Broken bones are sadly not uncommon cat injuries, with the symptoms associated with a fracture depending on the site of the injury. Although cats can often survive falls from considerable heights, by swivelling their bodies to land on their feet, it is, perhaps surprisingly, their jaws which are fractured under these circumstances, as a consequence of the momentum of their fall. Fractures cause great pain, and require urgent veterinary attention. It is advisable to keep cats indoors after surgery.
My cat’s leg is so badly shattered that my vet is advising amputation. Surely this is rather drastic?
It is a very unpleasant decision to have to take, but it may be the best option, rather than putting your cat through months of treatment, for possibly the same final outcome. Amputation requires only one operation, and most cats recover very quickly from this surgery. While unsteady on their feet at first, they soon adjust to this handicap.
What is external fixation?
This means the fracture is held together by a splint or scaffolding outside the leg. In the latter case, pins are drilled into the bone through the skin, and attached to an external framework. This method can provide excellent support, and allow any skin injury to be treated easily as well.
Limb fractures, especially of the hindquarters, are typically associated with a glancing blow resulting from a collision with a car. In some cases, there may be a fractured pelvis or a break in the femur, which is the bone at the top of the leg.
Fractures can be graded to some extent in terms of their severity, with those where the bone actually penetrates out through the skin being the most severe, partly because of the associated risk of infection. Assessment of the degree of injury depends to a large extent on radiographs taken of the affected area. This will help to provide your vet with information about the best way to repair the fracture.
In some instances, strict rest may be sufficient, but often, as long as the broken ends of the bone are well aligned, a simple cast is needed, immobilising the affected area and allowing healing to occur. Where the underlying damage is severe, however, particularly with multiple fractures, orthopaedic surgery may be required along with fixation, to hold the broken pieces of bone together while healing takes place. Special wires, plates and pins may all be used for this purpose, but even so, there can be no guarantee that the cat will regain full use of its damaged limb.
The bones which are most vulnerable to fractures are the pelvis, femur, tail vertebrae and the lower mandible (jaw).
A greenstick fracture is less serious, because in such cases, the bone is simply badly bent. These occur in young cats, before their skeleton has ossified fully, so their bones are still slightly flexible.
A grating noise is a sure sign of a fracture, occurring when the broken ends of the bones rub against each other when the cat tries to move the affected limb.