the unthinkable has happened! One of your Pomeranians has broken
its leg. Now what? Dig out the crazy glue? Highly not recommended.
Indulge yourself in a fit of total hysteria? While emotionally
satisfying, not very effective. After the first, second, and third
wave of total self-blame (trust me, this is a vicious and
repetitive cycle) well, what then?
If Fido is not bearing any weight on the injured leg within
a reasonable amount of time, immobilize the limb and head off to
the vet with Fido in tow. What can I say? Judgment call
here! It's a little known fact (one that will shock you I am
sure!) that what I consider reasonable and what others consider
reasonable sometimes differs! A "reasonable amount of
time" also varies depending on the situation. For instance, I
would observe the Pom who has injured itself but does not appear
in pain for a longer period of time than the Pom who has sustained
an injury and is in immense pain.
Assessment is the name of the game at this point in time. To make
a thorough assessment ask yourself the following questions:
is this dog in immense pain?
they bearing weight on the leg?
there any noticeable deformities?
there any bruising or swelling?
the dog cry out when the injured limb is moved?"
you answered yes to any of these question, or even if you a are
unsure, splint the leg to limit the movement and get your dog to
the vet as quickly as possible. Feel free to get creative with
your choice of material for a splint. No one will laugh at you for
showing up with a custom fitted toilet paper roll on your Pom's
leg. (ok! so maybe they will laugh a little bit, but what is more
social credibility or knowing you did
what you could to prevent any further damage!) For those weaker of
heart (or with more social credibility to lose!) cardboard, socks,
or even gauze wrapped around the leg and your toothbrush as a
stabilizer will all work.
Here is where my knowledge gets limited. (I know, a shock to me
too!) I have only had experience with fractures of the forelegs.
For any other fractures I can only offer what has been said
previously, assess, immobilize and get to your vet for x-rays.
However, if your dog has fractured a foreleg I have more pearls of
wisdom from the school of hard knocks. As a side note, 83% of all
fractures involving Toy's are fractures of the forelegs. Nice
number huh? 83%, wow. In all honesty, I just picked that number
because it sounded so solid. Seriously, although the vets I have
talked to did not have any official stats, they did assure me that
the vast majority of fractures involving Toy breeds are breaks
of the distal portions of the radius and ulna. Say what? In
English, the radius is the larger of the two bones found in the
front leg and the ulna is... you guessed it.... the smaller one.
These bones are comparable to the two bones found in your forearm,
which incidentally are also called by the same name.
An x-ray will confirm the presence of a break. There are three
things to be aware of and to take into consideration to avoid any
misconceptions of what you, Fido, and your vet are dealing with.
First is healing, or more correctly the lack of. Toy breeds are
prone to fractures, most likely because of their very size
compared to that of the world around them, and because of a quirk
in their systems involving blood supply. The blood supple to the
distal extremities in a small dog is not as good as the supply to
the legs of larger breeds. We do not know why this is, but we do
know that because it is so, a smaller dog will take much longer to
heal from a fracture than a large breed dog.
Second, possible growth disturbances can result from a fracture of
the front limbs. If it is a young Pom (usually under or around the
age of six months) they are not finished growing. The fracture
could affect the "growth plates" causing different leg
lengths. Obviously a dog with unequal legs will not be able to
gait smoothly due to the resulting limp.
Finally, the size of the bones themselves are a cause for concern.
We are talking very, very tiny bones. My nine month old Pom's
radius (aha pop quiz!) measured 2 & 1/2 millimeters deep (from
the front to the back) and 3/4 of a centimeter wide. This is the
bigger of the two bones here folks. Throw into the mix the fact
that the smallest surgical pin available is 6 millimeters long and
watch Lisa have a dickie-bird! (A quaint term my Mother uses).
That brings us to the actual techniques used to help ourt little
ones mend in the best possible fashion. There are three acceptable
ways to immobilize both ends of a fractured bone giving it a
chance to mend. All are done under general anesthetic. They are:
splinting, surgery to implant a steel plate, and surgery to attach
an outside appliance.
Splinting a leg is the most preferred method but there are severe
limitations. The splint allows the dog to heal without surgery.
The major problem with the splint is that it can only be used if
your vet can manipulate the bone into alignment and keep it
aligned until the splint is applied. Remember the size of the
bones. This method is usually what your vet will try first.
If the splinting fails and the vet is unable to get the bone
aligned, they may want to try surgery. The surgery to insert the
steel plate allows the vet to open up the leg and align the bone
by sight instead of feel. The plate is placed on the bone over the
fracture and is screwed to the bone below and above the fracture
line. This forms a "bridge" over the break, compressing
the fracture together allowing the opportunity for a strong heal
to occur. The problem with this is sometimes the strength of the
implant compromises the strength of the bone. Essentially, the
plate will hold the bone together so well that the bone is not
working enough to stimulate new bone formations. Not only will the
fracture not heal, but the bone itself will start to break down,
becoming weak and brittle. Given the size of our breed, it will be
a guessing game if there will be enough skin to close over the
plate after everything is said and done. Skin is only so elastic
and can only be made to stretch so much
before it splits. Sometimes there just isn't enough to go around.
If the fracture is close to the joint, the plate cannot be used as
it must have enough intact bone to anchor to.
The outside appliance is also known as a KE appliance. This seems
to be a better option. It is a device that is anchored to the bone
by pins; two below the fracture and two above it. The pins are
attached to a bar that runs along the length of bone on the
outside of the leg. Once the bone has been aligned, the vet will
take some marrow cells from a donor site, (usually the shoulder)
and place them in the fracture line before compressing the bone
together and anchoring the appliance with the pins. These healthy
cells give a "kickstart" to healing and will help
stimulate new bone growth. This is called cancellous bone grafting
and is also done in humans for hip or pelvic fractures. Eventually
the pins loosen, and the appliance will fall off
after the fracture has healed. In the case of Poms, the vet will
likely take the appliance off after the healing is done (under
general anesthesia) and apply a splint for several weeks. This is
because even the smallest pins still take up approximately 40% of
bone mass in a 9-month old Pom. Leaves some pretty big holes when
the pins are removed, but these will fill in quite quickly.
A glossed-over, and sketchy portrayal of "what then" for
sure, but one I hope has
been informative for all.
Do not expect a fracture to heal instantly or even quickly. It
takes time and there are many triggers that can
complicate the healing process. Ello suffered a fracture in
four months later, in May, there was
little visible healing due to several complications we
encountered. I cannot even begin to tell you how disheartening it
has been to see her go lame (first sign of something awry in the
great game of healing) or to see results from a
follow-up x-ray with the fracture line still present,
creating a gap in her bone that is miles wide in my heart.
Addendum: As I transcribe this article for the PCOC
web page, it is four years since Ello broke her leg.. I am very
happy to report that Ello is a happy, healthy Pom who not only has
returned successfully to the show rings after her ordeal, but has
been amazing in the whelping box as well. There is absolutely no
visible sign of her old fracture, no scar and no limp.