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What is Casting and Splinting?

Casts are a form of external immobilization, custom-made to conform to the injured extremity or entire body of the canine. The casts lie in close contact with the skin, made of several layers of padding and plaster. However, other materials may be used to create a cast, including polyurethane-impregnated cotton-polyester, fiberglass, or thermal plastics. 

A splint is a rigid material used to aid in immobilization and support of a not yet set bone. The same materials used to construct casts can be used in splint creation, but thermal plastic is commonly used as it possesses the ability for reuse. Ready-made splints of aluminum or plastic are also commonly used for fractures, and are easily applied.

Casting and Splinting Procedure in Dogs

Casting 

Casting is conducted using aseptic technique, meaning the method used to complete a cast is designed to prevent microorganism contamination. The dog may be anesthetized and the affected area may be shaved prior to the procedure. 

The following describes casting technique used on a foreleg fracture:

  1. The dog is placed in lateral recumbency (lying on the side) with the injured extremity facing down. 
  2. A stirrup is creating as tape is applied to the ventral and dorsal aspects of the foot. The leg is elevated and supported to maintain the elevated position for casting. 
  3. A stockinette bandage may be applied if deemed necessary. 
  4. Padding is applied to the elevated leg. Padding underneath the cast consists of layers that are wound tightly around the leg, starting from the distal to proximal aspects of the leg. Several layers will be applied. 
  5. The cast material is rolled around the leg, from distal to proximal limb aspects, overlapping itself on each encirclement. Several layers may be applied. 
  6. Wet plaster is then placed atop of the casting material and conformed to the unique shape of the leg. A slight flexion is placed in the plaster on the carpus to prevent a valgus deformity as the bone heals. 
  7. Visible padding at both ends of the cast are turned downward and taped over the stirrup to aid in position maintenance of the cast. 
  8. Plaster will take several hours to dry, therefore, the canine will be hospitalized overnight prior to release. 

Splinting

Splints are not total encircling devices, but aid in early immobilization when a fracture is accompanied by a great deal of swelling. 

In splinting of a foreleg fracture, strips of plaster run down the cranial and caudal aspects, bound together by a tape or elastic gauze. Splint material is chosen according the size of the dog and length of the limb. The strips are laid on the dressing table and plaster is made wet. 

  1. The wet strips are placed on the affected leg, starting from the toe to the elbow. 
  2. Uniform distance is maintained between the cranial and caudal aspects, then gauze is wrapped in a circular motion around the plaster. 
  3. The splint is flexed to conform to the natural bend in the extremity and tape is applied for security. 
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Efficacy of Casting and Splinting in Dogs

Surgically treated fractures will heal approximately 97% of the time without complications of serious nature. The rate of healing can be as low as 50% to 95% depending on whether or not the canine is experiencing secondary complications (swelling, infection). Casting and splinting conducted by a veterinary or orthopedic veterinary profession will result in permanent fixation of the affected skeleton.

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Casting and Splinting Recovery in Dogs

Pain medication is the norm for send-home drug therapy after a casting or splinting endeavor. However, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are also prescribed in cases of secondary damage caused by the injury (swelling or infection). 

The at-home care provided by the pet owner accounts for approximately 50% of recovery. Limbs that have been casted must be checked twice daily for effective circulation. Cold, swollen, or blue tinged toes indicate a problem and must be addressed immediately. The cast must stay impeccably clean and dry, to prevent infection. Dirty, damp or odorous casts must be changed immediately. 

Check-ups with the veterinarian and total recovery time lies dependent on the injury type. Several months of recovery time are to be expected.

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Cost of Casting and Splinting in Dogs

Casting and splinting can be an expensive, yet highly effective treatment for fracture or breaks. The average cost to cast or splint an extremity is approximately $2,000, but total body casts can average up to $5,000. Ask your veterinarian about the price deemed appropriate, as prices vary depending on the condition and veterinarian.

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Dog Casting and Splinting Considerations

The risks of using a cast or splint are limited in the veterinary clinic, as most risks are present at home. Improper care can pose a risk of infection, loss of circulation, necrotic tissues and delayed healing time. If the extremity was casted properly, the benefits reach the treatment goal of fixating the fractured or broken limb.

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Casting and Splinting Prevention in Dogs

The need of casting or splinting for dogs can be prevented by taking basic safety measures. Fenced in yards, the use of a leash and keeping an eye on your dog will prevent the majority of skeletal injuries from occurring. Blunt force traumas, hit-by-car accidents, falls, and fights are the most commonly reported causes of casting needs.

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Casting and Splinting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Yorkshire Terrier

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Six Months

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Unknown severity

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Noisy Breathing

My dog foot is swollen and a bit tilted to the side. We just notice his paw is more swollen than the other one. He not in pain and has been walking on it but something is definitely not right any recommendations. Should I put his splint back on

Sept. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I'm not sure if he had a splint on previously that was taken off or if it fell off or why he has a splint, but it definitely would not be a good idea to put the splint on yourself. You can do much more damage than good if you're not sure what's actually going on with the foot and it's swollen. If he is comfortable anc walking, it doesn't seem to be an emergency necessarily, but it would be good idea to have him seen tomorrow by your veterinarian so that they can assess what is actually happening with his foot and see if splinting is the right treatment or not. I hope that all goes well for him.

Sept. 3, 2020

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Corgi

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Seven Months

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Limping

Hello! My corgi pup broke his toe on left front paw on June 11, was splinted, splint came off July 26th (6.5 weeks). I’ve noticed he’s limping a little. His from paw appears to be somewhat smaller than the other 3, and the paw looks a little loose or floppy. He does bear weight on his entire leg, he moves good, and he doesn’t excessive lick or anything, doesn’t appear to be in any pain. Wondering what I can expect from recover and are these things normal? Will his paw/leg get back to normal and why is it floppy? Any types or advice would be nice! Does he need PT or to swim or anything? Thank

July 30, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, This is common after taking a splint off. As he starts to use the leg more the muscle in the leg will start to build back up. Monitored swimming is always a great PT to do for any dog. If your dog continues to have issues over the next week, call the vet that put the splint on and disucsse these issues with them. Since they have seen the x rays they will be able to provide you with more information on these issues.

July 30, 2020

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Golden Retriever

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Six Months

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Unknown severity

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Has Symptoms

Valgus Deformity At Both Carpel Joints

My pet had valgus deformation and was treated with immobilisation with stilts. Regular change of bandages was done as the pet was irritated and kept tearing his bandages. After 6 weeks we finally removed stilts and put him on crepe bandage. The carpel joints seem soft and without much change from the initial status. How do we manage him now? Is the curvature in joints likely to change with time. Should I start his walks?

July 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. These are really difficult questions to answer without being able to examine him, unfortunately. Orthopedic diseases typically to require frequent rechecks and updates with your veterinarian, and they would be the best people to give you any advice on what to expect and how things will heal, as they can see him and assess his joints and mobility. If the joints are 'soft', he may need further support to prevent them from returning to their natural position. It would be best to call your veterinarian and ask them these questions, as they are very good questions, and part of the treatment plan. I hope that all goes well for him!

July 25, 2020

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Allie

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Boxer Chow

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3 Months

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Mild severity

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Limping

My dog Allie broke her front paw four weeks ago, she’s been on a splint since then with weekly visits. Today she chewed her splint off. She seems to be standing on it fine, she does limp when she walks and lifts her paw up like she did when she had the splint on. Should she be ok without the splint back or should I call the vet to try and get her in??

Sept. 15, 2018

Allie's Owner

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Ella

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Belgian Shepherd

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18 Months

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Mild severity

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Fractured Leg

my dog fractured her back leg and she was placed in a cast for about a week before pulling the supporting straps off and the cast fell off, she then had a second cast put on being fiberglass but that only lasted 5 days as she pulled the supporting straps off... this is costing me alot of money each trip to vet, she will not have a cone around her as she will get that off to.. any suggestions on how we can keep the cast on for the full term.

Sept. 6, 2018

Ella's Owner

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Ollie

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toy poodle

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6 Months

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Redness And Irritaion

My 6-month-old Toy Poodle broke his leg recently from jumping off the couch. He has been in a splint for weeks. At the end of the fourth re-bandaging session, the nurse assured us the splint and bandage would be coming off next week. Upon arrival next week, however, we found that the splint was removed, but not the bandage. My husband, convinced the vets just wanted an extra 25$ for removal, proceeded upon arriving home to remove the bandage himself. Our puppy seems to be walking on it just fine, but it is worryingly and kind of grossly skinny. He spent a good 30 minutes licking it and pauses to do so every now again. But what I am most worried about is that his leg seems very red and irritated. I had noticed earlier in the week some redness peeping up from the top of the bandage, and that the cast has been rising steadily with each change to cover the redness. I'm very concerned about his leg and whether it was the correct decision to remove the bandage,

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jazz

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Doberman Pinscher

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8 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Limping

my 8 yr old Doberman stepped in a hole when running and snapped her radius and alna emergency splinted it, they aligned it best they could surgery was recommended but I cant afford it so I kept it splinted for 8 weeks checking once a week its seems to be healed good now but the paw is swollen and seems to be a little immobile at paw joint, i am wanting advice on rehabbing it at home

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Juneau

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Siberian Husky

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4 Months

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

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Fractured Growth Plate, Limp
Fractured Growth Plate

My dog Juneau fractured her growth plate at her "ankle". She had a splint on for 6 weeks and just got it off 3 days ago. She is trying to use the leg often but it is clearly weak at the moment because of the muscle atrophy in the past 6 weeks. My concern comes when she walks now.. the ankle sort of buckles sideways a bit. Is this something that will get better and more stable as the muscles strengthens?

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Evee

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German Shepherd

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Licking
Limping
Whining
Inflamation

My 4 year old GSD broke her toe as soon as we moved into a new place with a big backyard. We're not exactly sure how but my best guess is that she hit it extremely hard on the doorframe. It's broken in 3 places but my vet is confident it will heal over 6-8 weeks in a splint. Two weeks later we've been getting check-ups once a week and changed the bandage once. The second week visit the vet says that the cast is clean and dry and doesn't need to be changed again until the next week. My dog is a chronic licker to literally everything and any e collar is too short for he long face so I bought waterproof socks and put that over her cast, changing them out regularly. 4 days later I notice an odor and brown discharge coming from the splint and took my dog in for an emergency vet visit. They took off the bandage and her whole foot was badly infected with major damage to her paw pad. Another vet in the clinic (since my vet wasn't in that day) did an emergency cleaning and suture, managing to get it sewn up despite the small amount of skin in the area. We're told to come back two days later and that's today. My vet who originally treated my dog immediately came at me like it was my fault despite my history of keeping the bandage clean and dry before and not having any issues. I am really surprised an infection that bad occurred in 4 days or practically overnight since I was constantly checking her bandage. Thankfully it's healing up and we went home but now it's slightly damp from her sneaking a lick or two in while I turned my back. My vet instructed me to cut off the bandage if I thought there was an issue but not what to do after that. I've been covering the bandage with baby powder any time I feel moisture but I'm worried that's not enough. I am worried sick for my dog and don't want her to lose her foot but I'm at a loss of what to do until our next vet appointment on Wednesday. Part of me wonders if the infection started before the 2nd vet appointment and it was just missed by the vet since he didn't take the bandage off to look at her foot but I honestly know nothing about infections in dogs so it could have just happened that fast. After her treatment is over, I'm definitely requesting the vet who did the emergency surgery from now on. She was comforting and polite but still firm and honest about what needed to be done.

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Meli

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Goldendoodle

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12 Weeks

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Complete Distal Fracture Metatarsal

My 12 week old F1 Goldendoodle sustained complete fractures of her 3,4,5 metatarsals on her left hind leg. She was taken to an emergency vet and a hard cast was placed under sedation within the hour of the injury. Since the accident, she has been on crate rest and/or walled off in a small area of our home. How often should she be checked out with the Vet for re-casting and x-rays to assess proper healing? Would surgery be indicated instead of serial casts? She is a growing puppy and unsure how either approach will affect her growth, and/or create risk to her other bones and joints that must compensate for her bum leg.

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