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Rib Fractures in Foals – Diagnosis and Treatment

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Rib Fractures are encountered quite frequently in newborn foals, often with fatal outcome. About 21% of foals suffer rib fractures at birth. Early detection of this life-threatening or serious injury is vital for the application of appropriate therapeutic and/or surgical intervention. Proper diagnosis by a veterinarian can save your foals life.

Diagnosis of Rib Fractures

The diagnosis of fractured ribs is usually made by physical examination by a veterinarian. Ultrasound is used to detect hemorrhages, pulmonary lesions, or the presence of herniated bowels. Thoracic radiographs are useful for the visual assessment of actual rib fractures.

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Repair of Rib Fractures

Ribs fractures further back, away from vital organs, will be left alone to heal on it’s own most of the time. The treatment of choice is early detection and stall rest. Fractures closer to the front and in danger of puncturing vital organs need to be repaired surgically.

The most common method for repair is done by threading surgical wires or sutures through the rib bone. This method does not always stabilize the ribs enough since the surgical wires are narrow. Another method is to support the broken rib with screws and plates, which is more costly and requires anesthesia.

A third  method utilizes nylon cable ties commonly found in hardware stores. Surgeons Chris Downs, DVM, DACVS and Dwayne Rodgerson DVM, DACVS successfully applied this method while working at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky. The procedure is to incise over the area of the broken rib, drill holes through each end of the fracture sites, thread the tie through each bone fragment and zip the ties. According to the surgeon’s, the cable ties are cheap, strong, easy to sterilize and wider than surgical wires. Another benefit is that they can be left in place indefinitely, since the nylon will eventually covered by scar tissue and may break down over time.

Possible Final Consequence

The final consequences of fractured ribs if undetected or untreated include sudden death due to laceration or puncture of the heart. Fractured Ribs can cause lacerations of the greater vessels, causing acute and fatal hemorrhage.

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