"There is NO PLACEBO effect in animals!"
Are little dogs predisposed to broken legs? Are owners over-charged by greedy veterinarian practices? Learn from this medical professional’s fractured experience…
Fractures in Toy Breeds
Sassy’s Story by Jean Abrams, RN
I took one look at my husband, white as a sheet, carrying our 8 month old Toy Fox Terrier in his arms as if she were a lamb, and I knew something was wrong. “What happened?” I asked while he simultaneously said “We’ve got to go to the Vet.” My heart sank to the floor. She was dangling her left front leg out in front of her in a position I knew was not normal.
Earlier that same day we had attended a conformation show about an hour’s drive away. It was Sassy’s second show but the first to have any competition. Sassy took Winner’s Bitch over a really nice bitch whose owner (and a dear friend of mine) has been involved in the sport for many years with different breeds. I know it was only 1 point but I was ecstatic. I had not shown in over a year when the opportunity to get Sassy presented itself. A friend of mine called me one day and said she wanted me to have the pick of her litter so that I could win and have fun. I brought that precious little thing home at 4 months old and she stole my heart.
Veterinary Office Closed, No Emergency Services
So you can imagine my frustration when I got a recorded message at our Veterinarian’s office saying the office is closed, and referring me to a veterinary clinic that is over an hour’s drive away. How can a Vet not offer emergency services? How did I not know that? I guess I had never asked, lesson learned. Frantically, I called around and was able to speak to the Vet on call who graciously agreed to see Sassy.
“Yep, broke leg” he said as we walked through the door. X-rays confirmed both the radius and ulna bones were broken in her left front leg just above the wrist.
He assumed she had jumped out of my arms or off of a piece of furniture. Neither is the case. She and Harley were playing, running around in circles from the kitchen through the living room like little cheetahs. Due to the loud thump, we believe the left leg caught the table leg as she was rushing around it.
This particular Veterinarian has a lot of experience along with a great reputation but definitely comes up short when it comes to bedside manner. By now, he knows that I am showing her in conformation and you can tell he is not very appreciative of the sport. He gives me the option of taking her to a specialist or letting him splint the leg.
I am an RN so of course my first instinct is to go to a Veterinarian who specializes in Orthopedics but before I could ask who he would recommend, he strongly advised against it. He tells me in his gruff voice that they will want to do surgery on the leg with plates and screws and in his opinion; she could lose her leg as a result of that. He also tells me there is no guarantee if he splints it that it will heal back properly or even heal at all. Then he says, “But if you want to see a specialist, I’ll send you to one.”
With tears rolling down my face, I looked at my husband for guidance but I could tell he was as bewildered as I was. Actually I think we were both in shock. How could this be? Broken bones are supposed to heal, right? The thought of losing the leg or her being crippled was not an option.
The Vet explained to us that the reason for such high failure rates of healing was due to reduced blood supply to the distal radius and the absence of soft tissues enveloping the fracture site in toy breeds. He told us that he thought it would eventually heal due to her young age but that he was adamantly against surgery. He practically begged me not to take her to a specialist and let them operate on her. He said we would have to be very patient and that it could take up to six months or longer to heal completely.
As a surgical RN, I understood about the blood supply and those tiny toy dog legs. I reluctantly took his advice and left her there. He wanted to monitor her splint for the next couple of days and adjust it if necessary. I will never get the image out of my head – my little Sassy girl sedated, sound asleep with her little tongue slightly hanging out of her mouth. After we arrived home, I fixed myself a strong one and just cried.
The next day, I began to call some very reputable breeders and owner handlers, posting on the TFT Facebook page, researching Veterinary Journal articles, searching for answers. The encouragement and advice I received was overwhelming. It is so refreshing to know that even though we may compete in the ring, we all love and support each other and our beloved furry friends. That is what makes conformation such a great sport. It is not ALL about winning but the families we create within the sport.
I was able to pick Sassy up on Monday morning and bring her home. I asked the Vet if he had X-rayed the leg post splinting to assess bone alignment and he replied “No, I felt it.” All I could do was look at him like he had two heads while thinking how quickly I needed to get Sassy to her Vet.
I contacted our regular veterinarian not only to get her advice but express my disappointment in the lack of emergency services. Of course, she wanted us to come in for an evaluation and X-rays. The X-rays revealed that the bones were aligned perfectly! Her opinion was that the vet had done a very good job of aligning the bones and, because of Sassy’s young age, the fracture should heal in about six weeks. At this point, I started to breathe again. Now the dilemma I faced was to continue with the Vet who treated her initially or let Sassy’s Vet take over. After discussing it with Sassy’s Vet, we all agreed to take her back to the veterinarian who first treated her.
We did ultimately send the X-rays to a couple of other specialty Vets to get their opinion. Of course, both of them suggested surgery with plates and screws. So I have four Veterinary opinions, two who suggest surgery and two who believe the fracture will heal via splinting with varying time frames.
Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. After researching online articles from Veterinary Journals and other sources, the opinions on fractures in Toy Breeds where overwhelmingly in favor of surgery. I kept hearing the treating vet’s words in my head “Please don’t lose patience on the healing time and let a specialist do surgery on her as I have seen dogs lose their leg as a result.”
At this point, I just wanted Sassy to be okay, showing her no longer mattered. It is my responsibility to take care of her as she surely can’t take care of herself. She was confined to her crate except to go potty and to eat, and of course when we would just hold her. She had the cone of shame also so that she couldn’t bite or lick at her bandage around the splint.
We took her back every week for follow up with the vet who treated her initially. After three weeks, he wanted to change the bandage around the splint and check for any pressure sores or signs of infection and yes, he had to sedate her again in order to do so. When he was done, again I asked him if he was going to X-ray it to check the progress of the healing. You can imagine how I felt when he told me that the X-ray machine was down, but again, he felt it, and he thought we were “over the hump” because it felt strong.
And strong it is, she’s doing fine and looking forward to summer shows. Thank you to a good veterinarian who took care of a fractured leg in a tiny toy breed with skill, kindness, at a reasonable price.
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