There are many reasons why a dog might benefit from a leg brace. Some of the more common include:
- Wrist or ankle arthritis or pain (lameness, limping)
- Injury, sprain, or strain
- Deviation or deformity of the joint
- Protection against injury
- Support for the remaining limb after leg amputation
varus (outward bowing), hyperextension, valgus (inward bowing) of the wrist
Leg injuries or conditions that are mild or moderate can be effectively managed with braces. Surgery may be the best option for dogs with severe injuries but some may not be candidates, and braces provide a good alternative.
When choosing a brace for your dog, there are a few things to consider. A brace should:
- provide the right amount of support - People might think that "more is better" but that's not true when it comes to leg braces. A brace that provides a lot of support or immobilizes the joint can lead to muscle wasting. A stabilizing brace might be needed for a few weeks following a recent injury say, but it is important to switch to a lighter and more flexible one as the dog recovers. Conversely, a brace that is too flexible might not stabilize the joint well enough for healing to take place. It's all a matter of trying to find the right balance, and your veterinary professional can help you make the best decision for your pet.
- cover/support the leg well. In general, a front leg brace should cover between 1/2 to 3/4 of the leg, from floor to elbow (see image below). Covering 1/2 the leg provides light support and covering 3/4 of the leg provides heavier support.
- fit snugly all around the leg - A plastic pipe, like PVC, is very strong but if you slide it over a dog's leg, it won't support the leg because it's not shaped to fit the leg.
- The more intimately-shaped (close-fitting) the brace is to the dog's leg, the better it will support the leg and healing structures.
- If a brace is not fitted well to the leg, it will slide or spin around the leg and cause rubs or sores. So, when ordering a brace, it's important to carefully measure your dog.
Let's take a look at this brace below. It is a short brace, meaning it doesn't cover a lot of the leg so the amount of support it provides for most dogs is little, but it might be a good option for basset hounds and other short-legged dogs. Regardless of the breed, note that the brace is applied too high up the leg; it does not cover the wrist fully and will not help to support this joint. So a brace must be the right size and be applied correctly in order to provide the best support/stability for the dog.
Options for Braces
Wraps are lightly-supportive braces made of neoprene or other flexible materials and are useful for
- tiny, small, and medium size dogs
- dogs with mild injuries, mild arthritis
- dogs that have recovered from injury to prevent re-injury
- dogs that only need support for a short time (e.g., when outside and active)
Recommendations for off-the-shelf wraps include:
- Carpo-Flex Sports Wraps (for front legs), Tarso-Flex Sports Wraps (for back legs) and Mini Sports Wraps (for toy breeds and cats) - all of these wraps can be trimmed with a scissors as needed to provide a more custom fit
- Back On Track Leg Wraps (for front legs and back legs) - great for dogs with arthritic wrist or ankle joints who can benefit from a little heat therapy
- Labra Front Leg Wrap and Back Leg Wrap are a good, economical choice
If wraps are applied properly and fit well, they can even be worn during high-intensity activities to protect dogs from injury and re-injury.
Moderately-supportive braces are also made of neoprene or other flexible materials but have additional supports and are useful for
- small, medium, and large size dogs
- dogs with mild to moderate injuries or pain
- dogs that need braces for longer periods or for the rest of their lives
Recommendations for off-the-shelf braces include:
- Carpo-Flex-X and X-Minis for front legs and Tarso-Flex-X for back legs - these braces come with additional support straps and can be trimmed as needed to provide a more custom fit
- DogLeggs carpal support and tarsal support
- Pet Lovers Hock Brace is a good economical alternative
Self-adhesive padding can be used inside all of the braces mentioned above. Padding is used for added comfort and support. Adding fleece padding inside a brace helps reduce rubbing and protects thin skin. Lubricating powder can also be sprinkled on the leg before applying the brace as an added layer of protection for the leg.
Leg SplintsSplints are hard plastic braces lined inside with foam padding. Splints are held on the dog's leg using Velcro straps. Most splints include the paw but some newer versions do not. Splints immobilize the joint - the wrist or ankle joints are not able to move inside a splint. These devices are useful:
- for dogs that have suffered a recent injury and need time to heal
- when the paw of the pet is also affected (e.g., digits are splayed or deviated)
- when the dog needs a sturdier, more supportive device than one made of flexible materials.
Recommendations for off-the-shelf splints include:
With splints, it's really important to measure your dog very carefully since these devices cannot be altered or modified.
The above are off-the-shelf devices that provide an immediate fix. If your dog does not fit into any of the above braces or needs more specialized help, a custom wrap or brace is recommended.
Custom-made wraps and braces are useful for
- tiny dogs (where fragile, gentle care is needed)
- large and giant breeds (where more heavy-duty support is required)
- dogs with moderate-to-severe injuries or pain
- long-term use (8 weeks and up)
- dogs with severe deviations, deformities, skin issues, or other special considerations
custom-made carpal brace by Thera-Paw
Custom-made braces provide individual fit and support since they are made using the pet's specific measurements and requirements. They are lined with memory foam or sheepskin to protect the leg. They offer the right amount of support, protection, and/or stability, and the support can be increased or decreased as needed. If interested in a custom-made wrist or ankle brace, contact your veterinary professional for assistance.
Custom-made orthotics (hard plastic splints with or without hinges) should also be considered for dogs with moderate-to-severe injuries and those that need long-term care. Custom orthotics companies can be found here.
A Vital Vet Publication
Let’s work together and give them the best life possible!
Other Related Publications
- Traction for Weak, Unstable, or Injured Pets
- Custom Bracing for Pets with Injuries
- The Role of Equipment in Conditioning
- Devices for Pets that Are Knuckling or Dragging
- Pet Video Consults with Rehab and Fitness Experts
This was a very good article on the function of braces. As a rehab professional, I strongly recommend that pet owners get a consult with a canine rehab therapist (CCRT or CCRP credentials), who can examine the pet and advise on the best type of brace, or if a brace is appropriate. That would be the best option for dogs/cats and their owners, for their pet’s safety and function.