Understanding Dog Leg Braces

Dog leg braces and when to use them

By nature dogs are active, when they injure their legs or paws it can really impact their quality of life. Dog splints and braces are designed to provide dogs leg joint support to prevent further joint stress, reinjury, and minimize discomfort. 

What Are Dog Leg Braces?

Dog leg braces support and stabilize a dog’s injured leg joint. Different leg braces are used depending on the joint location and the type of joint injury the dog has sustained. Sprains, strains, and ligament tears can cause a lot of discomfort for your dog. By bracing the dog’s leg injury the pup experiences pain relief and may be better able to bear weight on their injured limb. They can relieve arthritis pain and actually increase a dog’s range of motion.

In some cases proper bracing can be used as an alternative to surgery when combined with structed exercise and therapy. Your veterinarian or rehab specialist will work with you to select the right splint, brace, or support for your dog’s leg.

Dog Brace Benefits

bootie splint for pet injury

There are many advantages to bracing a dog’s leg, some of the reasons a pet may need a leg brace include:

  • Keeping the limb in a normal walking position
  • Continued weight bearing on an injured or instable leg
  • Additional support to a leg fracture or injury
  • Prevent knuckling or dragging of feet
  • Promote healing and provide additional stability an injured joint
  • Rehabilitative use or as an alternative to surgery
  • Post-surgical support

The Different Types of Dog Braces

Most pet’s adapt quickly the the support of a brace. The increased joint stabilization reduces pain and makes it easier for a dog to bear weight on their injured limb. Here are some of the most common types of leg support and dog braces:

  • Elbow Brace
  • Knee Brace
  • Carpal Splint or Brace
  • Tarsal Splint or Brace
  • Hip Brace
  • Cervical braces or spinal support

Along with the joint that’s supported, the construction and materials used for the brace can vary as well. A custom orthotic is typically manufactured of rigid materials that conform around the joint and supporting muscles. These perfectly fit the dog’s body and can be customized for a specific function. Lighter neoprene wraps are used for minor leg injuries as they heal and can be used for a range of conditions. Other premade dog splints come in standard sizes that fit most dogs and provide a stiffer support than a wrap. Splints are usually recommended when there is a shorter recovery time expected and best suited for dog’s with normal anatomy. Growing puppies can benefit from a use of a standard leg splint until they are full grown and ready for a custom brace.

Front Leg Braces for Dogs

Splints and dog braces for the front legs are designed to support the different front leg joints. Choosing the right leg brace for your dog depends on the nature and location of their front leg injury

Elbow Brace for Dogs

Dog elbow braces provide front leg support for pets dealing with elbow instability or discomfort caused by an elbow injury. Elbow dysplasia, degenerative joint disease, or elbow luxation are just a few of the reasons why a dog may need an elbow brace. 

A custom elbow brace provides rigid elbow support and can include a joint or not depending on the nature of your dog’s injury. Jointed elbow braces allow for normal or limited range of motion depending on the need. An elbow brace without a joint keeps the elbow firmly in place. A soft elbow brace is recommended for dogs with hygromas, sores, bursitis, and less advanced elbow problems. 

Carpal Splint or Carpal Brace for Dogs

Lower front leg injuries to the carpal or wrist need the right type of support. Carpal splints provide stability and support to a pet’s lower front leg only. There are two versions of canine carpal support braces: 

  • A front splint supports the carpal joint, wrist, and paw of the dog. Working to stabilize the entire lower leg of the dog.
  • Carpal splint which supports only the carpal joint and lower leg, but leaves the dog’s paw free for natural paw placement. This style splint is ideal for dogs who prefer to feel the ground under their feet when walking.

Hind Leg Braces for Dogs

Dogs with hind leg injuries need joint support in their hip, knee, or hock joint. Each joint in the rear leg provides a different level of support and different style rear leg brace. 

Hock Splint or Canine Tarsal Brace

Rear keg adjustable splint for dogs

Hind leg injuries to the lower leg or hock joint require a Hock splint. Hock splints stabilize the dog’s lower back leg: hyperextension, hock joint instability, or soft tissue injuries in the tarsal joint. There are two styles of splints for a dog’s lower hind leg:

  • Hock splint which stabilizes the lower back leg and hock joint while leaving the dog’s paw free to walk naturally
  • Rear leg splint designed to stabilize the entire lower back leg including the tarsal, ankle, and back paw. 

Dog Knee Brace for ACL Support

ACL tears are the most common orthopedic problem in dogs. Canine knee braces, sometimes referred to as a stifle brace, help to provide support to a dog’s injured knee as it heals. When a dog injures their knee or tears their ACL they immediately begin to atrophy and lose hind leg strength from lack of use. Knee injuries often quickly lead to the development of arthritis and dogs have an increased risk of injuring their other ACL. By bracing  and immobilizing the knee, the stifle joint is stabilized and the dog gets sufficient leg support to help them bear weight sooner. 

A dog knee brace can be used following an injury or surgery, and in some cases a knee brace can be an alternative to a CCL surgery. Most canine orthopedic knee braces are custom made and often include a hinge to allow pets to maintain a normal range of motion in their stifle joint. Additionally, a knee brace can be used to support dog’s with other injuries including: arthritis, patella luxation, knee sprains or strains. A soft knee brace or support is beneficial for dogs with minor knee injuries, pressure sores,  and to provide gentle knee support where the range of motion isn’t restricted. 

Bracing a Dog’s Injured Paw

Paw injuries such as broken toes, frequent nail wearing or dragging feet are just a few of the reasons why a dog may need a paw brace or splint. Often called bootie splints, a paw splint is a shorter dog splint designed to support underneath the dog’s foot and stops below the carpal or hock joint. In many cases, because of its lower height, a paw brace can be used on a front or back foot. Dogs with a paw deformity or missing a paw may require a custom made orthotic or brace.

Does My Dog Need a Custom Orthotic Brace?

An orthotic is a device used to correct or stabilize a specific joint or body part. A custom orthotic is usually recommended for the most severe injuries and ones where a lengthy recovery is expected. Custom braces are typically used to support a limb and reduce inflammation post surgery. Custom orthoses are made from a cast of a dog’s leg, which means the brace can be used even in cases where a dog is abnormally shaped.

The most common types of custom orthotics include complex joint injuries to the a dog’s knee or hip. A custom dog brace may also be prescribed as a surgery alternative. Since orthopedic braces for dogs take time to make and can be more expensive, these are a long term solution.

What Makes a Dog a Good Candidate for a Custom Brace?

A custom brace is not right for every pet. For example, a puppy will quickly out grow a custom orthotic and would be better served with an off-the-shelf brace. A senior dog is the perfect candidate for a custom brace. Many senior pups suffer from degenerative joint conditions or arthritis, all of which can benefit from joint support.

A custom dog brace is recommended:

  • When a dog is unable to tolerate anesthesia or undergo surgery
  • If surgery is too expensive
  • Post-surgical joint support is needed as the dog heals
  • Rehabilitative use to stabilize the joint while assisting or restricting a dog’s range of motion
  • When long term joint stabilization is expected or prevent further joint injury

How to choose the right dog splint guide

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