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For the love of your pet: Several options available for broken bones

April 28, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 27, 2011 at 11:28 p.m.


By John Beck

My dog recently broke the lower part of his front leg. The vet suggested that we put a splint on it for a few weeks to see if it would heal because it was going to be too expensive to fix surgically. Does this really work?

Spring has sprung and so have all the hyper dogs. We are starting to see an increase in bone breaks most likely because of the increase of outdoor activities. Breaks can happen from something as simple as a slip and fall or more serious accidents like being hit by cars.

Sometimes, the best thing is to pin or plate the leg surgically. This pin or plate will hold the bones in perfect position while it heals. Though this may be the best for optimal healing, it might not be the best for one's pocket book. The process of pinning will run more than $1,000 and, in some cases, closer to $2,000. The other option that a lot of people want to try is splinting or casting. If the break involves smaller bones or is fairly clean, sometimes a splint will do a good enough job of holding the bones in place while the healing process takes place. Because there is going to be some laxity with a splint that would not be there with a pin, it can take a little longer to heal.

Bones are amazing living structures that a lot of people don't think too much about. It is often considered a stagnant, stable structure after initial growth is over. It is very active and changing all the time. Osteoclasts (bone eaters), are cells made by the bone to go in and eat away all the damaged bone cells. Chondroblasts (cartilage building cells) and Osteoblasts (bone building cells), can then go in and lay down a matrix for new bone growth. This process usually takes around six weeks, but can move faster in some dogs and slower in others. The healing time also depends on the extent of the fracture and location. We have had some heal in four weeks and others in 16 weeks.

When using the splint option, make sure that it stays clean and dry. If it gets wet, begins to smell or the leg or toes appear to be swelling, you need to take it back to the vet for a recheck immediately. We recommend having the splint checked once a week to prevent any problems. A couple of radiographs will need to be taken to monitor the healing progress.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me or your local veterinarian.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.

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