We usually think of cats as graceful and agile animals that can make impressive jumps. However, even the best athlete can miss. Falls and collisions with cars are the most common ways a cat breaks a bone. Attacks by other animals (and sometimes humans) can also result in bone fractures. The bones most commonly broken (or fractured) are the femur, pelvis, jaw, and tail.
What to Watch For
The primary symptoms seen are from pain. Cats will try to hide their pain, so watch for these signs:
- Crying, howling, moaning, or growling, especially if touched
- Not walking, or not using a limb or tail
- Not eating or grooming
- Swelling or bruising at the injured area
Sometimes a broken bone will poke through the skin. This is called a compound fracture. In addition, there may be other injuries associated with the traumatic event that broke the bone, such as cuts, bruises, or disorientation.
A fracture is a crack or break in the bone caused by abnormal stress on the bone, usually from a traumatic event like a fall or being hit by a car.
The first thing to remember is that your cat is in pain, and animals in pain can bite, no matter how gentle they are normally. The second thing to remember is that an event severe enough to fracture a bone could cause shock and other not so obvious problems, some of which may not be detectable for days. Therefore, any home treatment is just to stabilize the injury until your cat can be seen by your veterinarian.
Any areas that are bleeding or where bone is sticking out should be covered with sterile gauze or a clean cloth if possible. The broken bone(s) should be disturbed as little as possible. Wrap your cat in a thick towel or put him on a rigid surface to carry him to your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will evaluate your cat’s overall health to assure that more serious problems are under control. Once your cat is stable, multiple X-rays of the suspected fracture(s) will be taken.
There are many factors that will determine how the fractures are treated. The most important are overall health, age, the bones broken, and the type of fracture that has occurred. A splint or cast may be sufficient for the lower leg, but not always.Often surgery will be needed to realign the bones and to place screws, pins (metal rods), wire, and/or metal plates to hold the pieces together.
Some fractures may be so severe as to require amputation, especially if the tail is involved. Fractures of the spine and pelvis will be treated by severely restricting activity (cage rest), with or without surgery. Pain medication will also be part of the treatment plan, and in some cases, antibiotics.
Pathologic fractures are caused by anything that can weaken the bone, such as certain hormonal imbalances, bone infections, and bone cancer.
Living and Management
The most important, and hardest, part of home care is restricting your cat’s activity, especially jumping. Any bandaging material will need to be kept dry. If it gets wet, especially from urine, or if there is odor or evidence of chafing, you will need to have the bandages checked and probably replaced. You also need to keep your cat from chewing on the bandages. The Elizabethan collar is the most commonly used device, but new collar styles and bandages that taste bad are also becoming more available.
Bones usually take 4 to 6 weeks to heal. Follow-up X-rays are normally taken to monitor healing. Fortunately cats seem to heal bones pretty well. Any metal parts that were surgically implanted to stabilize the bone will be left in place, unless they start causing problems.
Since most breaks are caused by traumatic events, limiting access to the outdoors will minimize injuries from automobiles and animal attacks. Pay attention to where your cat likes to go inside. If he likes walking along balcony edges or making risky jumps, try to restrict access to these areas.