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What Is a Broken Bone in a Cat?
Bones in cats are structurally similar to those in humans. They provide support for body movement and protect internal structures like organs. Bones also contain marrow, where new red and white blood cells are created. Although cats are usually graceful animals, they don’t always land on their feet and as a result may break a bone.
Breaks or fractures in cats happen mostly after falling, getting stepped on, getting hit by a car, or being attacked by a larger animal.
Fractures of the femur (thighbone) are the most common in cats. Tibia (shinbone) fractures are next, followed by pelvis, jawbone, paw, and tail fractures.
Breaks are generally classified by type of bone, area of bone, severity (how many bone pieces broken), and pattern (angle) of fracture.
Symptoms of Broken Bones in Cats
Cats are strong predators and are good at concealing their pain. This can make it difficult to care for a sick or injured cat. Most cats that have broken bones show at least subtle signs of discomfort. Some of the symptoms to look out for are:
Vocalization: crying, grunting, increased meowing, or growling
Change in movement: not walking as much or at all, not putting weight on a specific limb, not flicking their tail, or holding their tail limply
Change in behavior: not wanting to jump, stretch, or scratch as they normally do; not grooming themselves, or growling and hissing when petted
Decreased appetite: avoiding food may indicate a broken jaw or pain in getting to their food bowl
Swelling or bruising
Other injuries: cuts, scrapes, or bruises in areas where an injury may have occurred
What to Do if Your Cat Breaks a Bone
If you suspect your cat has a broken bone, make sure that you are safe when interacting with them. No matter how gentle your cat normally is, when in pain any cat can bite.
Severe breaks and injuries can cause your cat to go into shock. If your cat collapses, is having convulsions, has pale or blue gums, or is breathing with their mouth open, take them to an emergency veterinarian immediately. Cover any area that is bleeding or where there is visible bone with a clean cloth. Then wrap your cat carefully in a towel or blanket and take them for treatment.
Do not try to set any broken bones yourself. Bones should be disturbed as little as possible until your cat is examined by the vet. Try to keep other pets and children away from your injured cat.
How Veterinarians Treat Broken Bones in Cats
How fractures are treated depends on the location and type of fracture and the bone that was broken. Other factors include your cat’s age, weight, and overall health, how old the injury is, and if other injuries are present.
Veterinarians treat broken bones using the following methods:
Splints/casts are used to stabilize certain fractures where the joints above and below the fracture can be immobilized. Splints and casts require weekly bandage changes by your veterinarian.
Surgery may be needed to realign bones. Rods, plates, screws, or wires are used to stabilize the fracture or hold misplaced bones in a stable position. All open fractures, where broken bone is visible through a wound, require surgical repair.
Amputation may be considered with very severe fractures. It may be recommended as the fastest way to get your pet healthy and pain-free. Fortunately, most cats do well with amputation of a limb or tail and return to normal faster than those that had stabilization surgery.
Crate/cage rest is needed for some simple fractures, where the bones are still normally aligned. These can be treated by severely restricting movement. This option can have side effects, which your veterinarian can explain to you.
If surgery or amputation is needed to treat your cat, you may be referred to a veterinary surgeon.
Recovery and Management of Broken Bones in Cats
Regardless of the type of repair or treatment, your cat will need rest following a fracture. Your veterinarian will tell you the length and kind of rest your pet will need. It is often recommended that you remove toys, cat trees, and other items that encourage movement until your cat is cleared for normal activity.
Cats with a broken bone usually also need pain and anti-inflammatory medication while they recuperate at home, and open fractures generally also require treatment with antibiotics.
If your cat has a cast or splint, keep the bandage material clean and dry. Splints also require regular bandage changes; but if it becomes wet or dirty, it should be changed sooner. Bandage changes must be done by your veterinarian; the process can be painful for your cat and sedation may be needed.
Cats that have had bone surgery and those that have casts or splints will most likely be given an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from chewing on their stitches or bandages. Broken bones in cats typically heal in 6-12 weeks depending on the type of fracture, its location, your cat’s age and health, and the treatment rendered.
Cats that are older, are overweight or obese, have other medical issues such as diabetes or heart disease, or have complex fractures usually take longer to heal. Your veterinarian will recommend periodic x-rays to monitor the healing process.
Harasen G. Common long bone fractures in small animal practice—Part 1. Canadian Veterinary Journal. 2003;44(4):333-334.
Nolte DM, Fusco JV, Peterson ME. Incidence of and predisposing factors for nonunion of fractures involving the appendicular skeleton in cats: 18 cases (1998-2002). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2005;226(1):77-82.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Yelena Shander
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