As a general rule, follow all instructions provided to you by your veterinary surgeon. Some of those instructions may include the following recommendations:
If your pet has splint or cast for final fracture treatment or if a bandage was applied after surgery to help with pain and swelling, careful monitoring and maintenance is necessary for safe and effective bandage wear. Major problems can result from simple bandages. Please do not hesitate to call your veterinary surgeon if any problems are noted.
Monitor the bandage for slipping, soiling, or damage from chewing. If it changes position or becomes wet or loses its integrity, serious problems may occur with healing or new problems with pressure sores may develop. Please call your veterinarian if any changes in bandage position occur; the bandage may need to be replaced.
If the end of the bandage is open, check the two central toenails twice daily. They should be close together. If they are spreading apart, this indicates toe swelling, which can result in serious complications, and the bandage needs to be assessed by your veterinarian within 4-6 hours. Call your veterinarian if any swelling is noted.
The bandage must be kept clean and dry. Place a plastic baggy or a boot over the end of the bandage every time your pet goes outside. Remove the plastic covering or boot when indoors.If the bandage gets wet or you notice any bad odor coming from the bandage, it will need to be evaluated within 4-6 hours as serious skin problems may develop.
We strongly advised that you do not modify the bandage in any way. Adding tape or other wrappings can seriously compromise the safety of the bandage/splint. If you are concerned about the security or integrity of the bandage, please return to your veterinarian or veterinary surgeon for re-evaluation and re-application as needed.
Please know that bandages and splints can cause very serious complications. They can be an effective treatment tool for fracture healing and pain control, but careful monitoring and appropriate follow-up must occur. If you have any questions or concerns related to issues outlined above or in general regarding bandage/splint wear, please do not hesitate to call your veterinarian or return for evaluation. Your pet cannot tell you that the bandage hurts or is uncomfortable so you need to be attentive to any change.
Confine your pet as directed by your veterinary surgeon. Confinement often includes restricting him or her to one section of the house with carpeted floors, or to a dog kennel. Use baby gates to prevent access to slippery floors and stairs. Do not allow jumping on/off furniture. Do not allow any playing, running, or jumping. For dogs, use a short leash when going outside for bathroom breaks. For cats, confinement is often best achieved with a large dog crate in which food/water, a bed, and a litter pan may be place. A small room may also serve as a confined area, but furniture should be removed to prevent your cat from jumping.
Your pet will feel like fully using the leg before the fracture is sufficiently healed. Please continue the restriction during this time until bone healing has been confirmed with x-rays. Failure to do so may cause serious healing problems.
Assisting Your Pet
Your pet may need assistance to stand and walk in the first few days or weeks following his/her injury. Even if your pet is able to move on his/her own, it is often wise to provide light assistance until he/she is completely stable, especially on slippery surfaces or when going up or down a short flight of stairs. Dogs will often accept help; cats rarely do. Some dogs will fight the assistance and refuse to move. Adjust your efforts as needed to help your pet without creating more difficulties for both of you. Some pets will need to be held up strongly, others will just need light support to prevent slipping or falling to one side.
There are several sling-type products commercially available that are specifically designed to help you help your dog walk during his/her recovery. You may find some of these products online and they are definitely easier to use than homemade slings.
When a bone is fractured, many things happen that make a leg function poorly over the fracture healing period. Muscles, nerves and blood vessels are damaged; the result is pain and poor muscle function. If a leg is weak and/or hurts to stand on, an animal won’t use it properly. When a leg is not used for several days to weeks, joints stiffen, muscles get smaller (atrophy), and bone healing is delayed. Physical therapy during fracture healing uses methods aimed at improving comfort and leg use without harming bone healing. Some of the simpler methods can be used at home and more advanced techniques are used by veterinary physical therapists under the guidance of your veterinary surgeon. Careful coordination between your pet’s veterinary surgeon and physical therapist can result in excellent outcomes and an efficient return to normal leg function.
Simpler methods that can be used at home include:
- Cold therapy: In the first week after injury, applying cold packs to the fracture site will reduce inflammation, swelling and pain; this will make your pet more comfortable and allow him/her to use the leg earlier.
- Range of motion therapy: In the first month after injury, flexing and extending the joints of the injured leg will maintain joint health while your pet is not using the leg fully. Initially this range of flexion and extension will be quite small; the goal is to move the joint without creating pain. As healing progresses, more stretching can be applied to reach toward a more normal range of joint flexion and extension.
- Massage therapy: After the initial stage of painful inflammation subsides, you may be instructed to begin massage therapy on the skin and muscles around the injured bone. This therapy will prevent tough scar tissue from developing that will later prevent normal movement of the leg, and it also offers pain relief in the intermediate period of healing.
Bone healing is dependent upon some of the same factors listed in the chart above. Young dog and cat bones heal faster than old dog and cat bones. Bones that have lots of muscle and blood vessel tissues disrupted from the trauma heal slower than bones surrounded by healthy tissues. Bones that are repaired with minimal surgical trauma (no or small surgical incision) heal faster than those with a lot of surgical trauma.
Your veterinary surgeon should be able to tell you what to expect with healing. As a general statement, fractures need a minimum of 4 weeks in young puppies and 8 weeks in adult/older animals to heal sufficiently for your pet to begin to progress to normal activities.
We do not have the luxury of telling our patients to “take it easy” and “stay off of it”, so we must rely on you (the pet owner) to impose these restrictions even when your pet is begging to romp and play. It is a long 2-3 months when the sun is shining and the squirrels are asking to be chased, but catastrophe can happen if the fracture repair is stressed too soon. Ultimately, most fractures will heal well and bones can resume near normal shape and strength. With close attention to your pet and appropriate follow-up care and physical therapy, our broken pets can return to completely normal lives.