Fixing Broken Bones with Bone Plates
Fractures (AKA broken bones) are common in pets and can be caused by a variety of reasons. Old animals can get ‘pathological’ fractures, which happen from osteoporosis causing the bone to weaken, the same way this happens to many elderly people who are deficient in calcium and/or vitamin D. On the other hand, young animals can break bones from jumping off places that cause too high an impact on their fragile bones. Accidents also happen, and many animals are hit by cars.
Bone plates are one of the strongest and most effective methods of fixing a fracture. They counteract bending, compression, twisting and pulling forces. They are strong, not bulky, and relatively lightweight. Animals also use their legs much quicker with a bone plate because the method is so strong. However, they have their disadvantages too. For example, they need fairly extensive surgery to place them and can potentially get infected.
So what is a bone plate? It is a custom-molded piece of steel with holes in it for screws. The plate goes along the long axis of the bone, while special bone pins stabilize the plate to the bone at 90° angles to the plate, so it ends up looking a lot like a ladder.
There are different types of plates, used for different purposes. “Compression” plates are used for simple, stable fractures, to push the fractured parts closer together and help them heal. They reduce the movement between the fragments as the plate is tightened to the bone. “Neutralization” plates are used for unstable fractures, such as those that consist of several different shards of bone. For example, a bone hit with a bullet would have an unstable fracture, because the bone would be shattered into several pieces. Finally, there are “bridging” plates, which are used to maintain a fractured bone in proper alignment when some fragments are missing, or when there are too many pieces to restore it to its former state. The empty space left by the shards of bone is filled with special material, and a bridging plate is used to fill the gap. These plates need to be extremely strong because this piece of metal is basically acting as a weight-bearing bone!
A large variety of fractures can be fixed with a bone plate. They provide strong fixation of the bone, and allow use of the leg almost immediately after the surgery. Keep in mind that the stresses placed on bones can actually help heal and strengthen them, so if the pet is able to bear weight on the fractured leg as soon as possible, it is gaining strength in that leg and it will heal much faster than an animal who is not bearing weight on their injured leg. Bone plates are also the method of choice for fixing fractures of the front limbs of toy dogs and cats!
Bone plates are perfect for animals that are extremely active and would not be able to sit still for too long. Their aftercare for you as the owner is also minimal; you just need to keep an eye on the leg and make sure it isn’t swelling and watch for (rare) signs of infection. The plates normally stay in your pet for the rest of its life. The bone heals well under it, and the plate is left in for rigidity and to prevent a second, quite unnecessary surgery to remove it.
The only time a plate is removed is when the plate is loose, broken or damaged in any way, or if it is actually doing more harm than good. For example, the plate may rub against the joint and cause irritation. In rare cases, there may be an infection present when bacteria hide in the cracks of the plate and multiply. However, this complication as mentioned is rare and quick action on the part of you and your vet can help your pet recover without much delay.
By Amrita Banerjee