4.9.1 Fractures & Splints (Section IV: Types of Emergencies)︱Pet First Aid Course

Important Points About Fractures

  • Fractured bones can create sharp edges (sharp as a knife) that can cut/ traumatize surrounding tissues, blood vessels and nerves. It  is not uncommon for patients to experience significant internal or external bleeding from these sharp edges.
  • "Open fractures"describe fractures where the bone pokes through the skin. Open fractures are at greater risk for infection and complications.

Important Points About Splints:

  • Splints can be useful  to stabilize the area so that the sharp edges of the fracture don't move around and traumatize the surrounding tissues, blood vessels and nerves while en-route to the ER. Splints can also help the patient feel more comfortable while en route to the ER.
  • When applied incorrectly, splints can cause more trauma and complications,  by creating a lever across the fracture site. Example at the beginning of this video (you can see the home made splint this patient was brought in with has slipped and is actually creating a lever across the fracture site-which you can see is the unstable bulge on her forearm. When the owner sets her down, the lever catches on the table and displaces the fracture further).

  • A  splint should immobilize the joint above AND below the fracture. For this reason, they are best reserved for fractures of the distal extremities (below the elbow or knee) for basic first aid providers. 
  • One of my favourite field splints for radius/ulna fractures to use a magazine or newspaper (stack to appropriate thickness) because you can easily slide it underneath the limb and wrap it around the without moving the limb very much or causing too much pain to the patient.
  • Make sure that the splint is secured properly (I prefer to use elastic adhesive tape like Lightplast) so that it cant slip down.
  • The splint should be snug and secure, but not so tight that it impedes circulation. Ideally the toes should be visible so you can assess for swelling or impaired circulation during transport (swollen, cool, discoloured limbs).
  • Remember that first aid field splints are only very temporary-to provide comfort and protect the tissues/vessels/nerves from being damaged by the sharp fracture ends. Any pet receiving first aid splint should be transported immediately for emergency veterinary care and proper treatment. Most fractures in pets will require surgical repair.
  • Just to reiterate the above point: there are countless pets that I have seen over the years that had home DIY splints placed by family members that resulted in major suffering / complications - usually because they did not receive immediate vet care for a fracture or lameness and the owners tried to manage it at home with splinting. I have seen pressure sores down to the bone (with bone infection), sloughing of the skin and muscle, infection, and non-union fractures to the point of requiring amputation. Huge caution with splints- and remember that rule #1 is CAUSE NO HARM.
  • Splints have their benefits, but when in doubt, just get the pet to the ER as quickly as possible (with as little movement as possible), and don't fuss around too long trying to splint the pet. Getting medical care swiftly is more important.

    Field splint video coming soon:) Thank you for your patience. -Dr. Lopez