Spinal fractures in dogs are breaks in the typical structure of a spinal bone as a result of injury or other underlying pathology. Fractures of the spine are referred to as “Broken backs” or “Broken Vertebrae”. Because the spinal cord runs just within the spinal canal, that is made up of the spinal bones, a fracture of bone can come with severe consequences for the nerve supply at the degree of the fracture.
There is no breed or sex predilection but spinal fractures and spinal luxations, which are dislocations in between adjacent spinal bones, tend to occur more commonly in younger animals less than five years old, instead than more mature animals.
Causes of Spinal Fractures in Dogs
The most common cause of a spinal fracture or luxation is trauma from being hit by a vehicle. Other reasons may consist of:
- Gun shot injuries
- Attacks from larger dogs
- Running head first into a solid object
- Hidden health problems of the bone, such as cancerous growth or metabolic conditions
Spinal fractures or luxations make up a potential medical emergency because the fractured bone can result in irreparable damage to the spinal cord, which can easily lead to paralysis or even death.
What to Watch For
Indications of fractured spines in dogs may include:
- Inability to walk
- Dragging rear legs
- Irregular curving to the spinal column
- Intense pain
Diagnosis of a Fractured Spine
Most frequently, your dog will have sustained trauma and, as such, will be handled very carefully and cautiously with regard to the spine, whether or not neurologic deficits are present. All systems will be examined and emergency treatment provided where necessary. Tests include:
- Physical examination of the spine while other vital systems are being addressed. A comprehensive neurological examination will be performed to try to define the location and the severity of a spinal damage.
- Plain radiographs( x-rays) will be obtained if a fracture or luxation of the spine is suspected. Whether or not these films are obtained while your animal is conscious or anesthetized will depend upon the nature of the injured dog and the extent of the injuries.
In some cases, a radiographic dye study of the spine, a myelogram, may be indicated to better evaluate the injury to the spinal cord. Where available, CT or MRI may also be helpful.
Often, lab evaluation of the patient’s blood is non-specific for spinal fractures but can be crucial where some other systems have been injured or in cases where the fracture is secondary to metabolic bone disorders.
Treatment of Spinal Fractures in Dogs
The fracture will be evaluated as being either stable or unstable on an X-ray and these findings will be considered in conjunction with the physical and neurological examination. Serial neurological examinations may give a perception of a stable, improving or worsening condition that could also impact on the type of therapy advised. Treatment includes:
Emergency supportive care for other vital systems
Medical management to include the use of a neck brace or body brace, confinement and restriction and a program of steroids. This kind of treatment may be instituted prior to surgical procedure where the patient is at first unstable with respect to other vital systems.
Surgical control to stabilize the injured section of the spine using standard principles of fracture repair. Pins and wire, plates and screws, external fixators and combinations of pins and sterile cement polymers can be used on their own or with external assistance from casts or braces. The objective is to bring back the stability integrity of the spinal canal and, because of this, the spinal cord. At the end of the procedure, the canal should be back in its correct position, giving the damaged spinal cord the optimum health conditions in which to recover.
Some spinal fractures are so serious that permanent paralysis is unavoidable. In these circumstances, many owners elect to euthanize their pet.
Home Treatment and Prevention
In the case of a medically managed spinal fracture, cage rest and strict confinement should be carried out to guarantee hardly any movement at the fracture site and optimal healing. Restriction will certainly be just as essential for cases managed surgically.
If a neck brace or body brace has been actually applied, your dog need assistance getting up to go to the bathroom. The brace will need to be monitored for rubbing, chafing or sores where the edges contact the skin. If sores develop, the brace will need to be changed.
If surgery has been performed, there will certainly be a skin incision that needs to be monitored for swelling, redness or discharge. Staples or stitches are removed in 10 to 14 days following the surgery.
Follow-up X-rays will be taken by your veterinarian to ensure the fracture is healing properly and that there are no problems with the implants, if they were used.
Considering that most spinal fractures happen as a result of to being struck by a vehicle, all dogs, when possible, should be kept inside. Neutering or spaying your dog will prevent wandering, which may escalate the risk of trauma.