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Post-Amputation Side Effects in Dogs and Cats

Amputation. The word makes pet parents nervous, and it’s easy to understand why.

prevent amputation side effects in dogs and cats

There’s the once-unfathomable idea of watching your pet become a “tripod.” And then there are the possible complications that can result from this procedure.

Like all surgeries, amputation has risks. They can range from bruising and swelling to fatal blood clots during surgery.

But as other Tripawd pawrents have reported, amputation surgery side effects are few and far between. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons:

“the complication rate is very low. The most common complications, which occur in less than 5% of cases, are wound infection, wound breakdown, and accumulation of fluid underneath the surgical site (i.e., seroma formation).”

The first step you can take toward reducing your pet’s risk of post-amputation surgery problems is by learning how to find the best vet for amputation surgery.

Tripawds Doc Discusses Post-Amputation Side Effects

Tripawds recently talked about amputation surgery risks with one of our biggest supporters, Dr. Pam Wiltzius of River Road Animal Hospital in Puyallup, Washington. Dr. Wiltzius isn’t just a vet who works with dogs facing amputation surgery, she also has firsthand experience with amputation because her beloved dog Tazzie went through the process herself after being diagnosed with bone cancer.

We asked Dr. Wiltzius if she could tell us about the most common amputation surgery risks. Here’s what she had to say:

A Primer on Post-Amputation Surgery Side Effects

Seromas

A seroma is an abnormal accumulation of fluid that occurs after amputation surgery. After a leg is removed, body fluids can build up at the area of least possible resistance, the surgical site. Some veterinarians will insert a drainage tube prior to surgery to encourage fluid drainage, some won’t. Before surgery, ask your vet what their preference is.

If you notice a large pocket of fluid building up around the incision, accompanied by some dripping, your Tripawd may have a seroma. Seromas can happen after any invasive procedure but are most common with amputation surgeries. Although seromas look terrible, usually they are harmless and can be often be resolved with a pressure bandage and/or draining in the office.

When to See Your Vet

If a seroma is present, you’ll see a clear to light pink fluid dripping from the incision area. The fluid is clear, without any cloudiness.

The best way to tell if your dog or cat needs an in-office vet visit is to watch how quickly the fluid is dripping. If the fluid is dripping faster than one drop per second, call your vet. Before calling, take note of the color and consistency. If the fluid is viscous or appears as dark to purple in color, your Tripawd may have an infection or an untied blood vessel and your vet should know about this. When infection is present, the bacteria can destroy tissues around the sutures and cause the sutures to come undone. In a worst case scenario, a second surgery will be required to eliminate the diseased tissue and close up the area.

How to Prevent Seromas

Seromas are often linked to excessive activity immediately after surgery. One of the best ways to prevent them is to keep your pet calm, quiet and confined for a few days. Dr Wiltzius also advises using a pressure bandage after surgery.

If there is any sign of a seroma, call your veterinarian immediately.

Phantom Limb Pain

Phantom limb pain is another common side effect after amputation surgery. Again, it’s a side effect that can be controlled, and even prevented.

Phantom pain happens when a severed nerve “thinks” that the limb is still attached to the body. The nerve is trying to control a limb that doesn’t exist.

Your Tripawd may have phantom pain if she:

  • Constantly looks behind her to see if the leg is there
  • Attempts to move the area where the limb was
  • Randomly cries out with loud, sharp shrieks
  • Has light muscle twitching in the incision area
  • Shakes or pants (which could also indicate general post-op pain)

Phantom pain is a normal complication and many amputee pets get it. Although time is the best thing that can help the severed nerve to heal, you can take steps to alleviate this pain.

Gabapentin is a human drug that is also used in animals. The National Institute of Health says:

“Gabapentin is used to help control certain types of seizures in patients who have epilepsy. Gabapentin is also used to relieve the pain of postherpetic neuralgia (PHN; the burning, stabbing pain or aches that may last for months or years after an attack of shingles). Gabapentin is in a class of medications called anticonvulsants. Gabapentin treats seizures by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain. Gabapentin relieves the pain of PHN by changing the way the body senses pain.”

Many human and animal medical studies have shown that if you start Gabapentin just one day before amputation and continue for a week afterward, it can eliminate or reduce phantom limb pain. Even if your pet doesn’t have Gabapentin prior to surgery, it can still be used post-op. Most pets take two to 3 times daily for best results. This drug is available in generic form, which is far less expensive.

Gabapentin is a newer pain relief option in veterinary medicine, and many vets are still unfamiliar with it. If yours doesn’t know about this important drug, ask them to consult with a veterinary pain management specialist from the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.

Post-Surgery Blood Clot Risk

Blood clots are the least common post-amputation surgery side effect and very rare. Unfortunately we have seen them happen here at Tripawds, so it’s important to be aware of the risk.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual:

“A thrombus is an aggregation of blood factors that may form when the blood flow in the arteries or veins is impeded. It frequently causes vascular obstruction at its site of origin. The thrombus can be classified based on its location and the syndrome it produces (eg, venous thrombosis in large animals associated with prolonged venous catheterization, pulmonary arterial thrombosis associated with heartworm disease in dogs). All or part of a thrombus may break off and be carried through the bloodstream as an embolus that lodges distally at a point of narrowing. Embolization can also occur when foreign material (eg, bacteria, air, fat, catheter piece) is carried into the bloodstream.

Thrombi and emboli can be septic or nonseptic. Poor injection or catheterization techniques and inferior catheter material can all result in vascular thrombosis. However, life-threatening vascular thrombosis is more commonly encountered in patients with underlying disease states that result in coagulopathies, such as systemic inflammation, or endotoxemia. . . .

If left untreated or uncontrolled, these hypercoagulable conditions can result in hemorrhagic diathesis and/or disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a life-threatening disorder of hemostasis with deposition of microthrombi with concurrent hemorrhage.”

Unfortunately blood clots can only be diagnosed when a MRI is performed, and many times they happen before anything can be done about them. Before surgery, talk to your vet about your pet’s risk of blood clots during and after surgery.

Many thanks to Dr. Wiltzius for her pawesome perspective on canine amputation and bone cancer.

Read more tips about canine amputation from Dr. Wiltzius:

More Recommended Reading:

52 Responses to “Post-Amputation Side Effects in Dogs and Cats”

  1. My dog Maggie had her rear leg amputated 2 yrs ago. There is still an open wound. My vet said it will never heal because the bone keeps popping out of the skin. She also just told me a week ago that she had MRSA probably from the surgery. Is irt common yo have a none healing wound? Are we in danger of getting MRSA?

  2. My Jaxson is 9 years old and very active. Playful, loves to run, hike and jump fences. He had osteosarcoma in his leg and was in very severe pain. But he just had surgery 3 days ago, amputating his rear right leg. He still has not started using his other rear leg or even putting weight on it. He acts as tho he can’t even feel anything back there. He even drags his butt sometimes. When we take him outside, in a sling, he just drags the leg. He went a long time before having the amputation. I would think he had enough strength to pick his back end up, but no. Is this normal? It sure does not seem that way at all. Maybe we are being too pushy? Trying to see results too quickly? He even seems discouraged and depressed. We are seeing the vet today about this issue. Just thought I’d get a little advice from someone who has been they this. Please, I’d love to hear any experiences. ❤️

    • Best wishes for Jaxson. Every dog’s recovery is different, and overdoing it too soon can certainly cause mobility issues. Confinemnt and moderation are key to a speedy recovery, and proper rehab is important. You will find plenty of tips in the Tripawds e-books or by searching the blogs and forums. And you can call the toll-free Tripawds Helpline anytime! Start here for help finding the many Tripawds resources.

      Our best advice is to consult with a certified rehab vet/tech for an orthopedic evaluation, treatment recommendations and strengthening exercises you can do at home. Visit a CCRT or CCCRP and the Tripawds Foundation can even pay for your first visit from the Maggie Moo Fund for Tripawd Rehab!

  3. I just lost my girl yesterday. Amputation of front leg 7 days ago and was sent home with Prevacox. I noticed her amputated area tremoring, but I assumed the Prevacox would work. Then she developed a huge hole in her front elbow from slamming down on it because of her amputation. It was oozing and I called vet that day, told me to pick up antibiotics there next business day. I could tell there was something wrong with Sissy, but I was in denial. Yesterday will be a day I never forget because my poor girl was dying and in so much pain. I ran out of house to get help and got back in 5 minutes and she was gone. My heart is broken and I’m completely out of my mind right now. I just hate that she died and I wasn’t there for her.

    • My heart aches for you snoopy, I’m so sorry. Please see my thoughts here in your other post.

    • Oh wow..Im so sorry. My jack Russel Macy was hit by a car had back leg amputated Friday …im so worried she’s not having BM and the 2 she did have Saturday was dark blood…put in ER call to the vet Sat night…no call back until after they closed last night…the vet only see’s $$ signs..unfortunatly I acted without thinking ran to get her out of the road and she bit me a few times breaking bones and arterial gash in my hand so I was taken by squad and she was taken by Sherrif to closest vet

      • Jaime and Macy, we hope you are both doing better. Please come to our Discussion Forums so we can be of more help to you both OK?

  4. Rebecca Russell July 9, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    My Molly just had her back leg removed and died within 24 hours. She was a healthy beautiful lab who has now past away. The vets office didn’t have anyone with her which I wasn’t aware of. I regret my decision but yet she couldn’t continue with the pain. She had been hit by a car early in life before me and it finally gave her to much pain being fused together with nerve all in tangled. Devastated!! Ask questions, I only asked will she be ok and I was assured not to worry and now my dog is gone forever.

    • Rebecca, our heart breaks for you, Molly and everyone who loved her. We are very, very sorry for your loss, what a tragedy. Thank you for taking time to share your experience here. We hope that you will consider posting in “Coping with Loss” so that we can honor your sweet girl’s life and hold her even closer to our hearts. You are in our thoughts.

    • I’m so sorry. I left my girl for 5 min to get help and she died alone. My other two dogs were with her, but I am completely heart broken right now.

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