Does My Dog Need a Brace? What I Need to Know About Leg Braces

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 (usually for athletes or active dogs)

  • Support for the remaining limb after leg amputation

varus (outward bowing) hyperextension (walk on wrist) valgus (inward bowing)

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:

  1. 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.

2. 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 - left). Covering 1/2 the leg provides light support and covering 3/4 of the leg provides heavier support.

3. 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 (left). 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

1. Lightly-supportive braces (sometimes called "wraps") are made of very flexible materials and are useful for

  • tiny, small, and medium size dogs (and cats)

  • 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:

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.

2. 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:

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.

3. Leg Splints Splints 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.

Splints 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.

dog with paw and wrist deformity that would benefit from a splint

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