Broken bones in cats

Broken bones in cats are very painful. If your cat has a broken bone, move them gently and safely out of harm’s way while doing your best not to manipulate the fracture. Be aware that a cat in pain may bite or scratch.

Broken bones or fractures in cats are most often caused by falls, road traffic accidents, and animal bites. Cats with broken bones will need an emergency examination and treatment with a vet. Do not attempt to give any medications or clean the area unless directed to do so by a vet.

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What bones can a cat break

There are many reasons cats may fracture a bone, such as falls, motor vehicle accidents, and animal bites. But these don’t always lead to broken bones. Bones can also be dislocated or may suffer small cracks.

The most commonly broken bones in cats are:

  • Hindlimb – femur (thigh bone)
  • Pelvis
  • Forelimb – radio/ulna (forearm)
  • Spine
  • Skull
  • Jaw



What are the signs that your cat has a broken bone?

Some fractures can be very obvious, especially if the bone sticks out through the skin. However, any sign of pain or discomfort after an accident or injury could indicate a break or dislocation.

In most cases, your cat will:

  • Hold the affected leg up
  • Be unable to bear weight on the leg
  • Be reluctant to move
  • Be painful
  • Have swelling
  • Be more quiet than usual
  • Stop eating or eat less than normal
  • Have trouble going to the toilet

In some cases, depending on the location and the type of break, they can still stand and hold some of their weight on the injured leg.



Are some cats more prone to broken bones?

Any cat can suffer from a broken bone. However, it appears more commonly in Persian and Scottish Fold breeds.



How do vets diagnose broken bones in cats?

Your vets will perform:

  • Hands-on orthopaedic examination
  • X-rays or CT scan to assess the type of fracture and plan the treatment options


Vet treatment

What can be done to treat a broken bone in cats?

Depending on the type of fracture and location, different forms of treatment might be recommended.

Casts are not used in cats as much as they are in humans. This is due to pets’ difficulty resting the limb properly, bandaging complications, joint stiffness and muscle wastage. As a result, most animals are best treated with an operation.

Options for stabilising the bones include:

  • Bone plates and screws
  • Pins that are placed inside the bone
  • External frames that are connected to the bone using pins going through the skin

Following surgery, most animals are very comfortable and can walk relatively normally within a few days.

In most cases, a re-examination of the fracture is done 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Once an x-ray has shown the broken bone has healed, normal activity can usually be restarted.

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Home treatment

Does a broken bone heal by itself in cats?

Bones can heal on their own.

There is, however, a high risk of misalignment or malunion if you do not take your cat to the vet for appropriate treatment. Further instability, worsening of the fracture site, prolonged pain and suffering, and an increased risk of osteoarthritis are among the dangers of not taking your cat to the vet.

How to help your cat with a broken bone at home

Assisting your cat

Your cat may need assistance to stand and walk in the first few days or weeks following their injury.

Even if your cat is able to move on its own, it’s often wise to provide light assistance until they are completely stable. This is especially important:

  • On slippery surfaces
  • When going up or downstairs

There are many commercially available products, such as slings, that support your cat while they recover.

Activity restriction

Confine your cat as directed by your vet. Here are some useful tips:

  • Do not allow jumping on/off furniture.
  • Do not allow any playing or running.
  • Confine them to a small room of the house with no furniture that they may jump on. Or use a big dog kennel with food, water and a litter tray.
  • Use mental stimulation games to help keep them busy, like puzzle games.

Your cat will be using the leg before the fracture is sufficiently healed. Until the x-rays confirm bone healing, you should continue the restriction. Failure to do so may cause serious healing problems.

Physical therapy

When a leg is not used for several days to weeks, joints stiffen, muscles weaken (atrophy), and bone healing is delayed.

Physical therapy improves comfort and use of the leg without harming the bone healing process.

Some simple physiotherapy techniques can be done at home, while more advanced treatments are best used by veterinary physical therapists under the guidance of your veterinary surgeon.

In any case, speak to your vet before performing the following techniques:

  • Cold therapy: In the first week after injury, applying cold packs will reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Using a towel protects the skin.
  • Range of motion therapy: In the first month after injury, flexing and extending the joints of the injured leg will maintain joint health while your cat is not using the leg fully. The goal is to move the joint without creating pain. The range of joint flexion and extension can be increased as healing progresses.
  • Massage therapy: After the initial stage of painful inflammation subsides, you may be instructed to begin massage on the skin and muscles around the injured bone. This therapy will promote normal function of the muscle and tissues surrounding it, and it also has a pain relief effect.



How to prevent complications after surgery

Any fracture surgery can carry a risk of problems and complications. These can include infection, poor bone healing and implant breakage.

There is no substitute for resting and taking it easy for the appropriate and recommended amount of time.

However, with our pet patients, this is easier said than done, so we rely on owners to impose these difficult restrictions.


When to worry

When should you be worried about your cat with a fracture?

If you suspect your cat has a fracture, contact your local vet practice if they:

  • Have clearly broken a leg or suffered a road traffic accident
  • Won’t put weight on the leg and are tender to touch
  • Are not improving despite treatment

Joii can help:

  • Maintain your cat calm and rested at home
  • Triage to assess if the limp is or isn’t an emergency
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