The paws have many small bones that are held in place by strong ligaments. There are four larger bones of the hind and forelimb paws called the metatarsals and metacarpals, respectively.
The most common cause of metacarpal and metatarsal fractures include being stepped on by a human, being hit by a car, getting the paw caught in a chain-linked fence or getting the paw caught in a hole in the ground when running. Sometimes the injury will result in an open wound over the fractures in which dirt and hair usually are driven into the tissues. This could potentially result in infection and delayed healing.
The clinical signs of a metacarpal or metatarsal fracture include nonweight-bearing lameness, swelling, and abnormal movement of the paw (instability). In order to diagnose a fracture, X-rays of the affected area are needed. Prior to anesthesia and surgery, blood work is done in order to evaluate the health of the internal organs.
Traditionally, surgery has been recommended to stabilize these fractures; however, based on one research study, surgery is not always needed.
Surgery may be elected in select cases in which:
Surgery involves realigning the fractured bones and securing them in place with plates and screws. Surgical repair of a metacarpal or metatarsal fracture with plates and screws allows for successful healing of the fractured bones.
Older techniques of placing pins into the marrow cavity to repair fractured bones in the paw can have a negative effect on healing and should not be used.
Rare complications following surgery include infection, failure of healing to take place, breakage of the metal plate or screws and cold sensitivity.
Casting is another good option that can be used in many cases. Occasionally, the fracture will fail to heal, resulting in a painful paw that prevents full use of the limb.
Your surgeon will make a recommendation for the best treatment option for your pet, whether the fracture is supported with a cast or with surgical intervention.