Bones and Fractures

Our bones play a vital role in life and support each and every move we make. Even when we are asleep or resting our bones continue to support us. When bones are fractured they can no longer provide all the support we need. This is just as true for animals as it is humans.

Fractures are separated into several different types depending on the location of the fracture, the shape of the fracture and whether the fracture includes an open wound. This means that different types of fractures will have differing severity and different prognoses.

How are fractures caused?

There are 4 ways to cause a fracture.

  1. Direct force applied to a bone – a violent force putting direct stress on bones. Between 75 and 80% of all fractures are caused by motor vehicle accidents.
  2. Indirect force – when force is transmitted through bone or muscle to a distant point where a fracture occurs (such as jarring of forelimb and fracture of the bones in the elbow joint).
  3. Bone diseases – bone destruction or weakening of bone so that normal movement is enough to cause a fracture (some bone tumours, nutritional imbalances)
  4. Repeated stress – fatigue fractures from excessive and repetitive use (such as wrist and ankle injuries in working dogs and racing greyhounds).

What do animals with fractures look like?

Most fractures are immediately identifiable – they cause extreme pain. Often, because the majority of fractures occur due to significant external forces, there will be other symptoms to deal with. Motor vehicle accidents can induce shock and other life-threatening injuries as well as fractures to the hips, spine and skull.

Fractures of shorter bones, such as toes, may appear as sore, solid, swellings.

Radiographs are the best way to identify fractures. These should be done under anaesthesia or sedation to minimise pain for your pet.

How are fractures repaired?

This depends on how severe the damage to the bones is, and which bones are damaged. In young animals bones are still growing and heal much more rapidly than older animals.

Severe fractures with multiple breaks are often best repaired by an orthopaedic specialist.

Internal fixation is how the majority of fractures can be repaired, where surgical plates or pins are attached to the bone fragments. External fixation by casting or external wires can also be used, but are difficult to maintain in dogs and cats that lick and scratch at them.

When there are life-threatening complications, such as shock, the fracture is repaired after these complications are treated.

What happens after a fracture is repaired?

The majority of repaired fractures will heal well. Some fractures around joints or in very active animals can result in arthritic changes occurring. The incidence of this is much less than in animals where the fracture has been left to heal with little or no treatment.