Forearm Fracture in a Dog

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It is not uncommon for a dog or cat to fracture its forearm. The two bones that are usually involved are the radius and ulna. Depending on the severity of the fracture, it is either splinted or surgery is performed to stabilize the bones with plates or pins. In small breed dogs, due to their bone anatomy and blood supply, and splint will not suffice, and a plate is needed surgically for proper healing.

Radiograph

This pup had a mild fracture of the radius and ulna (forearm). Since young animals heal rapidly, and because the fracture was relatively stable, a special type of padded plastic splint was used to stabilize it. It will stay on for 4-6 weeks.

Splint

After the pup is sedated an anchoring tape is applied to prevent the splint from sliding off.

A heavy layer of cotton is wrapped around the leg, and the plastic splint is placed along the bottom of the leg outside this cotton layer.

Several layers of gauze are tightly wrapped over the cotton and plastic splint, and the initial anchoring tape is adhered on top of this gauze. This prevents the splint from sliding down.

A final layer of tape is wrapped over the gauze. This helps keep it dry, adds to the stability, and identifies this as a girl dog!

We can trace the progress of healing on a different dog (his name is Kaiser-he is a large Doberman puppy) with a radius and ulna fracture, by taking x-rays at 3 week intervals. This first x-ray shows Kaiser’s fracture, which he obtained by running into a table.

Here is Kaiser after his splint was applied. He is hiding his face because we used pink tape instead of blue (hey, that’s all we had at the time).

Three weeks after the splint was applied a routine x-ray was taken to assess healing. Both the dark areas and white areas at the fracture site are normal stages in the healing process.

Six weeks after the fracture (and not a day too soon for his dad), the bone has not only healed, but it has remodeled making it smoother and anatomically more correct. This bone will continue to remodel for many months.

Surgery

Surgical correction of a radius or ulna fracture frequently involves plates.  In toy and small breed dogs a splint will not suffice. Plates are mandatory to prevent a malunion or nonunion, which could lead to amputation. It is a specialized surgery requiring special equipment and expertise, along with meticulous placement of the fractured pieces.

If you look at this view of Pebbles’ fracture it looks like a splint could be utilized for stability.

On this view of the same bones the severity of the fracture is obvious. Surgery is needed due to the amount of displacement at the fractured edges and the fact it is a small breed dog.

Here is a view of the bones after a plate has been applied surgically. As you can see from the fractured ends, the alignment is perfect.

Another x-ray gives you an indication of the size of the plate from the top. The amount of cotton padding around the splint can be visualized also.

During and immediately after surgery we will give pain medication.

A splint is put on for additional support, comfort, and to prevent Pebbles from chewing at the surgical site. Pebbles will need to wear this splint as additional support until the fracture heals. This will take up to several months.