With 244 individual bones held together by ligaments, the feline skeletal system provides both strength and flexibility. The bones are less tightly held together than in most other mammals, allowing for the renowned flexible spine movements, up to the point where a cat can turn upside down in the air and land on its feet within two seconds after being dropped on its back.
Bones are sturdy structures, made of a rigid external layer called the cortex and containing the bone marrow. Much like their humans, cats depend on a balanced diet for strong bones and nutritional deficiencies can lead to an increased risk of fractures.
A fracture could mean a crack to the bone (sometimes referred to as a greenstick fracture) or a complete break. In a complete break, a fracture is classified as either a closed fracture, where the skin is not cut open by the edge of a bone, or an open, or compound fracture, where the bone sticks out of the skin, leading to greater secondary trauma in the area of the injury.
Cats have strong bones and a musculoskeletal system that can absorb a great amount of shock without any damage. This is what allows your cat to jump around, up and down tall furniture. It takes a major shock to the system to cause injury. Car accidents, direct violent encounters with humans, dogs or wild predators and falls from great heights are all possible causes for severe injuries which could include fractures.
Injuries to the musculoskeletal structure include a variety of conditions including strained muscles, tendon injuries, torn ligaments, sprains and fractures. Fractures are the most extreme form of injury to the bone. Like sprains and dislocated joints, they are almost always the result of major physical trauma.
Common Types of Fractures
According to the Cornell Book of Cats, the common fractures in cats are –
Fractures of the Femur (the cat's thigh bone)
These fractures are often repaired in complicated surgery using pins and orthopedic wire.
Fractures of the vertebrae
Fractures or dislocations of the spine's vertebrae are especially dangerous as they may damage and even sever the spinal cord. In severe cases, these back injuries cannot be healed and the cat may be euthanized.
A car accident, where the cat's tail is caught by the car's wheels, brings about an unfortunate fracture to the tail vertebrae. Indicated by a limp tail, this type of fracture often involves more complex neurological spine damage to the extent of loss of control over urination and defecation.
Fractures of the jaws
A common type of fracture to the skull structure occurs in the jaw bones and is often caused by falls or car accidents. These fractures often require wiring or plating of the jaws and mouth to limit the extent of any permanent damage.
Fractures of the pelvis
This common type of fracture may sometimes be left to heal on its own, as the cat may be able to support its relatively light body weight as the bones heal. However, some pelvic fractures may require pinning or plating to make sure that the bones are properly aligned as they heal. Failure to do so when required could result in various permanent deformities to the bones.
What to Do if You Suspect a Fracture
Fractures are almost always the result of a major trauma to the cat. Other injuries may be present, often internal ones, as well as overall shock and blood loss, so an overall check by your veterinarian is immediately required.
Your cat is likely to be in great pain, so handle her with care. Try to immobilize the fractured body part while moving the cat to the vet, but keep in mind that getting her to the hospital as quickly as possible is the most important thing.
Your vet is likely to perform an overall assessment and treat the cat for any signs of shock or blood loss first. Suspected fractures are likely to be x-rayed and subsequent treatment, which could involve surgery, may be performed.
Preventing Fractures in Cats
The most important thing you can do to prevent fractures and injuries is to keep your cat out of harm's way. Consider keeping your cat indoors-only, to keep it away from busy roads and other danger spots. Protect your cat from falls, by securing your apartment windows and preventing any hazardous walks on high ledges. Make sure your cat gets a high-quality balanced diet that meets her nutritional needs and some exercise as well, for strong bones as well as overall good health.
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