Broken bones for dogs and cats may not be life-threatening, but a trip to the vet can guard against more serious injury. Even for the most mild-mannered of pets, a car crash, fight or fall can be traumatizing and require extra care in handling, said Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a New York City veternarian who wrote guidelines on dealing with broken bones in animals for the pet section of the health site WebMD.
"The dog's doing what he should do. He hurts. It's painful and you're fussing with him and he's going to bite you," she said.
Don Montes, who owns a pet ambulance service in New York, suggests muzzling an injured animal for transport.
"Muzzles are important even if your dog is a lamb and usually licks you to death," he said.
If you don't have one, a necktie will work because it's soft and long.
Hohenhaus doesn't have a good substitute for a cat muzzle, but putting a thick or folded blanket over a cat with a broken bone will serve as a buffer between you and the cat's claws and teeth.
There are two kinds of bone fractures — open and closed.
You might not notice a simple closed break right away because it doesn't break skin. A cat might hide under a bed or sofa. A dog will probably limp, lick the wound, have trouble sleeping or sleep all the time, Hohenhaus said.
Richard Vogel, a photo editor for the Associated Press in Los Angeles, was playing with his dog at a park when Marley chased a squirrel up a tree. She started limping soon after. Two days later, the limp continued. An X-ray revealed a broken toe and Marley required a cast.
Dr. Kelly Miller, who treated Marley, said most open fractures happen when a dog is hit by a car or attacked by a bigger dog. Most closed fractures are caused by falls.
Miller says a large percentage of the broken bones she treats are in dogs that weigh less than 10 pounds. "They have long, thin bones and break their legs jumping off things like beds or the back of couches," she said.
She recommends teaching small dogs to use doggie stairs or a ramp so they don't leap off furniture.
In open, or compound fractures, bone goes through skin and you have the added worry of infection from dirt and bacteria. "Antibiotics in under four hours is the golden period," Hohenhaus said.
Few animals die of broken bones, Hohenhaus said, but that may not be the most serious problem. It could have a punctured lung, a ruptured spleen or go into shock.
How to transport your injured pet
Veterinarian Dr. Ann Hohenhaus has some tips for transporting your pet:
• Fashion a stretcher to stabilize the animal, using a baby's bathtub for medium pets or sheets for larger ones, for example.
• Splinting can relieve pain and prevent shock but it can also cause more harm than good. Look at how bad the animal is hurt, where the break is, how long before you can get to a vet, if you have the materials and if the pet will allow it.
• Splints can be improvised using rolled newspapers or paper towel rolls, or even thick cardboard and tape. Don't wrap too tightly. If you do splint, do it in the position you find the animal. Never try to straighten a crooked leg.
• If your animal is small enough to carry, do not pull on its legs to lift it, make sure the injured side is facing away from you, and carry it close to your chest in case it squirms.