Due to the fact that birds have small, and sometimes hollow bones, it is not unusual for them to break them due to trauma. Falling off a perch, being injured by another animal, or even being stepped on by its owner are some of the more common causes of a fracture.

Sometimes there are underlying problems causing the bones to be weak and susceptible to fracture during normal activity. The tibiotarsal (shin bone) is the one most commonly fractured.

This page shows a tape splint on a simple fracture.  This splint is light and stable, perfect for a small bird like a budgie (parakeet) or a cockatiel. At the end of this page you will see fractures that need surgery, with a link to seeing the full surgical repair of a fractured femur (thigh bone) in a rabbit at our hospital.

At the end of the page are radiographs of birds that need more than a tape splint. There will be links to show how corrected the problem.

Diagnosis

Most birds that have broken legs will not bear weight on the affected leg. Most fractures can be palpated by one of our doctors, although a bone can be fractured without any obvious evidence during examination. Taking a radiograph is one of the best methods to determine if a fracture is present. Look at the following one and see if you can find the problem.

X-ray of femur fracture in a bird

Do you see the fracture in this view?

Side view of X-ray of fractured bird femur

The fracture is more apparent in this side view. This emphasizes the importance of taking two views. This fracture is classified as a mid shaft transverse fracture of the tibiotarsal bone.

Splinting

Most tibiotarsal bones heal well when splinted with special tape. We usually keep the splint on for one month, although this varies. On occasion we need to perform surgery for proper stabilization. This is more common when there is a fracture of the femur (thigh bone).

The first step in splinting this cockatiel fracture is to remove all the feathers over the fracture site. Plucking them allows them to grow back faster compared to cutting them.  Birds routinely show bruising of many colors, which is sometimes misinterpreted as gangrene by inexperienced people.
Bruise on fractured bird leg
You can see the bruising that is apparent on this birds leg directly over the fracture.
Avian- FxTibiotarsal-11

The first layer of tape is applied directly to the skin. We use a type of tape that will cause minimal irritation to the sensitive skin during the healing process and when we remove it after the bone has healed.

Tape on fractured leg

These tape strips are molded over the leg to provide the beginning stages of stability. Several pieces are used to cover above and below the fracture.

Adding layers of tape

The next layer of tape is waterproof and much stronger. Several strips are used to provide the necessary stability.

Tightening the tape layers with a hemostat

When all the layers of tape are applied a hemostat is used to gently mold all the layers tight up against the bone. Now the fracture site is stable and the bone can begin the healing process.

Trimming the tape

One our doctor feels the bones are lined up properly and the fracture site is stable, the excess tape is trimmed

The splint is trimmed for easier mobility. With the fracture stable this bird will feel substantially better, and start bearing weight very soon. It needs to remain quiet and not climb or play excessively during the healing process. The foot should be checked daily for swelling and the splint should be kept clean and dry (of course it is OK to sign the splint). Weekly rechecks by one of our doctors will ensure the splint is secure and the foot is not swelling.

Final appearance of the splint

The final appearance of the light but stable tape splint

This budgie also had a broken tibiotarsal bone that was repaired with a tape splint. His bones are smaller than the cockatiel above so gentle handling is a must.

Parakeet getting tape splint

Even though he is small it is a several person job to put the splint on him

 

Parakeet being gently held

He stood on the fracture leg immediately after the splint was applied

Parakeet playing with staff glasses

He was grateful we took away his pain and started playing with us right away

For comparison purposes this is a cast put on a wiggly 6 year old boy named Mike.  Your bird needs the same kind of attention during its healing process. Make sure it gets plenty of rest and good nutrition, and remove perches initially so it can not climb around the cage. Putting something soft in the bottom of the cage is also needed.

Signing a boy's cast

As you can see, one of his fans is signing the cast while he enjoys some R & R

Surgical Fractures

Some tibiotarsal fractures will not heal with a tape splint. The following two radiographs are typical of  bird fractures that require surgery, one with a fracture tibiotarsus, the other with a fractured humerus. They are both from our Wildlife Program, and you can see both cases in more detail on our Wildlife Care page.

Close up X-ray of bird fractured shin bone

An albatross from our Wildlife Program

Xray of a hawk with a fracture humerus as indicated by the arrow

A red-tailed hawk with a fractured humerus. It was successfully released in northern California.

We would like to use plates on birds fractures like other animals. Bird bones are too thin, and the plate is too heavy, to use in smaller birds if they are to fly again. We would need to go back in surgically and remove the plate, which is an added risk.

X-ray of bone plate on a dog forearm

This is how we put one of those plates on a pomeranian with a fractured radius. It was never removed, and healed 100%.

X-ray of a rabbit with a fractured femur

Rabbit with a transverse mid-shaft fracture of the femur (thigh)

Post operative X-ray of repair of fractured rabbit femur

What the plate, screws, and circle wires look like radiographically after the surgery. Click here if you want to see the full surgical repair of this rabbit fracture.

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