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How to Help a Bird With a Broken Leg -- Splinting a Fracture in a Finch or Canary

Updated on August 29, 2014
The small loops situated on the top of a bamboo nest can catch a bird's foot, resulting in a panic that can cause a broken leg.
The small loops situated on the top of a bamboo nest can catch a bird's foot, resulting in a panic that can cause a broken leg. | Source

Does Your Bird Have a Broken Leg?

Small birds such as finches, canaries and waxbills are fragile and with limbs the thickness of a toothpick, leg fractures are a relatively common injury.

Most often, the bird's broken leg occurs as a result of panic. In some cases, the bird's leg, foot or toes may get caught up, causing the bird to thrash and flutter so much that the bone breaks. A fracture may also occur as a result of a bite from a larger bird or while fluttering in a state of disorientation as the result of a night fright.

Some of the most common areas where a bird may get a leg or foot trapped include:

  • The corners of the cage where the two panels meet.
  • Cuttle bone holder.
  • The bamboo strips in a hooded nest.
  • Small "O" rings used on hanging toys and perches.
  • Fabric bird tents (the toenails may get caught in the fabric).
  • Blankets, cage covers and mesh seed catchers (the toenails may get caught up).

It's wise to tend to any areas where a bird's leg or foot may become trapped. But realize that birds can still be injured in a seemingly safe cage!

Johnson & Johnson Coach Self-Adhering Elastic Bandage 2 Inch x 2.2 Yards (Pack of 3)
Johnson & Johnson Coach Self-Adhering Elastic Bandage 2 Inch x 2.2 Yards (Pack of 3)

This self-adhering bandage is perfect for splinting a bird's broken leg.


Splinting Supplies

You'll need a few items in order to splint a broken leg. Birds such as finches and canaries are small, so splinting can be a rather difficult project.

To get started, you'll need:

  • Scissors
  • Self-adhering bandage
  • Drinking straw

Notably, self-adhering bandages are also marketed as vet wrap. You can purchase vet wrap at pet supply stores like Petco and PetSmart, while self-adhering bandages are available in the drug store in the first aid section. Just look for the crinkly texture.

Be careful to avoid confusing the self-adhering bandages with Ace bandage wraps, which are made out of fabric. You want the cuttable, non-fabric bandage.

How did your bird break its leg?

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Finches and canaries can suffer from a broken leg if they get a leg or foot caught up, so remember to look for hazards in your bird cage!
Finches and canaries can suffer from a broken leg if they get a leg or foot caught up, so remember to look for hazards in your bird cage! | Source

How to Splint a Bird's Broken Leg

Splinting the bird's broken leg will help prevent further injury, while promoting healing.

If the skin is broken, begin by applying a dab of antibiotic ointment to the wound site.

Gently place the leg in an anatomically-correct position (or as close to anatomically-correct as is possible.)

Wrap the leg with the self-adhering bandage/vet wrap. Just 3 or 4 layers should suffice. The bandaged leg should be approximately the same diameter as the straw.

Do not stretch the bandage as you wrap the leg, as this will result in a bandage that's too tight. This will interfere with circulation.

Cut a slit in the length of a straw. Then, cut a section of straw that's a bit shorter than the width of the vet wrap that was just applied. This will ensure that there's bandage beneath the ends of the straw; otherwise, the straw ends will rub on the bird's leg and/or foot, resulting in an abrasion.

Place the straw over the bandage. If necessary, apply a piece of tape or wrap with a layer of vet wrap to keep the straw in place.

This bandage should be left in place until you get to the veterinary clinic.

The bird's splint will need to be changed out every few days or sooner if it gets soiled.

Pet flex Bandage 2Inx5Yd Paws
Pet flex Bandage 2Inx5Yd Paws

Vet wrap is ideal for splinting a bird's broken leg or wrapping another injury, either in a human or in a pet. It's self-adhering, which makes it a very handy item to have on-hand!


How to Splint a Bird's Broken Foot or Ankle

If the bird has a broken leg in the area of the ankle or foot, a slightly different approach will be required.

You'll use only self-adhering vet wrap to splint a broken ankle or foot. Cut a thin strip of vet wrap, about a quarter-inch in width.

Place the foot in an anatomically-correct position. It should form a 45-degree angle, as though the bird was standing.

Use the bandage to wrap around the foot and ankle using a figure 8 pattern. The foot and the ankle will go through the "loops" of the 8.

Be careful to avoid wrapping too tightly. The bandage should not be stretched taught as you wrap. Wrapping too tightly will cause discomfort and it will interfere with circulation.

What species is your bird?

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Prevue Pet Products Patio Sundeck Small
Prevue Pet Products Patio Sundeck Small

This bird cage shelf is ideal for a bird with a broken leg or a one-legged bird who recently lost a leg as the result of a fracture. Simply cover the shelf with a paper towel, folded in half and held in place with a piece of tape on the under-side of the shelf.


How to Help an Injured Bird

Once the splint is applied to the broken leg, place the bird inside a hospital cage until you can get to the veterinarian.

The hospital cage should have:

  • a heat lamp (a desk lamp with 60 watt incandescent bulb will suffice.)
  • a couple layers of paper towels over the floor grate
  • food and water placed on the floor
  • a low perch, an inch or so off the floor.

It's essential to ensure that your injured bird has access to food and water. Promote healing by feeding a diet high in protein, calcium, vitamin D3 (required for the bird's body to actually absorb calcium) and other nutrients.

If you have unflavored Pedialyte on-hand, this can be provided instead of water to help restore the bird's electrolytes in this time of stress. You can also use a homemade electrolyte solution.

Once you visit the vet, you'll typically have three options: to euthanize, to amputate, or to splint. Some opt to euthanize. Others may opt to have the leg amputated, although it can be quite costly --- an expense that most aren't willing to spend on a small bird like a canary or finch. Splinting the leg is often the best course of action.

In a large percentage of birds with a broken leg, foot or toe, the leg becomes necrotic (dead) and eventually, it falls off at the point of the break. The area below the point of injury will darken and ultimately, it will turn black in color. The leg will fall off shortly thereafter --- about 2 to 3 weeks after the initial injury occurs.

Providing antibiotics and pain medications will help to keep your bird comfortable, while preventing infection.

The prognosis for a one-legged bird is good. Losing a leg is not detrimental to their health in the long term. It takes a bit of practice, but in time, they'll learn how to balance and hop around sufficiently.

It's best to provide an in-cage shelf (pictured above) and/or nest once the bird is healed. This provides your bird with a place to relax, taking the weight off his remaining leg.


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