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Fractures in Cats and Dogs

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The most common causes of bone fractures in dogs and cats are being hit by a car or falling from a height.

Bones consist of an outer, hard portion known as the cortex and an inner, spongy portion known as the marrow.  The outside surface of the cortex is surrounded by a fibrous capsule called the periosteum, which contains blood vessels and nerves.  The periosteum also contains immature cells that grow into the osteoblasts, which are the cells involved in growth of bone and fracture repair.

Fractures in cats and dogs can range from simple hairline cracks with little displacement of the bone, to complex fractures in which the bone is shattered into many pieces.  Fractures are more serious when they involve a joint, which can interfere with movement and lead to arthritis, or when the jagged edges of the bone pierce the overlying tissues.  “Open” fractures, in which the bone is exposed, often lead to serious infections that are difficult to resolve.

Your vet will perform a physical examination to being evaluating the fracture.  X-rays are needed to fully assess the fracture and to consider how best to stabilize and repair it.

The two broken edges of bone must be closely aligned and stable for the break to heal properly.  Depending on the specific nature of the fracture, your vet may recommend external or internal stabilization.  External stabilization consists of traditional splints, casts, and padded bandages that can be used to immobilize minor or simple fractures.  Internal stabilization involves surgical procedures to piece the fracture together and fix the pieces in place using plates, pins, screws, and/or wire.  Because this type of surgery requires specialized skills, your vet may refer you to an orthopedic specialist.

It is important to limit your pet’s activity during the healing process, so that the bones stay aligned and heal together properly.  Healing can take weeks to months, depending on the severity of the fracture, the type of repair, and your pet’s age and overall health.


Q&A

What causes fractures?

Bone fractures usually occur when pets are hit by a car or fall from a height.

How are fractures diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will examine the bones to look for signs of fracture, and x-rays will be needed to more thoroughly assess the fracture and to consider how best to repair it.

How are fractures repaired?

Repair involves either external or internal stabilization to hold the bones together while they heal.  External stabilization uses traditional splints and casts, while internal stabilization involves surgery to piece the fracture together with metal plates, pins, screws, and/or wires.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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