Overview of Spinal Fractures in Dogs
Spinal fractures are breaks in the normal structure of a spinal bone as a result of trauma or other underlying pathology. Fractures of the spine are commonly referred to as “Broken backs” or “Broken Vertebrae”. Because the spinal cord runs within the spinal canal, which is made up of the spinal bones, a fracture of bone can have severe consequences for the nerve supply at the level of the fracture.
There is no breed or sex predilection but spinal fractures and spinal luxations, which are dislocations between adjacent spinal bones, tend to occur more commonly in younger animals less than five years old, rather than older animals.
Causes of Fractured Spines in Dogs
The most common cause of a spinal fracture or luxation is trauma from being hit by a car. Other causes might include:
Spinal fractures or luxations constitute a potential surgical emergency because the fractured bone can cause irreversible damage to the spinal cord, which can lead to paralysis or even death.
What to Watch For
Signs of fractured spines in dogs may include:
Diagnosis of a Fractured Spine
Most commonly, your dog will have sustained trauma and, as such, will be handled carefully and cautiously with regard to the spine, whether or not neurologic deficits are present. All systems will be examined and emergency treatment provided where necessary. Tests include:
Treatment of Fractured Spine in Dogs
The fracture will be evaluated as being either stable or unstable on an X-ray and these findings will be considered in conjunction with the physical and neurological examination. Serial neurological examinations may give a sense of a stable, improving or worsening condition that may also impact on the type of treatment recommended. Treatment includes:
Home Care and Prevention
In the case of a medically managed spinal fracture, cage rest and strict confinement must be undertaken to ensure minimal motion at the fracture site and optimal healing. Restriction will be just as important for cases managed surgically.
If a neck brace or body brace has been used, your dog may require assistance getting up to go to the bathroom. The brace will need to be monitored for rubbing, chafing or sores where the edges contact the skin. If sores develop, the brace will need to be changed.
If surgery has been performed, there will be a skin incision that needs to be monitored for swelling, redness or discharge. Staples or stitches are removed in 10 to 14 days following the surgery.
Follow-up X-rays will be taken by your veterinarian to ensure the fracture is healing properly and that there are no problems with the implants, if they were used.
Since most spinal fractures occur secondary to being hit by a car, all dogs, when possible, should be kept indoors. Neutering or spaying your dog will prevent wandering, which may increase the risk of trauma.