- Animals that suffer traumatic fractures may have multiple injuries, some of which are life-threatening (for example, bleeding into the lungs). Seek veterinary attention immediately.
- Keep the animal quiet and calm and, if required, perform CPR.
- Avoid manipulating the fracture/s where possible, as this causes pain and may worsen the injury.
- If a bone fragment or bone fragments are visible through a wound, flush the wound carefully with sterile saline and cover this will a loose, non-stick dressing (a women’s panty liner can be used).
- Splinting a fractured limb is not normally recommended as an incorrectly placed splint may cause more harm than good.
- If you do place a splint, place a rigid structure such as a ruler, paddle pop sticks or rolled up newspaper on each side of the affected limb so that it covers a joint above and a joint below the fracture site. Hold the splint in place with multiple sections of tape (avoid taping too tightly).
- Do not attempt to splint a spinal fracture.
- Transport your pet in a box or carrier to the veterinarian.
- Fractures themselves are not usually life-threatening – it is the associated tissue damage and bleeding that can be life-threatening.
- Skull fractures, spinal fractures and open fractures should be attended to as a priority, however all fractures cause severe pain and veterinary assistance should be sought as soon as possible.
WHAT IS IT?
A fracture refers to cracking or breaking of bone and can occur in any bone in the body. The nature of the fracture depends on the force involved.
Veterinarians classify fractures according to:
- The location (bone and the site of the bone involved)
- Whether the break is clean (a simple fracture) or splintered
- The actual type of fracture line (for example, is it straight or spiralled)
- Are bone fragments exposed (an open fracture) or not
- Whether a joint is involved
- Whether growth plates are involved (in young animals)
- Whether the fracture is due to underlying disease such as nutritional deficiency (pathological fracture).
- Abnormal appearance of a limb (it may be sitting at an odd angle)
- Inability to bear weight on an affected limb
- Holding up an affected paw
- Inability to stand
- A wound or wounds through which bone fragments may be visible
- Bleeding and bruising
- Possibly history of trauma
- Fractures usually occur either due to a traumatic injury or event or due to an underlying cause that leads to weakening of the bones which then increases the risk of fractures even due to normal forces acting on the bones.
- The most common traumatic incidents leading to fractures are motor vehicle accidents, falls from a height or being dropped, and animal attacks.
- Causes of pathological fractures include nutritional deficiencies (e.g. calcium, phosphorous imbalances), cancer causing weakening of the bone or a bone infection (osteomyelitis) eating away at the bone.
Your vet will assess your pet’s condition and will stabilise it first if it is an emergency (eg. hit by car victim). A thorough physical examination and neurological examination will be done to assess the function of the limbs, for internal and other external injuries.
Your vet may recommend further tests including x-rays, blood tests, or advanced imaging like CT or MRI.
Treatment and management vary according to the bones involved and the type of injury. For example, some pelvic fractures may be treated with strict cage rest and pain relief, while other fractures may require surgical repair with the use of implants (orthopaedic pins, wires, plates and/or screws or nails).
However, any life threatening injuries will be treated first and adequate pain relief will be provided. For open fractures, the wound would be cleaned and flushed, dead or damaged tissues will be removed, sterile dressing will be applied and antibiotics will be administered to control any infection.
In the case of severe toe or limb fractures, amputation may be recommended if the limb cannot be saved.
Plunkett SJ (2000) Emergency Procedures for the Small Animal Veterinarian 3rd Edn. WB Saunders.
Wingfield WE (2001) Treatment priorities in trauma. In: Veterinary Emergency Medicine Secrets 2nd Edn. Wingfield WE (ed). Philadelphia, USA: Hanley & Belfus Inc.