What is Fracture of the Tibia?
Any breed of dog can suffer from fractures through falls or the impact hit from a car. Puppies have an increased incident of fractures, around 50% more than older dogs, due to lack of fear and experience. Age and bone brittleness affects the older dog, with decreased capacity of the bone to absorb any pressure. When a dog does suffer from a fracture of any kind, the tell-tale sorry look, the awkward gait, and the obvious distress are easy to see. Take your animal to the veterinarian immediately so he can be checked for other internal injuries as well.
Tibia bone fractures in dogs occurs when the bone is highly stressed and breaks because it is unable to take the impact.
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Symptoms of Fracture of the Tibia in Dogs
- Snapping when anyone attempts to examine the area, especially the tender parts around the fracture
- Unable to support his weight on the affected leg, inability to walk
- There may be swelling around the site of the injury area
- Visible agitation and cringing because of the pain
- Unable to get comfortable because of the pain
- Shaking and trembling uncontrollably
- Your pet may have a sad-eye expression and be whimpering
- Lack of interest in food or water
- Rapid breathing
- An incomplete fracture - The bone tends to bend with only a partial break at the base of the injury where the most pressure occurs; this often happens in flexible younger dogs
- A complete fracture - The bone is broken right through and there are two or more fragments created
- Open fracture - The bone breaks and pressure causes it to break through the skin and protrude
- Closed fracture- Athough the bones are broken right through, they don’t break through the skin surface
There are many ways a bone can break, and the treatment for each varies.
Causes of Fracture of the Tibia in Dogs
Although falls account for a lot of fractures in dogs, it is the traumatic vehicle accident that causes the largest number of injuries. While the fracture itself is upsetting enough, there are other things to be aware of:
- There may be more than one broken bone meaning the animal may be unable to walk
- The shock of an impact from a car can cause internal damages so it is essential to get them checked over to detect any life threatening injuries
- Mature dogs are susceptible to injuries because of their decreasing bone density
Diagnosis of Fracture of the Tibia in Dogs
When your dog is brought into a clinic, the veterinarian will immediately check the seriousness of the injury. Some dogs may become quite stressed and aggravated making it hard to find the extent of the damage.
If this is the case, the decision to sedate your dog will be the easiest and kindest way to handle the situation. Once your dog is sedated and relaxed, the veterinary team can begin to examine the area without risk of being bitten.
X-Rays, ultrasonography and blood tests may need to be done first to enable the detection of any possible internal injuries. Depending on the extent of the injury the veterinarian will often check for injury to the chest and thoracic area and the abdominal areas.
The test results will show the type of fracture it is, and then the right treatment can be decided upon. Often the most effective treatment is an operation to help realign the bones and enable them to heal. Options for treating fracture vary from inserting screws and bone plates to hold the break together, pins inside the bone, implants, or external frame with pins going through the skin.
To you, as the distressed owner, this may all sound traumatic, but your dog is a tough little survivor and very adaptable. The veterinary caregiver will advise what medications can be used to safely ease the pain, while the owner’s job is to watch over the patient at home and make sure they are not bouncing around too soon.
Treatment of Fracture of the Tibia in Dogs
There are various ways to treat a fracture, but which method to use will depend on the fracture itself, and the age of the animal. The main object is to fix the bone fragments so that they cannot move, which reduces the pain, preventing any further damage to the muscles and tissues around the area enabling healing. Fixation may be external or internal.
A cast is the simplest method and is ideal for an injury that is not open or infected and suits a younger growing dog. If the fibula, the other bone running alongside the tibia, is not broken, a cast can be used successfully.
More intensive breaks require bone plates and pins. With this method, a plate is put onto the bone and pinned in place immobilising the fracture. It provides solid support but is more intrusive disrupting the surrounding tissues.
With external fixation, a fixation bar is attached to the exterior of the skin, with bars going through the skin into the bone. It may sound quite gruesome to the owner, but this method requires less disturbance to the injury, it immobilizes the fracture, and allows the tissue and bone to heal quickly.
The intramedullary pinning method means pins are inserted into the medullary cavity of the bone and secured at the dense bone ends. It secures the fracture and provides a strong rigid support when coupled with cerclage wire. This method has no exposed hardware which would hinder the animal’s movements.
Recovery of Fracture of the Tibia in Dogs
- Ensure that your dog doesn’t lick the wounded area as this can lead to infection or delay healing; if he does persist, put an Elizabethan collar around neck
- If bandages get wet or slip, make sure you have it changed or checked to prevent damage and infection from setting in
- Short walks for toiletry requirements are alright, but if going outside onto damp grass, put a plastic bag over any bandages to keep them dry
- Confine your dog in a comfortable environment to prevent movement and encourage rest
- Healing time is typically four weeks for puppies, and expect eight weeks for older dogs to recover before they can begin to get back to normal activities
Fracture of the tibia bones are quite common in dogs due to their exuberant personalities, but they can recover and return to a normal healthy life if the animal gets veterinary assistance immediately, and follow up visits are made to check that everything is healing well.
Fracture of the Tibia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a 4 months old puppy that was hit by a car. There was a tibial fracture in its right hind leg.The vet I'd visited did a pressure bandage (post-anesthesia) and gave us 4-6 weeks to observe. The pup is 3 weeks into recovery, it has developed an awkward gait and it tries to walk on 4 legs (this includes the bandaged and straightened hind leg) and the swelling had vanished completely until today, when it took a panic sprint away from my room at the sound of my hair drier. The swelling seems to have come back badly and the leg seems further awkwardly positioned.
My questions are:
Is a pressure bandage, without a splint, enough for a bad tibial fracture like this?
Can the hind leg be bandaged such that it is completely straight? (as done now) I see it makes the pup adapt in a way so as to develop an awkward gait.
If a pressure bandage is a valid enough solution, can we get the leg examined a get a bandage again, just to make sure the leg doesn't get deformed and we bring the pup under anesthesia again just after 3 weeks? Could anesthesia just after 3 weeks be a risk here?
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My 8 month old puppy fractured his tibia. We took him to an orthopedic specialist and she performed surgery on his leg. She inserted a pin and plates to stabilize the leg. She told us a good sign of improvement would be if my puppy was trusting his leg again and slowly using it. We are three days post surgery and he extends his leg, stretches his leg, and has attempted to itch his ear with it. She gave us about 8 weeks before he’s healed. Are there any other signs we can look for to determine improvement in his leg before X-rays? The swelling has significantly gone down in the first 2 days post surgery. He eats, drinks water, and goes to the bathroom regularly. We are doing massages, cold press, warm press, motion excercises, and will be starting laser therapy soon. His diet is great and filled with calcium. Anything else we can do? Any other signs that he’s healing and bone is growing that we should look for?
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I have 16 year old Cairn Terrier that broke her tibia and another small bone. They said that surgery may be the best option to fix it, however I am concerned considering her age and her other health issues (arthritis, minor liver and kidney issues). Could cast be an option in this case? Appreciate any advise.
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