The essentials on leg breaks in Italian Greyhounds

Ohio Rescue went a very long time without having to deal with any leg breaks, then over the summer of 2010 several dogs suffered breaks and we learned very quickly how important it is to know what to do BEFORE the break happens. Not every dog will break a leg. In fact, we have found the concern over break tends to be a bit overinflated. That said, it is worth being aware not only what to do in the case of a suspected break, and how to best prevent a break from ever happening on your watch. This is especially true for those who own dogs at higher risk of break.

Of course prevention is the best tactic. Those rescuing dogs of unknown origin must be careful with new dogs to ensure they have the muscle tone and bone strength to withstand the forces that an IG regularly put on their legs. Most breaks happen in dogs under three, so if you are very concerned about a break adopting an older dog may be more attractive. Young dogs need to be watched so they don't do any crazy stunts (especially when they are under 1.5yrs). They have no fear and tend to lack some coordination - leash walk them to get their muscle built up and if play escalates too high don't feel bad giving the dog a time out.

Most of the breaks we have helped with have been tragic fluke accidents versus something the owner did wrong. Of course there are plenty of things an owner can do to set their dog up for a break. Some situations we are aware of would be letting a dog climb up/placing a dog on something higher than they could jump up and they jump off (tables, counters, furniture), leaving a dog loose in the house with small kids and other dogs to do as it pleases, and allowing a dog to jump out of the car. Be careful about slick flooring where your dog will be jumping down from furniture, around/on stairs, and anywhere a dog might be moving quickly. Furniture that dogs can climb up high or that isn't placed against the wall can become a hurdle for an athletic dog, and it just takes one bad landing. Watch for holes and pits at the dog park and in the yard that might trip your dog up. The biggest thing here is watch the dogs, and be observant of their environment. Avoid things you feel uncomfortable with! If you are worried that big lab puppy at the park might be too much for your dog, don't play to be polite.

The biggest thing to do to help prevent a break is to leash walk a new dog for the first week to 2 weeks until you are sure it has built up the supportive muscle and strength to be positive it will be solid when it plays hard. The dog will have time to get used to the new environment before it can make any leaps of faith or run into anything. With dogs that have been crated, underexercised, or especially from a mill the restriction to leash walking should be longer. They need time to build their legs up before allowed unrestricted play. Of course most owners do not leash walk their dog when they bring it home, but if you have a dog under 2, or a dog that has low muscle tone and is at higher risk it would be a good idea to be safe.

All dogs need excellent nutrition to help support the bone and muscle strength needed to prevent a break as well. A dog that comes in having been fed low quality food has a higher chance at having weaker bones. Of course some dogs may just have lower bone density. Keeping your dog in excellent condition is the best preventative you can offer, make sure they are well exercised.

If in the end all of the prevention just can't prevent a break you still need to know what to do. Any dog can break a leg, things happen. If it does happen focus on doing right by the dog instead of beating yourself up with how you could have kept it from happening.

Generally what happens is the dog will scream, we have all heard an IG death scream, and you will likely know something is wrong right away. The most common place for a break is a front leg just above the wrist, this is where the bones are thinnest. You will see that either the leg is dangling or that the dog won't put weight on the leg without extreme pain. Most people will freak out and grab the dog at this point, try to stay calm and carefully pick up the dog. This is the point where you are most likely to be bitten. Try to get the dog to calm down, if you are remaining calm that will be much easier. Some people suggest trying to stabilize the leg, but honestly, in most cases it is best to just get the dog to the vet as fast as possible.

Call the vet and tell them you are coming with a break/possible break, and either have someone else drive or place the dog in a small crate with lots and lots of blankets (try to support them so they lay on the side that isn't broken). Once the dog is in the crate don't try to remove them until the vet is ready to examine them. Priority needs to be getting the dog to the vet and getting the leg stable.

Once at the vet they will probably sedate the dog and do x rays. Once they have done that they will splint the leg. They need to use a hard splint that goes from the foot to above the joint that is above the break. There should be lots of padding and a good wrap to hold the whole thing on the dog. If the splint seems flimsy, or the dog screams out in pain when it moves something is wrong. A dog should be able to move around with the splint well enough to get up and go potty.

For pain most vets in Ohio seem to give rimadyl (which is an NSAID anti-inflammatory kind of like advil), some give narcotics, but ideally it will be a combination of tramadol and metacam. Some vets will also give a sedative called ACE for short. Do not ok the use of a pain patch for an IG. They need to give you something to keep the dog comfortable (for the pain/swelling), and you need to follow the vet's instructions on giving the medication.

The splint is fine for the dog to get through till the break is treated (a week at most - especially for growing puppies). The splint is not going to fix the leg, just keep the dog out of pain. Be very careful and restrict the dog's activity both when splinted and after the fracture is set. Once you have the dog home, set them up in a small crate. They should be restricted to a crate except when on lead to potty. Holding the dog is fine, but if the dog is squirmy or skittish stick to crate restriction and leash walking for potty. No jumping on or off of things, running or stairs. For a dog that won't crate they can be confined to an ex pen, but make sure it is the super tall kind (they make them 4.5ft tall) so the dog won't dream of trying to jump out. Some people will put a dog in a sling, and if they tolerate that it is a good option if the dog is secured and cannot squirm out.

Casts can be used to set bones that have a clean break and are not displaced, but even then it isn't recommended for this breed generally. The time to heal in a cast is much longer, and the dog has a higher chance of not being quite right even when they are healed. The time your dog will be restricted to very limited movement will be much higher with a cast. Often the leg will be shorter, which can lead to limping etc. Some vets will suggest casting if they don't do plating in their practice. If that is the case you may want to seek a second opinion from a vet who specializes in orthopedics.

Usually a break can be plated. The plate holds the parts of the bone in place and reinforces them as they heal. This allows the dog to use the leg in a limited way during the first 6 to 8 weeks of recovery. Sometimes the plate will have to be removed after healing is complete. If the break is too close to the joint/in the join it may require pinning also.

After surgery closely follow the vet's instructions. Observe the dog for signs of infection (smell and chewing at the bandage, any notable change in behavior should have you on the phone to the vet). The dog should be given pain medication as directed by the vet as it heals, and they should get an oral antibiotic to prevent any infection in the incision (the bandage can be a great place for bacteria to grow). Make sure they eat plenty - they will need extra calories to heal up, and feeding a premium food at this point is important to make sure they get plenty of nutrition. Supplementing kibble with cottage cheese is popular, and supplementing with colostrum and a multivitamin for dogs is suggested by some of the most knowledgeable rescue veterans.

The first 6 to 8 weeks after surgery the dog will be completely restricted, not allowed to be on the leg except to potty on lead. Follow your vet's instructions on return visits, and keep the bandage clean and dry (ask for an IV bag to put over it for potty time). At 2 weeks the dog will likely need stitches out and will have a bandage change at the same time. If the bandage becomes soiled during the rest of the healing time, the vet should change the bandage, but the longer you can keep it clean the better.

After the initial restriction is over, the dog will have the bandage off, and will probably have more than enough energy to start zooming around. It is important to slowly rehab the dog before allowing the dog full access to their former life. Follow your vet's guidelines, but absolutely leash walk the dog for the next 8 weeks to build their muscle back up. This includes in the house, the dog should be with you or in a crate at all times. Don't allow them to jump or run unrestricted. Your vet will be able to help guide you, but if you have concerns err on the side of caution!

The dog needs plenty of structured exercise (walks) to build their muscle back up to protect from another break. After all that resting the dog will be at a higher risk for breaking a different leg. After the dog has built their muscle back up, slowly build them back up to their normal level of activity. It takes a long time for the break to completely heal - better safe than sorry when it comes to your dog's legs!

If at any time during the healing process something happens where the dog doesn't seem right - get them to the vet. Things can go wrong. IG legs don't have the tissue and blood supply of many other breeds. The healing process may take longer than stated above - so don't overdo things, let the x rays determine what is safe for the dog. Once they are a week out from surgery, any extreme pain or lots of limping is not normal. Keep your vet's phone number handy!

So most people will wonder what the bottom line for a break will be. The type of break and the vet you see will determine how much your own bill might be. The initial visit to stabilize the leg can be from $150 to $500. If it is an emergency weekend visit to the e vet it will be more expensive than if your own vet can squeeze you in. A cast is usually less expensive than plating, but we have no firsthand experience with anyone choosing this option. The cast will require several changes, and this option will run several hundred dollars, and may require plating in the end. If you choose to go ahead and have the leg plated (which would generally be the best option) make sure an orthopedic surgeon who is famiiar with Italian Greyhound legs is doing your surgery. This will be from $800 to $1400 depending on where you go and how complicated the surgery is. If they have to pin the leg as well it can raise the cost further. The aftercare, if nothing goes wrong, will vary depending on the vet. Expect another few hunderd dollars to cover bandage changes and x rays. If something goes wrong, such as the dog getting an infection or the leg isn't healing as expected that will add to the cost.

In order to cover the cost of a leg break an owner should plan ahead. Having a plan for a vet emergency of any kind is a smart thing to do. Pet insurance is one option many people use. For some it is worth the piece of mind to have it, but please research the policy to be sure it covers all of the treatments discussed above. Care Credit is being accepted by more and more vets, and is a great option for a large vet bill. They allow you to break up payments over time, and offer many interest free options. The smartest thing to do would be to create a savings account for a vet emergency, pay into it over time and have a reserve just in case. No matter what option you choose, it is best to be prepared and never need it than to be sitting at the vet wondering how you are going to fix your dog.