Veterinary Fracture Repair

One of the key goals in repairing a cat or dog broken leg is to have the patient walking again almost immediately.

Veterinary Fracture Repair - Orthopedic Surgery

Dr Lane travels between multiple hospitals repairing cat or dog broken legs and other bones bones, torn tendons or ligaments, canine cruciate ligaments and other veterinary orthopedic conditions.

For emergency conditions, the best number to call is Coast Mountain Veterinary Services at (604) 932-5391, and they will locate Dr Lane for you. For chronic, or otherwise non-emergency conditions, please make an appointment on ourContact Page.

 

Short Answer

Veterinary orthopedics – a balance between anatomic reconstruction and preserving blood supply.

A cat or dog broken leg needs several things in order to heal.  The bone itself needs to be immobilized so that healing tissue can bridge the fracture gap.  The smaller the fracture gap, the faster the broken leg will heal.

However, the fracture site also needs a generous blood supply – the greater the blood supply, the faster the broken leg will heal.  Sometimes these two goals are at odds, because aggressive surgical repairs may be good for re-aligning bone but they inherently disrupt the bone’s blood supply.  Therein lies the balancing act.

The decision about how to best repair a cat or dog broken leg depends on many factors – the age and weight of the patient, the type and location of the fracture, the existence of other injuries etc. etc.

In most cases, the best results are achieved through veterinary orthopedic surgical repair, with the patient returning to normal activity in eight to twelve weeks time.

Long Answer

Again, the decision about how to best repair a broken leg depends on many factors.  Deciding what implant to use is key, and needs to consider among other things, the age, weight, body condition and activity level of the patient, the location and nature of the fracture itself, the presence of complicating factors such as concurrent injury or disease, ability of owner to provide aftercare, etc. etc. For this reason, the same fracture on two patients may need a different method of repair for each.

Non-Surgical Repair Options

Non-surgical Repairs for Dog Fractures and Cat Fractures

Casts or Splints
Chance with a fused tarsus

Chance had such bad tarsal (ankle) arthritis that the joint had to be fused. For the first few weeks, a cast was used to augment the surgical repair.Casts or Splints

These are useful for stable fractures involving the feet or toes, or to augment other surgical repairs, but have limited usefulness for fractures occurring higher up the leg. If financial restrictions prevent surgical repair, casts can sometimes be used, but with lowered expectations for the final result. Complications are common.

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Surgical Repair Options

Surgical Repairs for Dog Fractures and Cat Fractures

Surgical fracture repairs allow for faster return to normal weight bearing, fewer complications than casting, and the repair of fractures that simply cannot be fixed by casting alone. Below are some common methods for surgical repair:

Pins/Wires

Pins and wires are useful for relatively stable fractures, especially in lightweight young patients, or to augment other repairs (e.g.: plate/rod constructs)

IM pin repair of a femoral fracture in a small puppy

Dog Fractures - Femoral Fracture pre-op

Pre-op

This young dog broke its leg just above the knee joint. To give a sense of size, the white area surrounding the “R” marker is 1cm wide.

Dog Fractures - Femoral Fracture post-op

Post-op

Two IM pins, called K-wires, were placed along the length of the femur, each pin was about the size of an epidural needle.

Dog Fractures - Femoral Fracture healed

Healed

Six weeks later the broken leg has healed. The pins seem much smaller compared to the bone because the puppy grew during this time. To give a sense of scale, a 25 cent coin was placed next to the leg (white circle).

Plates/Screws

plate-rod-construct

Plates and screws are a common method of repair. They provide strong support for unstable fractures and are useful in many situations. Fractures of upper limb bones that are heavily buried in muscle (e.g. femur) usually need a plate repair.

Demonstration of a plate rod construct for a very unstable femoral fracture. A pin is driven through the marrow cavity of the bone to return the leg to its original length and get it facing the proper direction. Then a plate is applied for additional support

This tibial fracture (A) was fixed using two lag screws and a unipolar external fixator (B) similar to the one drawn in this picture (C)

 

External Fixators

 

This tibial fracture (A) was fixed using two lag screws and a unipolar external fixator (B) similar to the one drawn in this picture (C)

Like plates/screws, external fixators can provide strong support for very unstable broken legs. They have the advantage of minimal tissue disruption which allows for rapid healing and are commonly used in areas where there is less muscle coverage (e.g.: tibial or radial fractures). Contaminated fracture sites, or fractures with concurrent soft tissue damage are well suited to this technique. Unlike plates or pins, part of the external fixator sits outside the body – pins run from the bone to outside the skin where they connect to a weight bearing rod. This makes some owners uncomfortable at first, especially since they need to be able to help with the bandaging, but is well tolerated by the patient.

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Post-Operative Care

Post-Operative Care

Regardless of the type of repair performed, for any broken leg, strict adherence to post-operative instructions is key to success. Bone is live tissue that constantly repairs itself and adjusts its density in response to the amount of work it is being asked to do. Metal does not.

Excessive exercise before healing is complete will eventually loosen or break an implant – the implant is there to temporarily support and immobilize the bone while it heals. Once the bone has healed, it takes over the job of weight bearing and the implant can retire. Diligent exercise restriction in the weeks following the surgery is as important as the surgery itself.

A structured rehabilitation program is also important – it allows for a more rapid and fuller return to function. For more information on rehabilitation therapy, click here Rehabilitation Therapy

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