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Bone Fractures and Healing

Bones are made up of a very strong matrix of calcified and hardened cartilage which withstand, in general, the forces placed upon them.

broken bone

Occasionally, due to severe forces (e.g. being hit by a car/a sudden blow/falling from a height), bones will break (fracture).   Disease conditions such as bone infections, tumours, osteoporosis, may make a bone more susceptible to fracture.   Young animals (up to 8-10months of age) have ‘softer’ bones that are more easily damaged.

Where in the body a bone fractures will depend on a whole range of factors.   Spinal, rib, or sternal factures, are particularly painful and require strict rest.   Leg fractures can occur anywhere from the top of the leg to the end of a toe.   Several fractures may be present on the one leg, or at different places in the body.

Fractures in and around joints (e.g. shoulder/knee) are more difficult to repair and may result in some residual lameness and earlier onset of arthritis after healing.   Broken toes, although not appearing so profound initially, can be more frustrating to treat because accurate realignment of the bony ends (by pinning, plating etc.) is important and they can be slow to heal.   THEY MAY WELL TAKE 3-4 MONTHS TO MEND.   Some other fractures, such as a ‘greenstick’ fracture in a young dog, may only take only 3 weeks to heal. 


Once your pet has been diagnosed with a fracture, your veterinarian will advise on
the most appropriate form of repair.   This may be one or several of the following:

• External splint or cast
• Internal repair with stainless steel bone screws, pins, plates, wires etc.
• A combination of the above techniques, i.e. internal and external fixation techniques may be used together

After repair the following advise is generally recommended:

• Strict confinement for varying periods e.g. 4-8 weeks.   Commonly this may be confinement to either
a) a cage
b) room
c) the house.

What is recommended will vary with each case, depending on factors such as severity of the fracture, stability of the repair, temperament of the animal etc.

• check the wound daily for any sign of complications initially, e.g. wound discharge, excess swelling etc.
• an ‘Elizabethan collar’ or head bucket may be necessary if the animal licks the wound excessively or tries to remove the sutures
• provide a soft, clean bed
• monitor your pet’s toilet habits to check for regularity
• provide plenty of ‘TLC’
• provide a good balanced diet, e.g. commercial, high quality pet food
• antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pain killers are commonly provided.   If your pet seems uncomfortable or in pain, contact your veterinarian for advice.

Once the bone fracture is showing good signs of healing, as checked by xray at 4-8 weeks post-surgery, your veterinarian may recommend more freedom of movement for your pet.   Allowing them to move more freely around the house, or the yard, may be advised.

Patience, time and following instructions  generally produces a very successful outcome with good return to limb function and movement in most cases.

© Forrest Hill Vets (2000) Ltd