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Fracture of the Tibia and Fibula in Cats

By: Dr. David Diamond

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Tibia and fibula fractures are commonly seen in veterinary trauma patients,usually as a result of motor vehicle trauma. These injured dogs tend to be young, non-neutered males who roam away from home and get hit by a car. Animals of both sexes and of any age are susceptible to this type of trauma if not kept restrained.

Dogs can develop non-traumatic fractures of the tibia or fibula when certain disease conditions exist. These fractures, also known as "pathologic fractures," can occur if the animal is malnourished, has a systemic illness such as kidney disease, has an endocrine disorder such as hyperparathyroidism, has a bone infection (osteomyelitis), or has cancer of the bone.

Immature bones have growth plates (physes) that are still "open" and growing. These regions of the young bone are generally weaker than the bone that has already been created. The energy of a trauma often results in fracture at these parts of the immature bone and can lead to premature "closure" of the physes resulting in abnormal growth at either end of the bone.

Frequently encountered fractures of the immature tibia include:

  • Fracture of the tibial tuberosity (boney prominence on which the tendon of the quadriceps muscle attaches)
  • Physeal fractures at the end of the bone near the stifle (proximal physis)
  • Physeal fractures at the end of the bone near the hock (ankle joint or tarsus)
  • Fractures of the middle of the bone (diaphysis)

    Fractures of the mature tibia and fibula usually occur in the midportion of the bones. Joint fractures involving the stifle or hock can occur at either end of the bones.

    Fractures of the diaphysis of the tibia/fibula can be classified as "open" or "closed" depending on whether the skin surface has been damaged during the injury. Open fractures are common with these fractures because there is not much soft tissue coverage in this portion of the leg. Open fractures have a greater chance of getting infected and may have more complications than closed fractures.

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

    Each case of tibia/fibula 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), arthritis, or a non-functional leg.

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