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Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat

Tripawds is the place to learn how to care for a three legged dog or cat, with answers about dog leg amputation, and cat amputation recovery from many years of member experiences.

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New Tripawd parent…what can I expect?
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Member Since:
2 September 2021
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2 September 2021 - 3:44 pm
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Hi all,

My name is Joshua and my wife and I are the proud owners of a year and a half old Siberian/Retriever mix named Koda and an 8 month old Black Lab/Retriever mix named Sky. 

It’s been a very difficult week and emotional as we were faced with a decision to euthanize Koda or amputate his rear left leg. About a week ago we noticed he had some difficulty sitting down and subsequently took him to the vet. After 3 vet visits and a failure to properly diagnose from 2 of those visits, we were informed that Koda had most likely been bit by a venomous animal. Likely a snake. We were shocked and about the only place we could think this would happen would be our local dog park (we live in a condo so no yard). By the time they had diagnosed, 5 days had past and the leg was beyond saving. We opted for the amputation this past Tuesday and got him home yesterday evening.

He is resting well and probably doing better than we are. It just feels good to have our buddy home after all this. As you can imagine the scope and pace of this has had us reeling, often making decisions with the information we have in the moment and nothing more. We believe he is going to have a great quality of life and he’s clearly been happy to be back by our side. Though missing a leg, for us, it just means there is more love for us to give to the rest of him now. 

Being so new to this all, I’ve been a little nervous about what life looks like going forward. For starters, we have a private stairway to our home that goes up 3-4 flights. I’ve been carrying our guy but would love to know what to expect and what we can do to encourage work on climbing stairs, as the timing becomes right. Second, the first vet who saw Koda attempted to do a bit of a “save face” after missing this diagnosis. We don’t blame him because this was a tricky thing to locate, but he did offer the unwarranted observation that this kind of thing is harder on larger dogs (Koda is about 100 pounds) and he would’ve preferred we consulted with him first. We love our vet practice but have never interacted with this doctor before. We are a little leery by his comments and uncertain why he felt the need to offer them after being so out of the loop given Koda was at an ER vet clinic when all this was being done. The ER vet clinic also assured us this was the best route and that he’s gonna do great, and we’re going with their word 100%. 

This leads me to my biggest question and broad at that. What can we expect? Namely, how can we help our guy thrive? Will walking on three legs lead to other types of health issues down the road we ask because that doctors comment albeit unsolicited, has us worried a bit. Do we need to consider a prosthetic leg or something? Is that possible given they went all the way up for the amputation? Thanks all. Looking forward to getting educated and giving our guy the best life he can live.

On The Road

Member Since:
24 September 2009
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2 September 2021 - 5:18 pm
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Hi Joshua and furmily, welcome! I'm so sorry you had to join our club, what a terrible turn of events for Koda! I'm so glad he is home recuperating. I'm glad you posted so we can help you through recovery. I'll try to address your concerns and share some thoughts, but stay tuned for feedback from others too (your future posts won't need to wait for approval).

we were informed that Koda had most likely been bit by a venomous animal. Likely a snake.

Yikes! That immediately reminded me of Tripawd Kawi and the snake wrestling incident (hint: prepare to be inspired!). Soooo  glad he's on the mend.

We opted for the amputation this past Tuesday and got him home yesterday evening.

Just curious but what kind of pain management is he on? What meds, how often, and how much? The better pain control that's given immediately after surgery, the easier recovery. We aren't vets but we can tell you more about the best and worst pain drugs for amputation recovery.

We believe he is going to have a great quality of life and he’s clearly been happy to be back by our side.

YES! He is absolutely going to. Koda has a LOT of years left and he is going to amaze you! Your pawsitivity is awesome, it makes recovery easier!

I’ve been a little nervous about what life looks like going forward. 

Be sure to check out Loving Life On Three Legs , Jerry's Required Reading List , and our What to Expect articles for some insight.

For starters, we have a private stairway to our home that goes up 3-4 flights. I’ve been carrying our guy but would love to know what to expect and what we can do to encourage work on climbing stairs,

How many steps are there? Do they have any kind of traction or no-slip surface? Are you allowed to modify them at all if not? For stairs, we recommend the Ruffwear Flagline or Ruffwear Webmaster harness . Since Koda's missing a rear leg, he will have a harder time going up. Dogs have all their propulsion in their rear so losing 50% of that makes a difference.

You can do LOTS to get him strong. Consider searching for a canine rehab therapist who can create an exercise and strengthening program just for Koda. The Tripawds Foundation is so confident that these folks can help, that we will pay for your first rehab visit ! Start looking now since they like to see new Tripawds as soon as stitches come out (sometimes earlier). We can help you find a therapist if you'd like.

he did offer the unwarranted observation that this kind of thing is harder on larger dogs (Koda is about 100 pounds) and he would’ve preferred we consulted with him first. 

smiley7smiley7smiley7 And do what? Euthanize him? Come on dude! smiley6 Sorry, we get pretty riled up when we hear about outdated misconceptions around large breed Tripawds. See, we have spoken with the best vet surgeons in the world, and they all agree that neither size, nor age, should exclude a dog as a candidate for amputation as long as they are otherwise mostly healthy and have good spirit. Yes, recovery may be a bit more challenging, but we've had members' dogs weigh as much as 175 pounds do well, and some of them were missing a FRONT leg which is even more challenging! In all due respect for the vet, ignore what he said, and if he's your regular vet, consider finding an AAHA-accredited practice which will be more current on modern veterinary care. OK I'm off my soapbox.

Will walking on three legs lead to other types of health issues down the road

Surgeons and therapists tell us that most Tripawds will be prone to earlier onset of osteoarthritis. But there is SO MUCH you can do on your own to slow it down and decrease the effects. Start with keeping him slim slim slim. Know what appropriate exercise is, and is not. And do your best to keep his brain occupied with interactive brain games , so when he is a senior guy and slows down a bit, he has plenty to keep him engaged and active. Remember, there is SO MUCH more to spending time with our dogs than walks and ball throwing! 

Do we need to consider a prosthetic leg or something? Is that possible given they went all the way up for the amputation?

Well, probably not at this point in time, honestly. But I am not a vet. So check out all of our info about prosthetics , and if it still sounds good, get in touch with an orthopedic vet who specializes in prosthetics , so that Koda can get evaluated. The science is evolving so quickly that I'll bet within his lifetime there will be a device that works on dogs who have no remaining joints (the most successful way to attach a device is when they have at least two articulating joints left).

Our own Wyatt Ray was 80 pounds and a rear-leg amputee since he was a puppy. We recently said goodbye but he was 12 at the time and lived a long healthy life on three. Many others have too! Koda is going to be one of them as well, I'm confident in that!

You guys are going to do great. You're asking all the right questions! Recovery may have some ups and downs but ask any other questions you think of, we are here to help.

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

Livermore, CA

Member Since:
18 October 2009
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2 September 2021 - 9:31 pm
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Hello and welcome.

I've had two rear amp Tripawds but both of them small.  My current Tri, Elly, has been on three since she was 7 months old (car accident). I adopted her when she was 10 months old (she is 6.5 years old now) and immediately started working on her strength and balance.  We play food games and puzzles, work on obedience and trick training, and do core, leg strengthening and balance exercises.  We do different things every day to keep it fresh and fun. We haven't been to a rehab vet but it is something I want to do someday.  Elly has severe anxiety issues so vet visits have been a challenge.  I think she could handle it now but I'm waiting until I can go into the facility with her as separation anxiety is one of her worst issues.

We don't routinely go on long walks and we don't do a lot of burst type activities although this year she discovered the fun of chasing rabbits- I do let her do that occasionally.  I have a doggie chariot so I can take her with me when I go on longer walks (she walks some and rides some).

Another thing Elly brought into our lives is the sport of Nose Work. We started to help work on her fear and lack of confidence issues- and it turns out she is really good at it!  It is a great game even if you don't compete- it challenges their brain and is surprisingly tiring without being hard on on their bodies.

Here is a forum post I did a couple years ago on Elly's Nose Work if you are interested.

And this is a video I made of some of the puzzles and games I play with Elly- maybe somethings you can do with Koda when he heals up.

I hope Koda's recovery goes well!

Karen and the Spirit Pug Girls

Tri-pug Maggie survived a 4.5 year mast cell cancer battle only to be lost to oral melanoma.

1999 to 2010


              Maggie's Story                  Amputation and Chemo

Member Since:
2 September 2021
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4 September 2021 - 10:15 am
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Hello my newfound friends!

I first off want to apologize for my delay and also thank you for the time you took to craft such thoughtful and welcoming responses. We’ve been looking back at them this week and find much to look forward to in learning and reading thanks to the links you’ve posted.

Koda seems to be on the mend and the meds are definitely helping. Jerry, to answer your first question, Koda is on 450 mg. of Gabapentin three times a day. I think we’ve finally got our timing of administering the pain meds down as we can detect when they are just starting to wear off a bit. Additionally, we’ve seen him do remarkably well going down the stairs and he had his first bowel movement last night. We were quite excited but as they say, it is the little things! This morning we sent some photos of the incision point to the ER vet clinic. Firstly, just to keep them updated but also because we’ve seen a rather dark red spot form just to the side of the incision. We believe it may just be a bruise (possibly from trying to sit and a couple small tumbles) but we want to be extra cautious and alert, as Monday saw dark splotches form on his leg that ultimately led to bleeding through the skin. After the trauma of this week we’re a bit worried but notice Koda is in much better spirits than he was Monday when bleeding and seeing these spots appear. We are also trying to just be reasonable and give our guy the benefit of the doubt that he did just have a major operation. Tenderness, and a bit of a darker redness can’t be all that uncommon I would presume? 

Also in light of your comments, Jerry, and upon further thought…we’ve decided to switch our traditional vet practices. They’ve had great reviews and we never had a problem with them. In reality I’m not sure we can hold them responsible for missing this as the leg was in a very different state last Friday and the ER vet clinic didn’t even catch it themselves until they had to open the leg up after seeing Koda a second time. All this said, the doctor from our original vet practice has called yet again and really went into a spiel Thursday evening. Without seeing any of Koda’s paperwork from the ER vet clinic, he stated that it was his belief we were dealing with a highly necrotic bacterial infection. The ER vet clinic is running a culture to see if we can gain any further clarity on what happened but has left their diagnosis as most likely a venomous bite. The doctor at our traditional practice knowing this, stuck to his guns of this being necrotic bacteria. He informed me we needed to throw Koda’s bed out. Disinfect the entire house from top to bottom and depending on the culture result….contact the CDC!!? I about laughed at him but realized what he was doing as our call concluded; his timeline of the bacterial infection theory was painted as having degraded the leg Sunday night and Monday of this past week. In essence…he was implying the event occurred AFTER we had taken Koda to see him. We’ve loved the practice but never dealt with this guy before. He’s been a mess and keeps calling my wife rather than attempting to resolve this with me, who has been the one in contact with the practice all week. For our part we hold no anger. This vet has also changed his story from being the only doctor to seeing Koda “in between appointments”, to having 3 other doctors evaluate Koda when he was in last Friday. Naturally we don’t believe this because if that was the case, why would so many have needed to see him “in between appointments” for so “minor” of an issue at that time? Okay, I’m done venting!! We found a new practice with even better reviews that IS AAHA certified! The paperwork is already set to be transferred to our new practice.

We are also quite intrigued to hear about the canine rehab therapists! It’s encouraging as well, to know the Tripawds foundation is willing to pay for that first visit. This I believe, is something we will be talking about intently this weekend as we are eager to learn more and give our guy the best we can. Regarding the stairs, we’ve started utilizing the sling and he’s been doing great though I admittedly feel a little uncertain I’m doing it right. I’m going to be checking out videos on this and also continuing to carry him. To answer your question as to just how many we have…..the answer is ALOT! From our front doorway, we have 3 outside, and inside just to get up to our floor of inhabitance is about 33 with 4 landings interspersed between each flight of stairs. Add to that our bedroom on the fourth floor, and you get an additional 16! It’s a lot to ask of our little guy and we want to make this as easy as possible. Thankfully, most of our house to include the stairs are carpet so he gets good traction . Our small entryway is wood but we’ve been able to utilize our doormats in a way to give him the best traction without having to touch the wood. This may be a good segway to mention my wife and I live in the Washington DC metro area and have contemplated a career change and move for some time. Both being from the midwest, we long to return to simpler roots and family. We’d love to have a yard and a lot less stairs, especially as we consider starting our family in the next few years. Koda’s condition and new needs are serving to only further convince us that a move back to the Midwest is what may be best for all of us. 

In all, I’m very eager to read the recommended reading and look at the brain games. Jerry and Karen, I cannot thank you enough for your kind and thoughtful responses. We are absolutely going to be looking into brain games and even nose work!!  Please know as well, that we hold your reminder of our relationship with our dogs “as so much more than just a walk or fetch”, in sweet regard. I’m sure we’ll have many other questions and updates in the days to come and we can’t wait to share them with you. For now, it’s time to put my research cap on and get to all the wonderful resources you’ve both provided! I am truly sorry as well, to hear of your recent loss of Ray, Jerry. He sounded like an amazing friend! Please do keep in touch and know I look forward to sharing more soon.


Member Since:
22 February 2013
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4 September 2021 - 10:55 am
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Great way to reframe things!!!

Though missing a leg, for us, it just means there is more love for us to give to the rest of him now. 

You've already gotten great j sight fro. Karen and Jerry, so I can only say ditto!

Clearly you've  been on an emotional roller coaster.  So sorry you are fetting conflicting  info from your Vet and the ER.  Getting the culture  back should be very helpful and ensure he's on the right antibiotics, MRSA is eliminated,  etc.

And yes, lots of stairs for your sweet boynton handle....especially  during recovery.  Harness help and hooman help...good idea.

Yes, some bruising is normal.  Good idea to send to Vet for reassurance.  When you get a chance could you post pictures here?  Obviously  we aren't  Bets and do give Vet advice, but we do see a lot of "normal" bruising, or not.

Give Koda a big smooch for us, and Sky too!  Oh, and YAY FOR poopiconpoopicon


Sally and Alumni Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle and Frankie too!

Happy Hannah had a glorious additional bonus time of over one yr & two months after amp for osteo! She made me laugh everyday! Joined April's Angels after send off meal of steak, ice cream, M&Ms & deer poop!

On The Road

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24 September 2009
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4 September 2021 - 12:47 pm
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Awwww you guys, I'm just loving what I'm reading here. smiley_clap After all you've been through, your pawsitivity, your strength, it's all so awesome and is clearly making a difference for Koda. What a lucky dawg to have you as his humans.

I'm glad you found a new clinic that also happens to be AAHA-accredited ! YAY!  Keep moving forward, and know that you're stronger and wiser because of this experience. Unfortunately for so many of us, this is how we learn what great and not great vet care looks like, and we become better advocates as a result.

Yes rehab therapy will be so helpful! I'm glad you are excited about it.

That's a crazy amount of stairs! I thought we had a lot when Jerry lost his leg (18 steps!). You're getting a real workout carrying Koda! Once you deal with a situation like this, as a dog parent, you never look at a house the same way again. 

If you've been thinking about a relocation, maybe this is the sign! Sometimes the Universe nudges us toward the life we want in the most unexpected ways. 

OK gotta run now but do keep us posted and holler away with any questions.

Oh and yes the bruising is normal but always better to be safe by running a few photos by your vet, you'll sleep easier that way.

Keep up the great attitude! 

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

Member Since:
4 April 2019
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5 September 2021 - 6:45 am
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Hi, and sorry to hear about Koda, but your pup will still live a long and happy life and that's all that matters. Brownie was 90 lbs at time of amputation of front leg and he did fine as a large super senior dog.

The harness is a great idea. We used one and it really was a life saver when Brownie needed. Little help. Since he was front amp he could climb stairs but needed some support going down.

You have an awesome attitude and just keep cheering Koda on.  Your pup will surprise you everyday....

My Beautiful Beloved Brownie was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma on February 26, 2019.  With all odds against him he lived an additional one year and eight days with amputation, love, and prayer.  I was honored to be his mom, and I have never been so proud!  He will live forever in my Heart!

Brownie Bubba Bell

04/01/2007 - 03/05/2020

"March Saint"

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17 July 2021
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14 October 2021 - 11:21 am
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Hello! I too have a large breed rear leg amputee! I was his foster right after his amputation and adopted him about six months ago. Our conditions were different - he’s an ex racer so he had never seen a house or city before, and he lost about 20lbs of muscle from an infection, so he didn’t have ANY muscle when I got him and we’ve had to build all that back during amputation recovery and his track life transition. (Which I mention because I think our timeline is probably slower than average) Anyway! I have stairs in my home, so we have been working toward helping him feel confident enough to make the climb with harness/sling support - which is tough for a any ex racing greyhound who has never seen stairs before, much less one with three legs. So far my experience has been that his confidence and ability get progressively better, the more exposure he has to different surfaces. There is a greyhound rehab in Australia that has a “sensory” park for the dogs and their methods were really helpful for me to understand what kind of goals to set. Basically the dogs are encouraged to jump over things, balance, crouch, walk on different surfaces, interact with water, all the things track dogs never get to learn about, and it builds their confidence so they can transition to a family home. I figured that all this basically applied doubly for a dog with an amputation, so I used their ideas as a kind of PT model. We go to on hikes and advance how rough the trails are slowly, practice on church entrance stairs on our walks (wider and not as steep as residential staircases,) explore riverbanks with soft sand, things like that. While we haven’t mastered a full flight of stairs yet, he’s recently begun excitedly leaping and running in the house (which used to be fearful Tiptoeing) and jumping out of the car on his own, and he did really well at dog daycare on those rubbery floors with fifty dogs running around him - which is a really positive incentive for him to practice balance. (He loves other dogs) All of which is to say that patience pays off, they do adapt remarkably well, and it’s a great chance to have a lot of first time experiences with your dog! 

On The Road

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24 September 2009
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14 October 2021 - 12:08 pm
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2dogs6legs said
Hello! I too have a large breed rear leg amputee! 

Nash, thank you sooo much for sharing this info! I learned quite a bit myself from this post, especially about the sensory park set-up and how you translated that to your everyday life with Hoyt and Winslow. If you are able, consider updating your first post so we can get more of a feel for it. I'd also love to see pics! 

Knowing other people have "been there done that" is so helpful here! Thanks again for sharing! 

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

On The Road

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24 September 2009
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14 October 2021 - 12:09 pm
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jrw155 said

Koda seems to be on the mend and the meds are definitely helping.


We hope he's all healed up! Can't wait for a pupdate!

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

Member Since:
17 July 2021
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13 November 2021 - 9:04 am
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“Greyhound rescue” in Australia has the sensory garden I’ve looked into. This is a link they have provided from the rspca for people to consider what their own may look like (although I just use public hiking trails mostly) 


Their Instagram has videos of trainers working with the dogs to explore stairs, a wobbly bridge, tunnels, etc. 

Their advice of trying different walking surfaces, sand/pebbles/pine cones/etc, and slowly exploring obstacles like hopping over a log to reach the treat on the other side, have been really helpful for us! 

On The Road

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24 September 2009
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13 November 2021 - 10:14 am
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Thank you so much for the info Nash! I'm going to investigate this further and do our own story on it. I love the idea!

Hope that Winslow and Hoyt are doing well! 

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

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