A legacy barrier of materials is at the root of most veterinary splinting and casting issues – not the method or technique itself. In this article, Dr. Martin Kaufmann (OrthoPets founder and Dassiet VET COO) explains how a simple material change could drastically reduce complication-rates – and change your whole practice for the better.
Like the lost shoe of Cinderella, the material question is one of fit. The wrong fit causes complications. The right fit leads to a well-healed limb, and a happy pet and parent. So, how can you find the ideal fit for a cast or splint – and what does the material have to do with it?
When you make a cast or a splint, you need to make a choice in material. Traditionally, you could choose out of two types of materials: those you can reshape later, and those that you cannot.
This choice will inevitably affect the options you have when forming the cast, the time you must spend, and the healing process, for example. This is the material barrier – by making a choice, you rule others out.
By overcoming this barrier, you will be able to think more freely about the whole process of treating an injured limb. You will not have to wait for the skin to declare itself after weeks of anxious waiting anymore.
“You are in full control of the fit starting from when you first apply the cast. You get to see and confirm the fit and form, and create a shape that you really love”, explains Kaufmann.
You will also be free to modify the cast or splint as the patient recovers: As muscles atrophy, as fur grows back. All this without making a brand-new cast every time and creating unnecessary and possibly harmful waste.
But legacy materials make it tough to jump the material barrier. In this article, Dr. Kaufmann will explain why that is – and how a new alternative can help you make the best material choice yet.
The unmoldables: Strength and stability at the cost of complications
Plaster of Paris, fiberglass, and preformed plastic splints are materials that set. After that, you cannot change the shape without making a completely new cast or splint. Their advantages are strength and stability.
“Most veterinarians will use these materials. Most do so out of habit and because these materials were used in vet school and have been commonplace”, Kaufmann explains.
But these types of materials are prone to complications, research has shown. And issues with fit and replicating it are often what is causing these complications. After application, the veterinarian, owner, and pet can only wait until the follow-up appointment to find out if there have been complications or not.
There is no possibility for re-adjustment with these materials. You will have to make a completely new cast to solve for pressure sores each time the patient comes in for a follow-up visit. This means time spent taking the old cast off, assessing, and making a new cast. It also creates hazardous waste.
The reformables: Re-usable but not high-fidelity
The second group of materials you can reform. Hexalite is a good example: It is a reformable material that you soak in hot water to return it to its’ original shape. This means, you will lose all your previous shape and contour. You are not free to spot heat and reshape an exact area. The material is restricting you from a simple solution.
With these materials, you must pay attention to strength and support: One dog might need four layers and the other eight. It requires a significant amount of engineering to get the strength, amount of support, and fit right.
“With these materials you have to play engineer a bit and design the right rigidity for your patient and their injury”, Kaufmann says, “If you’re not comfortable with this, the knee-jerk reaction may be to just make the whole thing very thick and strong, so you don't have to think about it.”
Thick and strong application often leads to a generic and bland cast or splint shape. It will only touch the pronounced bony areas of the limb as the material will bridge from high point to high point leaving the valley untouched. It is a recipe for destruction, as many veterinarians already know.
A material choice to change your view on veterinary casting and splinting
The solution to overcoming the material barrier cannot be found in either of the existing material groups – but in a completely new one. A heat-moldable material that can truly be reformed in high-fidelity detail. With it, you can achieve the best fit for a cast or splint.
"The vet world has been trained for their splint or cast to fit the leg wherever it happens to touch the leg. UPETS is designed for the vet to adjust it so that it only touches the leg, where they want it to fit”, Kaufmann states.
The UPETS is a preformed splint made from a wood-based material that is environmentally friendly. It can be reformed almost infinitely using a regular heat gun. The splint comes in six different sizes, and there are three different versions: the carpus, tarsus, and paw.
Until now, the belief has been that a reliably predictable shape could not be made for animals because they have a wide range of variation in not just size but limb shape as well – dogs especially. But thanks to existing research on casts and splints, the common pressure points, and other areas of concern on the leg are already well-known. All that was left to do, was to create a pre-made shape that avoids those high-risk areas of the limb.
“Rather than taking the time to spiral wrap and get all your padding to work just right, you can use the UPETS splint which is engineered to be close to fitting your patient. All you must do on day zero is form it just right to the patient. You can look at it – which you can’t do with a fibreglass or plaster of Paris cast – and make minor heat changes until it’s a shape you love and a shape that fits where you want it to touch the limb. That’s the knowledge shift we’re asking veterinarians to make”, Kaufmann explains.
The new material combined with a slightly new approach to molding using a heat gun will make cast and splint application clinically faster, as there is no need to spend time waiting or wrapping bandages to adjust the cast. Secondly, the shaping of the UPETS product itself allows you to have the support you need in the areas required.
“You do not have to play engineer yourself, because the UPETS splint has already been engineered for you. You can wait for the follow-up appointment with a peaceful mind”, Kaufmann says with a smile.