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Fracture of the Digit in Dogs

By: Dr. David Diamond

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Fractures of the bones of the digits (toes) are occasionally encountered in veterinary medicine. These fractures are usually the result of trauma and often produce a severe lameness of the affected limb with swelling and discomfort of the toe. The swelling and the associated lameness may improve with time and rest, such that it becomes obvious only when your dog exercises.

There are four toes on each foot of a dog and three bones in each toe. The two middle toes bear most of the animal's weight. Fractures in these middle toes are more likely to lead to lameness than when the outer toes are affected.

The trauma may have been obvious, as in a fall from a height, a motor vehicle accident, a bite wound or the dog being inadvertently stepped on, or subtle, as might occur when a dog stumbles while running.

When the fractures do not involve a joint, the long-term consequences are generally very mild or even non-existent. However, when a joint surface is involved, arthritis can result and cause persistent pain that may cause chronic (long-term) lameness.

What to Watch For

  • Limping
  • Signs of pain such as hiding or behavior changes

    Diagnosis

    Diagnostic tests are necessary to determine the presence of the fracture and assess its location and severity concerning how many digits are involved and whether they include the central weight bearing toes, for example. No laboratory tests are required to make the diagnosis.

    In addition to obtaining a complete medical history and performing a thorough physical examination, tests that your veterinarian may wish to perform include:

  • Chest radiographs. X-rays to determine if there is injury to the lung if the fracture was caused by major trauma

  • Complete orthopedic examination to look for other causes if there is lameness in the affected leg

  • Radiographs of the affected foot

    Treatment

    The treatment will vary depending on the severity of the injury and an other trauma the dog has suffered. Some treatment options may include:

  • Emergency care for concurrent problems caused by the trauma

  • Treatment of concurrent fractures and soft-tissue injuries

  • Immobilization of the foot in a splint

  • Injectable analgesics (pain medications) may be given to your dog while being treated in the hospital and may be continued orally once your dog is discharged from the hospital.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no home care for digital fractures. If a trauma has occurred, prevent your dog from using the foot, walking or bearing weight on the injured leg. Take your dog to your veterinarian for immediate attention as soon as possible after any trauma.

    After diagnosis and treatment, if your dog is in a splint, limit your dog's activity for several weeks. The splint will need to be redressed or changed approximately every two weeks, or sooner if it becomes wet or soiled or if your dog develops any rub sores at the top of the splint.

    A recheck appointment with your veterinarian may occur in several weeks to evaluate how the bone is healing (with new radiographs), to monitor your dog's progress and to make sure it is safe to increase your dog's activity level.

    Many traumatic events are true accidents and thus unavoidable. Avoid the chance for motor vehicle trauma by keeping your dog confined in a fenced in yard and walking him on a leash.

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