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Common Fracture Patterns Seen in Animal Abuse

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)

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Although studies on the physical abuse of animals are limited, data from studies on child abuse suggest that fractures are the most common form of nonaccidental injury (NAI), followed by soft tissue bruising and burns. This report investigated the fracture pattern, location, and classification of NAI and accidental trauma in companion animals. The report also investigated differences between discrete characteristics of NAI fractures in animals versus those in children, as fractures in children are often caused by shaking of the whole body or twisting of the limbs. Abusive situations in companion animals typically exhibit different characteristics because of the pet’s mobility.

Radiographic features of 19 dogs with abuse fractures and 135 dogs with accidental fractures were retrospectively assessed. The study identified 5 fracture features that should raise suspicion of NAI: the presence of multiple fractures, fractures occurring on >1 region of the body, transverse fractures, fractures presenting with radiographic evidence of healing, and multiple fractures at different stages of healing. In some cases, NAI features in the study dogs correlated with features of NAI in children. Other important considerations included relative absence of spiral fractures and overrepresentation of American Staffordshire terriers.


Unless the clinical history is obvious, physical abuse of animals is rarely considered when an animal presents with traumatic injury. Radiographic findings consistent with multiple fractures indicative of blunt trauma may help the astute practitioner in identifying these cases, but further action must be pursued with caution. A conversation with the local ASPCA officer may be warranted so practice teams know the process of reporting a case.—Heather Troyer, DVM, DABVP, CVA


Fracture characteristics to distinguish between accidental injury and non-accidental injury in dogs. Tong LJ. VET J 199:392-398, 2014.

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