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Fracture of the Metatarsus and Metacarpus in Cats

By: Dr. David Diamond

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In cats, there are four metatarsal bones in each hind foot and five metacarpal bones in each front foot. In the front foot, the dewclaw is a rudimentary "thumb" that has a metacarpal bone associated with it, but it does not reach the ground and has no function. The other four metacarpal bones and all of the metatarsal bones run parallel to each other and commonly more than one of the bones in the foot will fracture at the same time.

The middle two toes on each foot are considered the "weight bearing" digits because they support most of the weight. The outer two toes on each foot bear less weight and are considered the "non-weight bearing" digits. Fractures that involve only the non-weight bearing digits tend to cause less lameness for the animal than those that involve the weight bearing digits.

Fractures of the metatarsals and metacarpals can be classified as "open" or "closed" depending on whether the skin surface has been damaged during the injury. Open fractures have a greater chance of getting infected and may have more complications than closed fractures. Open fractures of the feet are common as there is little soft-tissue covering these bones.

As with all fractures, fractures of the bones of the feet can also be classified as "simple," if each bone breaks into two pieces, or "comminuted," if there are multiple pieces.

Each case of metatarsal and metacarpal fracture needs to be evaluated in its entirety (age of animal, severity of the fracture, experience of the surgeon, and financial concerns of the owner) to determine the most appropriate and best form of treatment.

Inappropriate case management, inadequate surgical stabilization, or poor aftercare can lead to complications such as non-unions (fractures that will not heal), malunions (fractures that heal in an abnormal direction or orientation), osteomyelitis (bone infection), or a non-functional foot.
                                                        

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