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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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Chronic Pain Amputation, yes or no?
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Forum Posts: 1
Member Since:
23 May 2018
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2 June 2018 - 6:38 am
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Hey everyone, I would love to hear some advice/stories from people who have had to amputate a dog’s limb not because of cancer or severe trauma.

my dog aika, my heart dog, has been limping on her front leg for about 2 years now.  I have done SO much to try and figure this out, but still I or any vet has not been able to tell me exactly what is wrong. She has had multiple x-rays, ultrasounds, a surgery to fix what was thought to be bicipital tendinitis, a CT scan to rule out nerve tumors, I’ve done acupuncture and physical therapy to increase her muscle mass in her front left limb because it is so atrophied. She’s been on every anti-I flammotory in the book, pain meds, gabapentin (for nerve pain) and although the meds have helped her sometimes she still limps on that leg all the time, most of the time she just uses her good three legs. 

I am at the point of amputation, which was suggested to me by her rehab therapist, one of her surgeons still thinks we could figure this out if we do an MRI next but her therapist said, do the $2000 MRI, maybe find something, maybe do another surgery to maybe help…. or amputate and get rid of the pain. It’s just hard to swallow because it isn’t black and white, she doesn’t have cancer (that we know of) she didn’t get hit by a car, and some times she does use her bad leg, although she still limps. 

She is 6 years old, Akita/border collie mix. About 60 lbs. we miss going to the dog park and I miss taking her on long hikes with me. I know amputation will make it possible for us to do this again, it’s just hard because it isn’t a concrete problem 

Thanks for reading. 

The Rainbow Bridge

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2 June 2018 - 8:57 am
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Hi and welcome! Back later to share some thoughts but for now I wanted to get your post approved so others can chime in. 

It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.™
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Forum Posts: 68
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2 June 2018 - 10:56 am
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Hi Aika and guardian!

You’ll get many different stories and opinions on this, I’m sure. I thought I’d let you know my own experience that is at least partially like yours. 

My dog Schlomo limped for about a year and a half before they finally found something. All sorts of diagnosis from chronic shoulder injury to just continuous big question marks. He was licking his paw a lot, he started developing these cramp like episodes and Vets had no idea what it was until a surgeon said ‘sometimes we have to wait for a disease to reveal itself’. I thought I was going crazy.

They did finally find a tiny bump below his big paw pad and that turned out to be a soft tissue sarcoma. Less likely to spread and locally invasive but it comes back with a vengeance. I ended up having it removed 3 times and each time it was back after 3 months sharp. The 4th time we removed his big paw pad. The pain and cramping was back worse than ever 3 months later. 

I did end up going ahead with an amputation last June 21st. It’s still the hardest decision I ever made and the recovery for Schlomo was rough. He is older than Aika, he turned 12 in December and that surely makes a difference. He was always a very young feeling, active dog. That has changed. He still has energy bursts but he does pay for them with sore muscles after (like we all do in aging).

Few things that I just didn’t understand and that I want to point out. All surgeons I talked to mentioned how well dogs adjust after and compared to humans they absolutely do but looking back I think that was minimizing what it actually means to have a leg taken off. 

A lot of the tripawds here thrive on 3 legs and I am in awe. Schlomo is doing ok. He’s still happy as a clam and loves everybody. He will not be able to go on long hikes anymore and he really wants to. Hopping puts an enormous strain on the remaining limbs, especially on the front leg and shoulder. They need to be exercised and rehab’d to build up and maintain strength especially as they get older. 

Looking back I wish I had tried even more. I wish I had looked more into partial amputation and prosthetic. I have more knowledge of these things now than I did before. If the leg can be saved I would try to save it. But again, that’s just me with my experience and we had a different path. That being said I did remember one of his worst cramp episodes the other day when he screamed through the entire multi family building and neighbors came to see what was going on. It was awful. That doesn’t happen anymore….

Loads of light and love

Mascha & Schlomo

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2 June 2018 - 2:21 pm
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Hi Aika and family 🐾🌺

My baby girl Eurydice had osteosarcoma so it was a clear cut decision …

Luckily Aika is not in the same position.

I cannot really advise in your case as we had a different and extremely aggressive cancer but there are many others here who also tried everything before deciding on amputation.

All I can say, and for whatever it is worth, from reading other people’s stories a lot of them regretted having delayed surgery.

Again, not my experience. 

Stay tuned and others will chime in.

Sending you hugs and cuddles 😘😘🐮💫✨🌟🌹

Eurydice 77kg/170lb Great Dane limping end of April 2016, amputation (right front leg/osteosarcoma) 4 May 2016 6 courses of carboplatin followed by metronomic therapy, lung mets found 30 Nov 2016. 3 courses of doxorubicin, PET scan 26 Jan 2017 showed more mets so stopped chemo. Holistic route April 2017. Lung X-ray 5 May 2017 showed several tennis ball size mets, started cortisone and diuretics. Miss Cow earned her XXL silver wings 12 June 2017, 13 months and 1 week after amputation and 6 1/2 months after lung mets, she was the goofiest dawg ever and is now happily flying from cloud to cloud woof woofing away :-) 

London, UK

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2 June 2018 - 3:03 pm
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Hi there, I  am sorry you are going through this. It sounds an extremely stressful and frustrating situation and I’m not surprised you are unsure how to proceed. I am really pleased that you have come to this site, there is really no place like it for information and support.

My own experience is similar to yours and Mascha’s in some ways, but having exhausted every possible option trying to save my Meg’s leg, and ultimately failing, I obviously come from a particular perspective.

My Meg suffered a non traumatic explosive fracture of her right elbow, the result of an undiagnosed bone condition. Her elbow was repaired with a huge amount of metalwork and months of rehab, but in less than three years she has developed end stage arthritis. In our case, I was advised that amputation was not an option for her, because the condition which affected her right elbow also affects her left one. It was a question of salvage surgery or euthanasia. For nine months we fought to save her leg, by means of a custom made elbow implant, and multiple follow up surgeries when the surgical wound failed to heal. Ultimately she developed an infection in the joint and, after months in hospital, and a vets bill stretching into multiple tens of thousands, the only thing left to try was amputation. Meg has now been living very happily for more than two years on three legs.

There comes a point where you have to draw a line and say enough is enough. Where that point lies is clearly something you have to decide in conjunction with advice from your vets. For myself, I certainly wish that we had amputated sooner, and that Meg had been spared all that pointless intervention. A dog’s life is short. A year or more of repeated procedures and hospitalisations is a large proportion of it. Of course, had her elbow replacement been successful, I might have a different view, but I can only speak from my own experience. Amputation seemed drastic to me too. I now look back on that day with a feeling of immense relief. That was when everything began to get better for us. 

Life on three legs is different in some ways to life on four but in our experience can be every bit as rich and full and stimulating. Meg’s walks are shorter than they used to be (no long hikes), but she enjoys them thoroughly. I also have a stroller so she can hop in when she fancies a rest and still enjoy plenty of stimulation. She swims daily, chases squirrels, has even caught a couple of rabbits… We work hard on core strength, and do lots of exercises at home, which from Meg’s point of view means more attention and still more fun. We also do lots of puzzles and brain games to work Meg mentally. To be clear, she is a HIGHLY active dog, but this combination of activities keeps her stimulated and content.

As Mascha says everyone’s experience is different, and every dog is different, but this has been ours.

With all good wishes to you and Aika,

Meg, Clare and Angel Pie xxx

Meg, Mutt, aged around 12, adopted 31/12/2009. Sudden explosive right elbow fracture 06/12 (caused by IOHC), diagnosed with End Stage Arthritis 03/15, Total Elbow Replacement 08/15, problems with healing leading to skin graft & skin flap surgery, Chronic Infection leading to implant breakdown. Became a Tripawd 9th March 2016. 
Lives with Mum, Clare, watched over by Angel Pie and Angel Billie
My life as a MEG-A-STAR 

Livermore, CA

Forum Posts: 3952
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2 June 2018 - 7:51 pm
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Hi and welcome.

I’m sorry you find yourself here.  Making the decision to amputate is never easy but at least in my case with TriPug Maggie the decision was based on a cancer tumor and so relatively straightforward.  It must be excruciating trying to decide in your situation.

What occurred to me reading your post is that it sounds like several posts I have read here when a nerve sheath tumor is finally diagnosed. The ongoing pain and the inability to find a reason for it, the year or two it took to finally find a cause.  I know you did a CT scan to rule that out- and I don’t have first hand knowledge of this type of cancer- but I wanted to share my thought.

I did a forum search on Nerve Sheath and got these results.

How long ago was the CT scan done?  Would the MRI show a nerve sheath tumor? 

Sorry I can’t be more help.

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

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3 June 2018 - 10:42 am
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We’re like many here . . . Casey was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and off came his arm (left front leg). I’d noticed about six months earlier that Casey seemed to get really old really fast. He became a couch potato and his 2 1/2 mile daily walks with his brothers were taking longer and longer. Then, he started limping on and off, and a month later, Ann saw a lump on his wrist. Perhaps it was the “knowing”, but Casey’s pain seemed to get much much worse in the two weeks leading to amputation. We saw it in his eyes, and the way he would hold his ankle out to us, but then, he started shedding. In December. It was amazing shedding, lots and lots of individual hairs rather than clumps. The vet explained it was stress shedding due to the cancer and the pain.

Okay, long story, but 48 hours after his amputation, that shedding stopped. The pain was gone, as was the primary tumor. This was 5 months ago. The spirit that is Casey is back now. He is happy, with huge roundhouse tail wags and that wonderful expression when he greets me at the door. He tussles with his brothers again, and loves to plop down and roll in the grass. He loves going on walks. At diagnosis, the vet said two weeks to two months. With amputation alone, maybe four.

We went the chemo route, and at 5 months, Casey seems to be doing fine, but it’s not all sunshine and fairy dust. He will never be the dog he was. He will never take that 2 1/2 mile walk again with his brothers (his PR is 3/4 mile, and he’s happier with a casual 1/2 mile hop). He will never again effortlessly and tirelessly run across a field. For the first month after his surgery he had a badly inflamed eyebrow area. I was concerned that the cancer had spread to his skull somewhere, but no . . . it was just a black eye from all the faceplants as he re-learned how to stop with only one front brake.

We don’t regret the decision to amputate, and would do it again in a heartbeat. As I said, the spirit that is Casey is still with us. We enjoy him sharing his life with us every day, and that is only possible because we took that horrible pain away.


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3 June 2018 - 8:32 pm
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Thanks for sharing all the ways  Casey finds his joy on three. 😁  Good perspective.   I love the  visual of him plopping  down in the grass for a good roll. 😎

Yes, as noted there are trade-offs.   As you already kmow, Casey doesn’t  feel like he’s  missing out on a thing though. Ahhh… the bliss of being dawg!  All he knows is he’s getting more spoiling  and loving than most dawgs do in a hundred lifetimes!  

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!

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