Fixing a broken (fractured) leg in a bird with a splint

What is Broken Leg?

Domestic and wild birds have tiny, hollow bones, that are prone to sprains and breakage. It is a mistake, however, to think of the avian skeletal system as weak. Just as with any living thing, the bird’s anatomy is adapted and refined to meet its primary life functions. The anatomy of a flying bird is built around an intricate skeletal system that enables takeoff, the soaring and gliding of flight and a safe, sturdy landing. While the wings are regarded as the powerhouse of a bird, a bird’s legs are just as significant. The leg bones of a bird are the heaviest, contributing to the low center of gravity that aids in flight. The legs must be durable enough to withstand take off, to bear its weight for landing, as well as to allow balanced perching whether in nature or in a cage. Birds also depend upon their legs as humans do their hands. The thin, weak-looking legs execute food searches, and grasp, lift and assemble materials to build nests and care for their offspring. Though their legs appear straight and “sticklike” in appearance, they are divided into three sections: the femur (upper leg), the tibiotarsus (shin) and the fibula (sides of the lower legs). The tibiotarsus, the shin bone, is the most commonly fractured. For these reasons, a broken leg in a bird is cause for great concern. Though they are stronger than we think, their legs are small enough that they are easily fractured from trauma, falls and animal attacks. Birds typically sprain or break a leg after a fall from a tree or a perch, or when attacked by an animal such as a cat. Aside from their small size, a bird may also have an underlying condition, such as a nutritional deficiency, that contributes to weakness and a susceptible to sprain or fracture.  Bird owners will be able to quickly spot a fracture, or even a sprain, in the leg. What a terrible sight it is to find your beloved bird unable to balance on its favorite perch. The bird will likely be standing on one foot, and trying to shift its weight to the healthy leg. As soon as you notice this behavior, it’s imperative to seek immediate veterinary care. Not only is the bird in pain, but the sooner the bone is set, the better chance it should heal and return to normal function. If an immediate veterinary appointment is not possible, you can try to take some protective steps until you can visit the veterinarian later that day. Ideally, try to find another person to help you. Relocate the bird to a cage or tank without any other animals. A heating lamp helps to keep the bird more comfortable and discourage shock. In the case of bleeding, one tip is to use baking soda, corn flour (or, if available, styptic powder) to slow the bleed. Use a gauze pad and apply pressure to slow the bleeding. Antibiotic ointment can be used around the leg or foot, as well as a loose bandage. Restrain the bird by wrapping it in a towel. If the bleeding has slowed a bit, wrap the gauze around the injured area on the leg. The gauze can slightly extend above or below the break. While the gauze should be wrapped around in a few layers, watch for tightness. Do not make it so tight that you cut off circulation to the leg. If you feel a splint will be helpful, use a cotton swab, a piece of cardboard or even a Popsicle-type stick. The splint should reach the length of the leg; be sure it does not extend above or below the leg to prevent further injury. Use some kind of wrap (Vet wrap – sold as “Hurt Free” wrap in regular pharmacies or gauze) around the splint to keep it in place – again, very loosely to avoid cutting off circulation to the foot. However, there is no substitute for immediate veterinary care, particularly an avian veterinary specialist. A break will not heal on its own, no matter how timely at-home first-aid care. Your pet bird must be seen when a leg is fractured, and these tips are only meant to stabilize for transport.   Sprains and fractures in the legs of birds are often treatable with immediate veterinary care.

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How to adjust a poorly positioned leg

Poorly positioned legs need to be fixed as soon as possible to avoid more serious problems. For this, it is crucial that you go to a vet as soon as you can.

Treatments, in these cases, are usually very original, since they aren?t generally related to broken legs. Rather, they come down to poor positioning that ends up in a deformity of the leg?s natural position. It might also be caused by malnutrition, twisting the leg or a severe trauma.

We?ll leave you with these fantastic explanatory images from who have done an excellent job on this bird. Congratulations from all of us at Animal Wised!

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Healing a Fractured Bird Leg: How to Make a Splint, we recommend you visit our First aid category.

Products to keep on hand for feeding

High protein infant cereal such as Heinz High Protein Cereal for infants from six months, or Farex High Protein Cereal for infants from six months (good for all infant seed eaters) Wombaroo Insectivore Raising Mixture (ideal for mixing with lean mince for insect/meateaters) Packet dry cat food (soak in water for insect/meateaters) Dry Lorikeet Mix (lorikeets and honeyeaters) Oxheart (cut into small pieces and freeze, for meateaters) What to feed your bird Birds need a balanced diet of protein,carbohydrates, fibre, fats, vitamins and minerals as well as clean water.  Birds like variety so interchange the suggestions following.

Insect Eaters (honeyeaters, frogmouths, magpies, kookaburras, dollar birds, peewees, kingfishers, crows, pheasant coucals, noisy miners, butcherbirds, plovers, friar birds, currawongs, swallows, silvereyes, pardalotes, cuckoo shrikes, koels).

  • Juveniles – mine mix dip in water, mealworms, insects, soaked cat biscuits, pet food mix, egg and biscuit mix)
  • Adults – mince mix, meal worms, insects, soaked cat biscuits, meat variety cat food, egg and biscuit mix.

Carnivorous Birds (hawks, eagles, falcons, frogmouths, kookaburras, magpies, butcherbirds)

  • Juveniles – soaked cat biscuits, mince mix, chopped baby mice, chopped chickens, pet food mix, insects, strips of lean meat dipped in insectivore slurry, ox heart.
  • Adults – strips lean meat dipped in insectivore slurry, ox heart, mince mix, mice, chickens, pet food mix, large insects

Note: chopped clean feathers can be added to the mixes for extra roughage

Nectivorous Birds (honeyeaters, friar birds, noisy miners, lorikeets) Special note: omit mince mix for lorikeets.  Most honeyeaters, friar birds, noisy miners are also insectivores

  • Juveniles – nectar substitute thickened with high protein cereal to a semi-runny consistency, lorikeet dry mix, egg and biscuit mix, small amount sugar nectar, small amount soaked cat biscuits and mince mix, soft fruit, chopped greens, native blossoms
  • Adults – as for juveniles

Fruit eating Birds (figbirds, orioles, some pigeons, koels)

  • Juveniles – soft fruit, native fruits such as lillypilly, figs etc. figbirds, orioles and koels can also be given small amounts of soaked cat biscuits and mince mix, insects and mealworms.
  • Adults – as for juveniles.

Seed eating Birds (galahs, cockatoos, rosellas, pigeons, doves)

  • Juveniles – granivore mix, high protein cereal mix, egg and biscuit mix, chopped greens, soft fruit.
  • Adults – commercial seed preparations (depending on the size of the bird), fruit, chopped greens.

Water Birds (ducks, native hens, coots)

  • Juveniles – chopped greens, chick/turkey starter, pigeon seed, multigrain bread, mealworms, insects, mince mix, pet food mix.
  • Adults – greens, wheat/pigeon seed, multigrain bread, mealworms, insects, mince mix.

Note:  water birds like to have water near their food and dabble their food in it.

Game Birds (quail, scrub turkeys etc.)

  • Juveniles – insects, mealworms, chopped greens, mince mix, chick/turkey starter, seed, fruit, pet food mix, mince mix
  • Adults – same as juveniles.

Special Notes

Never squirt water down a bird’s throat.  This may result in the bird inhaling the liquid into the lungs.  Use an eyedropper placed near the side of the bird’s mouth and let the bird swallow the drops slowly.  Don’t put a new bird with birds that you may already have caged – disease is easily transmitted.  If you have a sick bird, keep them isolated and clean the cage thoroughly with disinfectant after use.  Always wash your hands after handling a bird and before you handle another bird.

Before healing a birds fractured leg

Before starting the process, it is really important that you put your bird in quarantine, especially if it could have a disease or some type of fungus. If you think this might be the problem, get hold of some latex gloves to avoid spreading the disease while you work.

If your bird is unable to move, place it in a nest or somewhere it feels safe and comfortable and, if necessary, give it some food and water until it recovers more.

Pick up your bird and wash its legs with cold water and disinfectant, making sure it doesn’t harm itself. Before putting the bird’s fractured leg in an emergency splint, you should identify what type of fracture it is:

  • Poorly positioned leg: If the leg is healthy and displays no swelling or signs of fracture, it could arise from a poor position in the nest or even growth problems.
  • Open fracture: In this case you’ll notice that the bone sticks outwards. Open fractures are very serious because they require surgery and a quick suture within 8 hours of the blow occurring. If not, the leg can become gangrenous and the problem may become irreparable.
  • Closed fracture: In this case, you won’t see the bone sticking through the leg’s skin, but you will still notice that it is broken. You need to be very careful in order to treat it properly.

Recovery of Broken Leg in Birds

Once the fracture is stabilized by the veterinarian, improvement can be noticeable in as few as 1-2 days. Weight bearing may take 5-7 days. The veterinarian will send you home with necessary materials to take care of the bandaging. At first, weekly or biweekly checks will be necessary to look for signs of bruising and progress. Keep the bird quiet and away from other animals.

An important take-away lesson is to keep a first-aid kit in the household in case of such injuries. Keep gauze wrap, vet wrap, cotton swabs, Popsicle sticks, styptic powder, etc. in an easily locatable place. A heat lamp is a worthwhile purchase. If you have more than one bird, be sure to keep an extra cage for separation. 

Be sure to discuss your bird’s nutrition with the veterinarian. Fruits and green, leafy vegetables are essential to provide the vitamins needed for health and longevity. Make sure the bird (especially a female) is getting the calcium it needs for bone growth and protection.



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