widely displaced. Infection slows the healing process even further.
Associated soft tissue damage: Again, regions with an abundant blood supply heal faster. Soft tissue damage compromises blood supply during the initial healing stages. Extensive soft tissue damage in a region that already had minimal soft tissue (e.g.: the front leg just above the wrist) doubly complicates healing.
Type of repair: A perfect repair immobilizes the bone without disrupting any of the surrounding soft tissue. This is not always possible to achieve, but it is something that surgeons strive for. In developing a treatment plan and/or discussing your therapeutic options (e.g.: casting or splinting vs. surgical repair), your surgeon will automatically gravitate toward the therapy that will offer the most rapid healing.
For most adult dogs or cats, broken bone healing time is 8 to 12 weeks. In puppies or kittens, broken bone healing time is 6 to 9 weeks. Complicated fractures can take as much as 16 weeks.
Delayed Union and Non-Union Fractures.
If a fracture is not healing as fast as expected, it is called a “delayed union” and may just need more time. If that same fracture is given more time and nothing changes, it is called a Non-Union.
Non-Unions require further intervention, which usually means more surgery. Supplementing or changing the type of repair, stimulating blood flow by debriding tissue, and/or adding a bone graft are typical treatments.