If my dog breaks his leg, will he be in a cast?
It’s possible, although sometimes other techniques are more suitable. Ultimately, if your dog does have a broken bone, our vets will choose whatever is the most suitable method to get it to heal as fast as possible!
What determines which method to use?
There are a number of factors that we take into account when deciding what the best way to manage a fractured bone is:
○Age - young animals heal faster and more effectively than older ones.
○Weight - the heavier the patient is, the more stable the fracture must be made as soon as possible, because they will struggle more to function.
○Species - cat bones heal incredibly fast compared with dogs (or people for that matter!).
○Concurrent disease - many diseases impair healing and mean that the fracture will be slower to heal.
○Number of fragments - the more fragments there are, the more complex and difficult to repair the bone will be.
○Stability - a stable fracture is one where all the fragments lie in their anatomical positions, and where the bones will tend to remain in their correct positions.
So when do you use a cast?
Casts are suitable for stable fractures with small numbers of fragments, in young and/or small dogs and cats. A functional cast will immobilise a joint above and a joint below the fracture site, so it is only usually appropriate for limb bones.
If a cast isn’t appropriate, what are the other options?
There are a wide range of different fracture management techniques, with different pros and cons:
○Suitable for basically stable fractures of the pelvis, ribs and occasionally skull or shoulder blades.
○Minimal movement, in a small cage, prevents stress being put on the broken bones, allowing them to heal.
○Dogs and cats become frustrated after a few days, and may have to stay in confinement for 4-8 weeks, but it is a cheap and simple way of managing these fractures.
○Suitable for fractures with small numbers of fragments which is stable in rotation but not in flexion; in a long bone (such as the radius, ulna, humerus).
○A long pin is drilled into and down the bone, through the marrow cavity.
○This is a surgically simple procedure, but is limited to simple spiral and oblique fractures of the larger bones of the limb.
●Plates and Screws:
○Suitable for most fracture configurations.
○A series of screws and plates are used to reassemble the bone, holding all the fragments in place.
○This allows reconstruction of multiple, complex and massively disrupted fractures; however, the screws and plates occasionally need to be removed later.
●External Skeletal Fixator:
○Suitable for most fracture types.
○An external scaffolding is used to hold a series of pins or screws in place, which immobilise each fragment in place.
○Although time consuming and complicated surgery, it allows repairs of even the most complicated fracture patterns.
What would happen if you used the wrong technique?
What should I look for when my dog is healing and recovering?