Fracture of the Metatarsus and Metacarpus in Dogs

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Overview of Fractured Metatarsus and Metacarpus in Dogs

The metatarsal bones are the long bones in the hind foot (the arch of the human foot) that connect the toes to the bones of the ankle (tarsus). The metacarpal bones are the long bones in the front foot (the human palm) that connects the fingers to the bones of the wrist (carpus). Fractures of these bones usually occur as the result of major trauma.

These fractures can be classified as “open” (bones exposed) or “closed,” and can be “simple” or “comminuted” (multiple fragments). Depending on the nature of the fractures and the age of the animal, different methods of repair may be indicated for each situation.

Metatarsal and metacarpal fractures generally heal well without long-term effects on the cat, but they can lead to abnormal function of the foot if not properly treated.

What to Watch For

Symptoms of fractured metatarsus and/or metacarpus in dogs may include: 

  • Lameness
  • Swelling of paw
  • Pet not putting weight on the paw
  • Pain when paw is handled
  • Diagnosis of Metatarsal and Metacarpal Fractures in Dogs

    A thorough physical examination is important to determine if fractures are present and to determine if there are other injuries. No laboratory tests are required to make the diagnosis, but your veterinarian may recommend the following:

  • Complete orthopedic examination
  • Radiographs of the affected foot
  • Chest radiographs to determine other injuries
  • Treatment of Metatarsal and Metacarpal Fractures in Dogs

    Emergency care for concurrent problems caused by the trauma is the most important part of treatment. After stabilization, additional treatment may include:

  • Cast or splint. Certain fractures of the metatarsal and metacarpal bones can be managed successfully with a cast or splint.
  • Surgery. For some fractures, anesthesia and surgical stabilization of the bone fragments may be recommended.
  • Pain medication. Injectable analgesics (pain medications) are given to the animal while being treated in the hospital and may be continued orally once discharged from the hospital.
  • Home Care and Prevention

    After surgical repair or immobilization in a cast or splint, the cat will require restricted activity for several weeks and the cast or splint will need to be kept clean and dry.

    A recheck appointment with the veterinarian will occur in several weeks to evaluate how the bones are healing (with new radiographs), to monitor the animal’s progress, and to make sure it is safe to increase the cat’s activity level.

    Most metatarsal and metacarpal fractures are caused by trauma and since many traumatic events are true accidents, they are often unavoidable. Keeping your dog confined to a fenced in area or leash walk only can help prevent some traumatic events. 

    In-depth Information on Canine Metatarsal and Metacarpal Fractures 

    In dogs, 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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