In the moments following an injury, many owners are tempted to run out the door to the veterinarian's office. But by doing so you could be leaving your dog or cat vulnerable to more severe injury while it waits for medical attention at a veterinary clinic. When a limb is left unsplinted, a hairline fracture can turn more severe, and in some cases, jagged bone edges at the fracture site can sever blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and the bone can cut through muscles and even skin, leading to a compound fracture. Immediately following the discovery of a dog or cat with a broken leg, pet owners should splint the limb to prevent further injury.
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Things you need
- Wire coat hanger
- Rolled gauze (preferred) or thick tape (like masking tape)
- Sellotape or medical tape
- Ice pack
- Someone to help
Assess the dog or cat's injury. A broken limb will dangle and move very loosely, with the pet having no control over the portion of leg below the point of injury. Swelling is not always instantaneous. If there is any question as to whether a limb is broken, opt to splint the leg. Other injuries, such as torn ligaments, will also benefit from splinting.
Get a family member or friend to sit with the injured pet. Try not to move the injured pet until the limb can be splinted. Have the friend or family member pet the animal and speak soothingly. Apply an ice pack to the injured limb while the second person collects the materials required to create a splint.
Collect the necessary materials needed to create the splint. A wire coat hanger will be required, in addition to rolled gauze, which will be used to wrap the leg, securing the splint in place. If rolled gauze is not available, heavy duty tape like masking tape or duct tape can be used, but do not apply duct tape directly to the cat or dog's fur. Instead, wrap a paper towel or tissue around the leg and splint, and then apply the tape over the paper towel to avoid a painful removal process. If tape is not available, a rag or piece of clothing can be ripped into strips and used to tie around the leg, securing the coat hanger splint in place.
Consider using a muzzle, as even the most docile, friendly dog can become aggressive when in pain. And while the splinting process should be performed with limited movement of the injured limb, the process can still be painful. An ice pack will also be required to help reduce swelling before the limb is splinted, and on the ride to the veterinarian's office.
Unwind a wire coat hanger and fold it several times until it's approximately the same length as the pet's leg. If available, wire snips can be used to cut away the excess wire, as only a length about equal to the dog's leg will be required. Wrap tape around any sharp wire ends to avoid scraping or cutting the animal's skin.
Approach the injured dog and place a muzzle on the its snout. If a muzzle is not available, use tape, a bandanna or strip of fabric to wrap around the dog's muzzle during the splinting process. In the case of a cat, a friend or family member can hold the cat's mouth closed. Even gentle handling can be very painful in the case of a broken leg, and this pain can lead to aggression in normally docile pets.
Bend the coat hanger wire to the approximate shape of the dog's leg. The leg should be splinted in a neutral position. The leg should not be fully extended or completely bent.
Place the wire coat hanger up alongside the animal's leg very gently. Carefully, begin wrapping the rolled gauze around the leg and the wire, securing the wire to the leg. The wrapping should be moderately firm so as to keep the splint in place. but not tight, as this will cut off the leg's circulation. If there's any question about whether the wrapping is too tight, practice on your own wrist and wait a minute. If there's any discomfort, tingling or throbbing, loosen the wrapping and try again. Do not attempt to realign the leg if it is crooked; wrap the leg as it is. Attempting to realign a crooked broken leg will be extremely painful for the dog and the sharp bone shards can cause additional damage to nearby muscles, blood vessels and veins, and the skin.
Wrap the entire leg and once the wrapping is complete, use a bit of tape to secure the rolled gauze. If rolled gauze is not available, cut or rip a piece of fabric into strips and tie the strips around the leg and wire at both ends and every two or three inches along the leg. If fabric strips are not available, tape will suffice. But when using a very sticky tape like duct tape, do not apply the tape directly to the dog's fur. Instead, place a tissue, paper towel or piece of fabric over the leg and then apply the tape. Another trick involves folding several inches of tape over onto itself (with the sticky edges adhered together). This portion of tape can be used as a barrier between the tape, the adhesive and the fur.
If possible, carry the injured cat or dog to the car. If the dog is too large to carry, sling a towel under the dog's hind quarters and pull up on the towel ends to aid walking.
Bring a friend or family member to help in transporting a dog to the veterinary clinic, if possible. The second person can sit with the dog and help stabilise him or her when the vehicle turns, in the event that a doggy seat belt is not available. With a small dog or cat, the animal should be placed inside a pet carrier, which should then be secured in place with a seat belt.
The second person should also apply an ice pack to the injured cat or dog's leg during the ride, to help reduce swelling and pain.
Use rolled gauze or even tape to wrap around the entire foot. In the case of rolled gauze, wrap the foot and the ankle, as this will keep the gauze in place. Use a figure-eight pattern when wrapping, with the loops circling the foot and ankle.
Pay special attention to the toes when wrapping with gauze. The wrapping around the toes should be firm, but not tight, as this will impede circulation. Wrapping the toes will keep them together as one unit, and it will limit movement for the injured toe.
Carry the injured dog or cat out to the car and transport the injured animal to the veterinary clinic immediately. If possible, bring along a friend or family member who can apply an ice pack to the injured foot to help reduce pain and swelling.
Splinting a Pet's Broken Toe
Tips and warnings
- If the break does not involve a joint, and a wire coat hanger is not available, roll a newspaper, magazine or other similar item around the injured portion of leg, forming a tube. Apply tape to secure the end of the newspaper or magazine. This tube will serve as a splint in cases when a wire coat hanger is not available, though it will only work for injuries that do not involve a joint. The injured section of leg must be straight.
- A friend or family member can be very helpful when applying the splint and while en route to the animal clinic.
- In the case of a compound fracture (where the bone has punctured the skin), apply pressure to stop the bleeding and if necessary, wrap a wad of gauze or paper towel to the leg to absorb blood.
- Do not try to realign the bones at the break site. Re-aligning a crooked leg is not only extremely painful, but it's also very dangerous and can lead to extreme blood loss, damage to the muscles, ligaments, tendons and other nearby structures in the leg. Splint the leg as-is.
- Use caution when handling an injured animal and use a muzzle when possible, as an injured animal may be aggressive.
- Transport the injured dog or cat immediately to the veterinarian's office after the limb is splinted. Delaying treatment can lead to further injury, unnecessary pain and even death in a few cases.