Taking Care of a Splint or a Cast on a Pet
When your pet has a splint or cast there are things you must do at home to make sure the area needing healing is happening, and that no other problems are occurring due to the cast or splint being on the pet. Splints are normally applied instead of casts due to cost. The pet normally must be under anesthesia to apply a cast and they are heavier than a splint. Splints are bandages with an area of hard surface on about half of the bandage, which can be removed if needed, and normally need to be replaced about once a week. Casts are made of a hard material that is placed around the entire leg. The outside area is a cling wrap that sticks to itself to keep the bandage in place, protect the splint or cast and prevent the cast from rubbing on the pet and causing skin irritation.
For this article, I will refer to a splint or cast as a splint to make it easier to read.
If your pet has a splint, it is due to some kind of injury. Whether it is from a broken bone, sprained ligament or tendon, or something that did not heal properly, splints are designed to hold feet and legs in place until the area is healed.
Anytime a pet has a splint the hardest things for the pet parent are keeping the bandage dry, keeping it from slipping, keeping the pet from chewing at the bandage, and keeping the pet calm. The front and back legs of pets make it hard to keep the bandage from slipping down the leg. This can be troublesome due to the elbow or knee being pulled on more than it should be and if that is the area that needs to heal it can be painful and cause more harm than helping. The splint slipping down the leg can cause squeezing of the toes or paws which can cause the toes or paw to lose circulation causing swelling, pain, and if not fixed with prolonged oxygen deprivation to the toes or paw can cause death to the cells and tissue. This is why it is so important to check the toes a few times a day and make sure the bandage has not slipped, the toes are warm (not hot or cold) and there is no swelling. If the toes are covered then make sure to check the top of the bandage a few times a day for slippage.
If the bandage gets wet and moisture sits on the skin for long periods of time it can cause the skin to become infected. Infected skin needs to be able to breathe to heal. If there is an area of the skin that does get infected then the splint may need to be kept off for some time then once the skin is healed, the splint can be reapplied. If it is raining outside, there is a wet area the pet goes to, the pet walks through water, etc. then the bandage needs to be covered so water cannot get on the bandage. The best thing to use is a plastic bag over the part of the bandage that could get wet. If you use a bag that has a zipper/closer area then close it as much as you can, if you use a grocery bag you can tie the handles together, or you can use plastic wrap and put a hair tie around it to keep it in place. None of these should be kept on for longer than the pet being around water, should be removed as soon as the pet comes inside, and inspected for any moisture. Make sure anything used to help the plastic in place is removed to prevent problems with circulation.
Since the splint is trying to heal something, having the pet stay calm, not run around a lot, and rest is important. Depending on what is being repaired, how long it has been since the injury happened, how calm the pet is while it has a splint on, how often the splint must be replaced, and the age of the pet will determine how long the pet needs to have the splint on. Most of the time pets have splints on for about four weeks but it can be longer.
Some pets need sedation while they have splints on since they cannot stay calm enough. If your pet is too hyper, mediation may be needed. If you are not home your pet should be kept in a crate or a small, isolated area to help prevent the pet from running around. They should also have an e-collar on to prevent them from chewing on the bandage. If your pet chews on the splint it can become too tight in places, become wet, slip down the leg, and the pet may eat some of the material of the bandage which can cause an upset stomach and/or obstruction of the intestines. The e-collars that just go around the head and are not a cone are not enough to prevent pets from getting to their bandage since it is on their leg. E-collars or hard-sided cone collars are best for pets with splints on and the clear ones make it a little easier for them to see through it. For the soft collars most pets learn how to push the collar back so they can get to the splint. The e-collars should be on your pet anytime you are not right with them, you leave the house, and when you are sleeping to prevent damage to the bandage.
Splints are not fun for the pet or you, but splints can help to heal bones, ligaments, and tendons. If the splint is checked a few times a day for wetness, slipping, swollen toes, hot or cold toes, the pet is kept calm, and an e-collar is placed on the pet this will help decrease the amount of time your pet has to be in the splint and help the body to heal faster.
If your veterinary clinic offers laser treatment of LLLT it can help to increase the healing time by decreasing inflammation and decreasing pain. Check out my article on Low-Level Laser Therapy or LLLT for Pets to learn more about how laser treatments can help your pet heal.