General Fracture Information in Small Mammals
A fracture is a break or crack in a bone. Although we commonly think of fractures as involving a leg, it is also possible to fracture the skull, jaw, spine, ribs, pelvis and digits (fingers) as well as the long bones and small bones of the front and back limbs.
Practically every bone in your pet's body is susceptible to fracture, and some, like spinal fractures, have a higher priority to treat. The symptoms that arise with fractures are based on the body part injured and any organ damage. Fractures are usually caused by a traumatic event; however, pathologic fractures can occur from relatively low energy events when preexisting disease such as a tumor or a metabolic bone disease like rickets weakens the bone.
Because of the trauma involved with a fracture, it is imperative that your pet be checked for concurrent or parallel traumatic injuries. Though your pet's fracture may seem traumatic, rarely is the fracture by itself a cause for urgent surgical treatment. Your pet should first be evaluated for shock, neurological problems and injury to internal organs.
What to Watch For
- Extreme weakness or depression
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal discomfort or distention
- A change in mental status
Diagnostic tests that may be needed to recognize and treat fractures include:
- Complete medical history and physical examination
- Radiographs (X-rays) of the affected limb or area
Most often, these tests are sufficient. In rare cases, additional tests may be recommended.
- Chest and abdominal radiographs to rule out obvious organ injury especially for trauma patients
- Blood tests to evaluate for systemic organ trauma and diseases or consequences of shock
Depending on the physical status of your pet, your veterinarian may temporarily stabilize the fracture by applying a splint, padded bandage or other device. After the patient is stable, definitive fracture repair can be instituted. The type of repair undertaken depends on a number of factors:
- The fracture type and duration
- The fracture location
- The presence of multiple bone fractures
- The species (hamster, ferret, rabbit)
- The intended activity of the patient
- The patient's age
- The owner's financial resources and commitment
- The surgeon's experience
Definitive fracture reduction and stabilization involves either closed reduction, in which a cast or splint is applied without surgery. A surgical method may also be an option using some type of metallic surgical implant such as a pin, wire, screw, nail or fixator. The surgical technique often provides the best repair and chance for full return to function.
Advanced veterinary surgery is technically equivalent to that enjoyed by human patients and uses similarly expensive materials (implants, bone plates, fixator devices) for repair of some fractures. The most desirable treatment can be somewhat costly. If medical and surgical costs are an issue, it is important to discuss the therapy options with your veterinarian first. But remember that if you choose a less desirable option, the success rate may be lower and the chance for return to limb function less than ideal or you may incur repeated visits to the veterinarian for problems associated with the original fracture. These visits can also contribute to overall veterinary costs.
Home Care and Prevention
Carefully follow all the instructions your veterinarian provided and pay particular attention to the wound and the bandages or splints that were applied. Watch for redness, swelling or abnormal discharge from the incision.
All bandages, splints or casts must be kept clean and dry. It is better to have no bandage than a loose or wet one.
Return for reevaluation as recommended by your veterinarian. X-rays may be taken to make sure the fracture is healing properly.