Metacarpal and Metatarsal Fractures

Metacarpal and metatarsal fractures (client) - X-ray anatomyAnatomy
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.

Cause of fractures
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.

Signs and diagnosis
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.

Metacarpal and metatarsal fractures (client) - X-ray fixatorSurgery
There are two treatment options for metacarpal and metatarsal fractures. 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: 1) the bones are very displaced; 2) the pet is older as healing may be slower, and 3) if the pet is a show dog, and the final cosmetic and functional outcome is very important. Surgery involves realigning the fractured bones and securing them in place with plates and screws. Older techniques of placing pins into the marrow cavity to repair fractured bones in the paw can have a negative effect on healing and really should not be used. Your companion’s surgeon will make a recommendation for the best treatment option for your companion, whether the fracture is supported with a cast or with surgical intervention.

Metacarpal and metatarsal fractures (client) - X-rays permanent damageResults
Surgical repair of a metacarpal or metatarsal fracture with plates and screws allows for successful healing of the fractured bones. 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 (see photo right). Uncommon complications following surgery include infection, failure of healing to take place, breakage of the metal plate or screws and cold sensitivity.

For more information on this subject, speak to the veterinarian who is treating your pet.