Cats may be rumoured to have nine lives, but broken limbs are not uncommon in this mischievous species. The treatment options are varied; would you know what the options are? If you’ve ever broken a leg yourself, or know a friend, family member or colleague who has, you may well be picturing a hospital bed, a plaster-cast or crutches. The treatment options for cats with broken limbs depend on many factors, so here are some explanations.

How do I know if my cat has broken its leg?

Curiosity may not kill the cat, but it can lead it into trouble! Cats are playful and sometimes accidents happen. If you notice that your cat is hurt, it can be difficult to know how serious it is. Twists and sprains can cause similar symptoms as a broken leg (a fracture). 

Look out for:

  • Severe limping, including not putting any weight on the leg, or just touching the toes down briefly as they walk
  • Wounds, swellings, bruising
  • Crying, howling, vocalising
  • Unwillingness to be touched, or reacting badly to you approaching
  • Hiding away, not eating

If you notice any of these symptoms, or are concerned that your cat is not acting normally or is in pain, seek veterinary attention. As with most illnesses or injuries, the more prompt the treatment for broken limbs, the better the outcome often is. Try to keep your cat contained in a room or cage and as still as possible whilst you get an appointment. 

What will happen at the vets?

The veterinary surgeon will give an initial examination. This will include looking for any other injuries, signs of shock or internal bleeding as well as examining the affected leg. Once your cat has been assessed, the vet will talk to you about options.

Often, an x-ray is needed. This determines if a fracture is present, what type of break it is and to decide on the best treatment plan. Your cat may require pain relief and intravenous fluids to stabilise them before an x-ray can be taken, especially if there are any other injuries, or if your cat is in shock.

Are all fractures the same?

Not at all! Broken bones are all different, and range from small hairline, stable fractures to complete open breaks. Fractures can be uncomplicated, with a clean fracture line, to complicated comminuted breaks where there are multiple pieces of bone. The fracture can also be ‘open’, where there is a wound that exposes the bone to the outside, or ‘closed’.

Then there is the issue of displacement. This tells you if the bones have maintained their alignment or been knocked out of their usual orientation. 

How can they be fixed?

The aim of treating a broken leg is to help the body heal the fracture as quickly as possible, and to return your cat to being able to use their limbs naturally and painlessly as before. All cats with broken limbs will require pain relief and rest, but the specific nature of the treatment will depend on various factors. These include:

Vetster option 01 (Blog)
  1. The type of fracture obtained by your cat is the biggest deciding factor as to which type of fix is needed
  2. Other injuries or illnesses may make a difference to which procedures are suitable
  3. The equipment your vet has available: some fractures may require a specialist
  4. The age and temperament of your cat
  5. Financial considerations

Treating uncomplicated breaks

Uncomplicated, closed and stable fractures may not require surgery. Plaster casts are not commonly used in cats, but a splint and heavy bandage may be applied. This will keep the limb in the correct and stable position whilst the bone heals. Your cat usually will need to rest (indoors, usually in a pen or cage) and be checked regularly by the veterinary team to ensure good healing.

Treating complicated and severe breaks

More complicated, and open fractures will require surgery. Here, options include:

  • Pinning: a strong metal pin is placed down the centre of the bone (the marrow) and holds the broken pieces of bone together
  • Plating: the bone is placed in position and a thin metal plate is screwed to the pieces to hold them together
  • External fixator: several short metal pins are pushed through the skin into the fragments of bone, and are connected on the outside of the leg by bars and clamps.

Severe fractures will certainly need surgery. But if this is not possible or there are other factors to consider, there is a further option.

  • Amputation. Cats often do extremely well on three limbs, and the recovery from surgery is generally quicker than with a fracture repair. 

What happens next?

Your cat will usually remain at the vets for a few days once the broken bone has been mended, especially if surgery was required. They will be given pain relief, antibiotics if needed and careful monitoring of the affected limb to make sure the fracture remains stable, comfortable and not infected. Once your vet is happy with progress, your cat will be discharged home! Fractures generally take 4 – 6 weeks to heal, so prepare for a long convalescence and a lot of TLC!

Aftercare

Broken bones take time and rest to heal. Your cat will likely need cage rest to start off with, in a cage that is large enough for food, water, litter tray and bed. Some cats cope better with confinement than others, but it is very important to keep them as still as possible in those early days. Gradually, they will progress to being allowed into one room, and then gradually return to normal life. Further x-rays may well be taken to ensure good healing.

Some cats may benefit from some extra help in recovery to give them the best chance of returning to an active and athletic life. Physiotherapy is becoming more widely used in veterinary medicine and can have a very positive effect on return to function after limb injury. Hydrotherapy is popular with dogs and their owners, but although most cats will not tolerate it, there are a few feline characters who may find it useful – and enjoy it!

It’s always hard to see a much-loved pet injured, but there are many excellent treatments for treating broken limbs. Your vet will always talk through the options with you, to ensure the optimum plan of action for both your cat and you. 

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