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Canine Prosthetics: Pardon My Faux Paw

The following guest blog post was generously contributed by Meg Sligar, dog mom to Three Legged Max. If you would like to help out by contributing a post, please contact us today.

Three legged MaxWhen most people find out I have a three legged dog, their first question is “Have you made a leg for him yet?” That’s because I’m a prosthetist—I make artificial arms and legs for people. It’s a rewarding profession with new challenges each day. So, when I was looking for my new best friend, it was only natural that I had my eye out for a three legged dog.

Searching I found a terribly distorted picture of a small brown and black tripawd named Max listed as “special needs.” Oh, he has special needs alright, but it’s not because he’s missing a leg—he just LOVES attention! He even blogs! For the past two years, Max has been my main man and the reason I can’t wait to come home after work.

Have I made a prosthetic leg for him? No, and I doubt I ever will. Max lost his leg when he was hit by a car, and while he does have a short residual limb, or stump, there really isn’t enough left to control a prosthesis. The majority of dogs who lose a leg have it amputated at the shoulder or hip level. Prosthetically, there isn’t much that can be done for them. Besides the fact that it would be very difficult to design a socket that would suspend well on such a short stump (if any stump remains at all), a prosthesis would have to include 2-3 joints—ankle/wrist, knee/elbow, and possible hip/shoulder.

Prosthetic limbsThat’s a whole heck of a lot of artificial joints and a dog would have a hard time trying to control them. Even for humans using a prosthesis, that’s a very difficult level of amputation to fit effectively. For dogs, it’s just not practical. In fact, a prosthesis would most likely slow them down and possibly cause injury.

Dogs typically adjust very well to life on three legs, and that’s why I haven’t pursued trying to design something for Max. From my experience, the smaller the dog, the better he’ll do on three legs. Fortunately for Max, his half German Shepard Dog self is also half Shiba Inu, so he’s on the small side.

I do think about a prosthesis sometimes, though, because I wonder in the long term how he’ll be. He’s 9 years old now and gets around just fine, but the stress on his front leg is high. I’ve read that dogs carry 60% of their weight on their front legs, so that’s 60% on one leg and 20% on each of the others. He’s got the typical front-leg tripawd stance where he puts his one front paw on the ground directly below the center of his chest, instead of to the side (human amputees do the same thing, bringing their good leg in to midline for balance).

Now, there are some tripawds out there who are only missing a paw. If the dog has his amputation below the “elbow” or “knee”, then a prosthesis may be a good idea. Either a plastic or carbon socket would be easily suspended on such a long stump. Also, a prosthesis at this level can be functional and easy to use. From my interactions with these low level amputee dogs who don’t have prostheses, I’ve noticed that they tend to stumble more, not knowing exactly what to do with the short leg.

Three legged Max If you’re considering a prosthesis for your tripawd, I suggest getting him fitted as soon as possible (after healing) after surgery. Just like with people, the longer he waits for a prosthesis, the less likely he is to use it. And unlike people, you can’t just tell him how to use it and expect him to follow directions. You can’t say “go ahead, put weight on it, you can trust it.” Well, you can, but chances are he’s not going to listen. It’ll take some practice, but he can adapt to a prosthesis the same way he can adapt to life on three legs. . . at his own pace.

The most important thing when fitting a dog with a prosthesis is to pay close attention to his skin. Skin breakdown can be a problem for human and canine amputees. You have to pay close attention because your tripawd can’t just say “it hurts” like a person can. Vigilance is absolutely necessary.

And you have to consider whether you will be able to leave the prosthesis on your dog when he’s out of your sight. Will he eat it? We have several people each year come in to get new leg braces because their dog ate them—plastic must smell mighty good! Do you want your dog to have a “sometimes foot?” Remember his safety is the priority.

If you’re willing to take the prosthetic journey with your best friend, a good place to start is to contact a local prosthetist. Many prosthetists would be willing to take on a canine patient, and several already have. Just call and see if they’re interested.

If you can’t find anything locally, there are a few companies out there that specialize in pet prostheses, and you may be able to get it done by mail. OrthoPets is a Denver based company that does just that. They also make orthoses (braces) for dogs with various limb injuries. You can check out one of their patients, Andre, in the September 21 issue of People Magazine. Poor Andre got caught in an illegal trap and chewed two of his paws off to save his life. He now has two prosthetic feet! I haven’t worked with them, but from what I’ve heard, they do good work.

I’ve been asked about carts, as well. In my opinion, if your dog’s only health issue is the one missing leg, there’s no need for a cart. It would only make him dependent on the cart, when he could have adjusted fine without it. But if the tripawd has injury or pain in any of his other legs, especially the one opposite the amputated leg, then a cart would be something to consider. If Max starts to have problems from overuse syndrome as he gets older, I just may have to rig something up for him.

Just think about what would make your dog happiest—maybe hopping around on three legs is the way to go, maybe a cart, maybe a prosthesis. If I ever come up with a shoulder/elbow/wrist prosthesis for Max, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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20 thoughts on “Canine Prosthetics: Pardon My Faux Paw”

  1. I have a very active terrier Chihuahua mix that has bad knees. She’s only 7 right now but already has level 4 arthritis in both knees and the vet said she’s going to need surgery in the next few years. I was wondering if it would be possible to get prosthetics that would attatch to her femurs if her legs were amputated at the knees? I live in the country and feel like wheels would be harder on her to get around than having prosthetic legs.

    • Hi Mickayla, sorry to hear about your pup. Before resorting to orthopedic surgery or amputation of both legs, which is pretty drastic and probably not necessary, we recommend getting a second opinion from a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and a canine rehabilitation therapist to find out why your dog has the arthritis and how to help alleviate it without surgery, hopefully. Two amputated legs is definitely harder for a dog to adjust to than a set of wheels. Best wishes to you and your pup.

  2. I have a 9 month old female German shepherd with her left shoulder and leg amputated due to a birth defect. I’d very much like to have something fitted for her that could possibly work long-term she’s just a puppy & soon to be an adult. I want her to have a very functioning quality of life long-term. She is an amazing dog. Please help us. 🙂

  3. Hello-I have a tripawd with a missing front left leg, she’s 11 now and I am worried that her right front leg is failing. What would you recommend for a dog who’s surviving front leg may go at some point?

    • Best wihes for your pup! We highly recommend you consult with a certified canine rehab vet tech for a professional evaluation and exercises you can do to help keep her strong to prevent any potential injury. Visit a CCRT or CCRP and the Tripawds Foundation can even pay for your first visit from the Maggie Moo Fund for Tripawd Rehab. They can also prescribe and fit the appropriate brace if deemed necessary.

  4. I need a little help.. I rescued a three legged dog. This sweetheart is missing his front leg. The other front leg is bowed and the wrist may sooner or later collapse. I have tried a brace that is held together with straps. The brace hurts his leg and he bleeds when he walks with the brace. I am looking for options; but, it is a little hard since the leg is bowed. I think this dog needs a stationery brace for the wrist and a flexible brace for the leg. I have tried OrthoPets and they said he is not a candidate. A need a place that “thinks outside the box” to make something for this dog. He is only 2 years old and I want him to experience a good and long life with me.

    Any suggestions:

    • Wow I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. Thank you for rescuing him, he’s a lucky pup to have you. Your situation reminds me of another member, Becky, whose dog Ziggy is going through a similar situation. I’m curious why exactly OrthoPets said he wasn’t a candidate. For a prosthesis? I’m surprised if they said he wasn’t a candidate for braces since they make all sorts of custom ones. Meanwhile your dog shoudln’t be bleeding when he uses that harness, it is likely doing more harm than good. Please consider joining our Discussion Forums to get more help from others and share more details so we can help.

  5. I just saved a three legged pitbull she is two years old and she is missing her front left leg would a prostetic leg help her

  6. My German shepherd Charlie had to have his left rear leg amputated above the knee after being hit by a car last October and I had hopes to get him a prosthetic limb. Now I see maybe there is nothing out there for him.

    • Hi Melissa, I’m sorry to hear about your GSD, but why do you think he needs a prosthesis? For more info about life on three legs and to see how great all dogs can get around, please visit us in our Discussion Forums. We have lots of GSD Tripawds like Spokesdog Wyatt Ray who do fantastic on 3. Hop on over and we’ll give ya some tips on helping Charlie get strong and stay fit for life.

      • Well the vet told us he would get arthritis earlier than he would have otherwise due to increased stress on the leg and hip joint. He looks a lot like Wyatt Ray but they took more off Charlie’s leg. Charlie has just a rounded stub. Amputation was the only affordable way for us to save our dog’s life. They said we could have an orthopedic vet surgeon could fix the leg in two separate surgeries but it might not be successful and it was very expensive. When they took the leg they found his main nerve had been half severed so it probably would have been useless anyway according to the vet. Also he gets tired faster from hopping than he did with four legs so I always want to baby him because I worry it is too much stress on him physically. I must admit he can run just as fast and well as he ever did…

  7. Hi I have a 7 year old german shepherd she has a broken ulna and radius. Vet suggested I put her down because I was 586.00 short of the 5300.00 surgery. I am getting a second opinion this am at 11:30. I am considering amputation but would rather have it from the elbow down. Is there prosthetic devices for such an operation? I hate to take her whole leg off if there are other options. Please let me know what I can do im heartbroken and need advice thank u

    • Why are you considering a prosthetic? Far too many times we hear from people who have put there dogs through multiple, painful, expensive surgeries, only to end up proceeding with a full amputation anyway. Search the forums and you will find plenty of other stories about difficulties due to partial amputation.

      Unless there is some specific medical reason to consider a prosthetic, and you are working with a veterinary orthopedic specialist or a teaching hospital, you may find that prosthetics are not a viable option. Please know that we are not vets and every dog is different. You will find other articles and video interviews about this subject by searching this blog and the forums.

      Thanks for asking and best wishes in decisions you face. Please post in the forums for more feedback from others.

  8. I have a three legged dog who was also hit by a car. He is a Labrador, and it is his left hind leg. They had to take his whole hip joint, so a prosthetic limb is out of the question (as you said, it wouldn’t really be possible). I am looking for braces, and am having a hard time finding one for a three legged dog. I noticed on the photo of your pup that you have one on him. Can you direct me to that site, please?

    • Hi Brooke, not sure what photo of a pup with a brace your referring to since there is none above and we never used one with Jerry. You might consider checking out to see if they might be able to help. But please consult with a certified rehab vet before thinking your dog needs a brace.

  9. My blue healer’s back right leg was amputated after she was hit by a truck. The surgery was Jan. 2010. She’s doing very well as a ‘tripawd’, however, she has difficulty walking any distance and she loves going walking with me and my husband. I read that you recommend a prosthetic limb asap following surgery so I don’t know it this would be a viable option. She’s 10 years old, a little heavy (not in her favor), but otherwise in very good shape. Her leg was amputated at the ‘elbow’ so she has a good ‘stump’ and lots of skin over the amputated area. Just wondering what price range we might be looking at. I was thinking along the lines of a ‘peg-leg’ type limb to help her go walking with us and putting it away when she’s just ambling about in the yard.

    Thanks from Texas

    • Hi Karen, thanks for writing. We’re so sorry about your pup but hoppy to hear she’s doing so well. As far as prosthetics go, like everything else about Tripawds, all dogs respond differently. While we have read news stories of many dogs getting prosthetic limbs made for them, we honestly don’t know of any who have successfully used a prosthetic on a long term basis. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there, just that we haven’t met them yet.

      My suggestion to you is: first, talk to a canine rehabilitation therapist to learn the best ways to keep your dog slim and fit so she can keep up without hurting herself. Also, keep in mind that even the healthiest Tripawds will need to curtail their activity a bit. They work really, really hard on three legs and those long distances they used to go just aren’t the best for their joint health. Please check out our recent canine rehabilitation videos for tips and more information.

      I’m so sorry, but we don’t know anything about prosthetic limb pricing other than they can be upwards of $800. There is a company in Denver called Orthopets that you may want to contact for that kind of info.

      Finally, while accommodations will need to be made for her, you could also consider purchasing a doggy stroller to assist her and enable her to go on long walks with you. I’ll bet she’ll love being pushed along in her chariot!

      Hope this helps. Keep us posted on how she’s doing OK?

  10. Wow! Thank you Meg for such an interesting post! We just recently pulled a 8 month old GSD into a rescue group I belong to. He had one paw missing and they were going to amputate his whole leg. I suggested a prosthetic but did not really have much info to give them nor did I have time to do the research, he was scheduled for surgery a couple of days after I found out about him. Well, they went ahead and took his leg and he is doing great. Its just so frustrating and it seems so sad that he had to lose his whole leg. Rescue probably could not have afforded a prosthesis for him though.

    I will definitely save this post and your name for future reference!


    BTW….Codie Rae says Three Legged Max is the cutest!


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