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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.

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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

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Ellie

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Maltipoo

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5 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

Our puppy fractured her back leg and was put in a splint for a few weeks. She got it taken off two days ago, and doesn’t seem to be in pain, but also isn’t putting any pressure on her leg. She will put it down when standing, but holds it up when walking. Should we be concerned or should we give her time? Does she need to go back to the vet? Is there anything we can do to encourage her to use the leg? Thank you!

Aug. 11, 2018

Ellie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Sometimes when dogs have a trauma like that, they learn to not use the leg and they remember that it hurt, so they continue to function without using the leg. Ellie should gradually use the leg more over time, but if she continues to hold it up more, or seems painful, then it would be a good idea to have her rechecked with her veterinarian just to make sure that everything is going well.

Aug. 11, 2018

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Butter

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Pug

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6 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

Hi, My puppy pug (4 months old) broke her humerus bone in her front left leg. She has had 3 surgeries on the leg and now has a plate with 4 screws to hold the bones in place. She had a cast on for over 1 month. Her leg muscles has atrophied, but break has healed. Now that her cast is off for 3 weeks now. she still resist to put any weight no that leg. Water therapy does not work as she does not like the water and does not move. We massage and take her on short walks. She uses the leg, but does not put weight on it. What can we do to encourage her to use the leg more to regain muscle mass?

July 31, 2018

Butter's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

You may just need to continue to walk her and encourage her to do things like go down stairs to put more weight on that leg. If it was painful, she may have learned very well to not use it, and it may just be a matter of time.

July 31, 2018

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