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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Hi everyone, I’m new so I’m hoping I’m doing this right and in the right place
My nearly 11 year old dobermann has just been diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The lump is at the top of her left foreleg, by her shoulder. The vet has either recommended amputation with some chemotherapy afterwards or just having her put to sleep because of the pain and poor prognosis. In herself she’s really well, limping slightly but shes so full of life and wanting to run and play so I’m having a hard time coming to terms with it all. In my head I think she’s an old dog who’s had an amazing life and putting her through an amputation for what might not be much more time seems extreme but at the same time I look at her and she still wants to do everything despite the pain she’s in.
I guess I was just hoping for some advice please and people’s own experiences, at nearly 11 will she adjust well to being on 3 legs? How Iong and difficult can the recovery be because if she doesn’t have long left I don’t want her to be struggling for that time. She’s always been such a happy dog and it would break my heart if I took that from her by putting her through too much. Her other foreleg has no problems, her back legs are slightly arthritic but she’s otherwise fit and well for a dog of her age and breed.
Thanks in advance
18 October 2009
Hello and welcome, your future posts will not have to wait for approval.
I’m sorry you are facing cancer in your girl, what’s her name?
Did the vet offer an opinion on if she was a good candidate for amputation? In my opinion age is just a number- what is important is how fit she is an how much life she has left in her. From your description it sounds like she would be a good candidate.
Have you had her evaluated by a surgeon? Their input might help you make a decision. Talking with an oncologist would be helpful too. There are some limb sparing options out there, not everyone offers them, but in general there are more options than amputation or pain management . To be honest the alternative options are often more expensive, but at least you would have all the information you need to make a decision.
The recovery period from surgery is usually 2 to 3 weeks. The older dogs sometimes are on the longer side of recovery but not always. Medically it takes 10 to 14 days for the incisions to heal up and the stitches or staples to be removed. My little Pug Maggie took her time getting used to her new normal, about 6 weeks before she would play with me again. Most see that sparkle come back in the 2 to 3 week range.
We’ve had lots of more ‘mature’ dogs do well with amputation- hopefully a couple of our current members with older dogs will chime in soon.
Karen and the Spirit Pug Girls
Thanks so much for your reply Karen, I really appreciate it.
My girls name is Ava. The vet said she’d be a good candidate for amputation because she’s lightly built and is such a happy dog that he feels she’ll cope well mentally. I’m worried about her spending time away from me after the op as she gets really stressed when she’s away from her family and any potential complications from the surgery. I guess being a nurse I’m seeing it from a human perspective as massive surgery and I my biggest worry is if she doesn’t cope or takes a long time to recover. I think it’s just so daunting having to make that decision and not knowing until it’s made if it’s the right one and then it’s too late.
I’m sorry you’re dealing with cancer. It’s a tough time for everyone but we’re here to help make it easier.
Your concerns are totally understandable. Have you seen our Size and Age Matters Discussion Forum topic? We have lots of examples of older dogs who have done great on three legs, be sure to check it out. And I agree with Karen, age is just a number to dogs and cats. We tend to get hung up on age but if a pet is otherwise healthy there is no reason why they can’t do well on three legs.
Since you’re a nurse, recovery would be relatively easy for Ava. Try not to visualize the kind of discomfort and emotional pain that amputee humans experience after surgery; for pets, they’re just glad to get rid of the bad leg. They handle it soooo much better than people. As long as the pain is well-managed, Ava should be back to herself in a couple weeks, but maybe a little longer because of her age (15-20 days maybe). It really depends on the dog’s resiliency, but it sounds like she’s a healthy girl who can bounce back quickly.
As for regrets on behalf of the human, we’ve done surveys through the years and almost every person surveyed has said they were glad they did the amputation, even if it only bought them a few months of extra quality time together. Remember, we humans get hung up on numbers and projections. Our pets do not. They just want to make the most of every day they have on earth. Ava has lots to teach you about that.
If you haven’t already do get other opinions. You’ll feel better about your decision no matter which route you take.
HI and sorry you are going thru this.
You are describing the exact same thoughts I had. Brownie was 10 days from being 12 when he had his front leg amputated. I thought he is too old for this, and I had it in my head the front leg is going to be hard for him. I decided to treat him with pain meds, but after a couple of weeks the pain medication stopped working. I started feeling sorry for myself because I was scared I was loosing my best friend. Then I realized this was not about me it was about Brownie. So I started researching and found this site. I thought if other senior dogs can do it, so can Brownie. I thought I should at least give Brownie a chance because I know he is a fighter. All dogs are different, but Brownie breezed thru the surgery and recovery with no complications. It did take about three weeks for him to get his spark back. Bit when it came back it was bigger then ever. Brownie also stresses really badly if I leave him somewhere. But to tell you the truth I don’t think he knew where he was because he was so high in all the medication.
I knew Brownie wasn’t ready to go to the bridge. I saw it in his eyes. He still wanted to play he just hurt. In seven days it will be 11 months since Brownie was diagnosed. Brownie is having some complications now, but not due to the cancer. He is almost 13 now and has developed arthritis in his spine. If you decide to go thru with the amputation you might want to ask your vet about joint supplements.
Best wishes you Ava.
Thank you so much for your replies Jerry and Brownie, I really appreciate them.
It’s great to hear how well Brownie is doing and how much longer you’ve had with him with the same reservations, it’s really reassuring. I’m assuming that’s him in the photo, he’s got such a lovely face
I’ve spoken with my vet again today, asked all my questions and I think I’m going to go ahead with the amputation, he seems really positive about how Ava will cope and after reading so many positive stories here about people in similar situations I feel a lot better about it all. If the worst scenario happens and she doesn’t manage then at least I know I tried for her, anything else at the moment with her as active as she is just feels like giving up I think.
23 April 2016
The journey and experience of each dog and cat is definitely very individual, but an older dog that is fit and strong, even with a deep chest like a doberman, can absolutely adjust well and have a good quality of life on 3. My boy had a different cancer, but the result was the same – amputation was necessary to give us any more time together and I feel strongly we all wanted that. He was 11.5 when we finally had our diagnosis and quickly moved to amputation, but likely had had his hidden soft tissue sarcoma for a full year before that. There are other videos of Pofi getting around right after surgery and I will look for them – he was a rock star in recovery in a somewhat exceptional way. I think that is because he had been limping so long, getting that leg out of the way and getting rid of the pain just freed him up.
This video in my blog is from 6 weeks post amp, but he was managing stairs with oversight right away (much sooner than recommended, but he was a proud and stubborn dog.
Sending you lots of positive vibes!
On October 27, 2016, nearly 6 months after amputation, and 18 months since his cancer likely started, we lost Pofi to a recurrence of Soft Tissue Sarcoma in his spine quite suddenly. His Daddy and I miss him terribly along with his canine sister, Mia, and two feline siblings, Lucia and Cliff.
18 May 2014
Hello from a fellow Dobemom!
My Dobe Nitro was 8 1/2 when he had his right front leg amputated. It was a scary decision, but like Ava, he was not ready to leave this earth. He had a somewhat difficult recovery (compared to others) in that he wouldn’t eat for 7 days following surgery. We found a holistic vet who practices Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and that made a world of difference for him. With his new tripawd gait, his neck was really sore and out of whack; once we figured that out, he bounced right back. He went on to live 3+ years on 3 legs, and we didn’t regret our decision for one second. He did spend the first night at the 24 hour clinic, for which I was glad – as much as I wanted him home with us, he was better off there with professionals to look after him.
I’d be happy to help with any questions you may have – as would everyone here. Where are you located? Good luck moving forward, keep us posted.
Paula and Warrior Angel Nitro
Nitro 11 1/2 yr old Doberman; right front amp June 2014. Had 6 doses carboplatin, followed by metronomic therapy. Rocked it on 3 legs for over 3 years! My Warrior beat cancer, but couldn't beat old age. He crossed the Bridge peacefully on July 25, 2017, with dignity and on his terms. Follow his blog entitled "Doberman's journey"
"Be good, mama loves you".....run free my beautiful Warrior
Hey that’s good your vet gave you an optimistic vote of confidence, and I’m so glad we could be here to answer your questions. And anytime you have any, or just feel like you need to vent or whatever, we are here for you.
I’m so glad our pawesome members chimed in!
Please be sure to check out Jerry’s Required Reading List and the Tripawds Shopping List to see what you might need to get ready for the big day. Any idea when that might be?
Thanks Lisa, it’s amazing to see Pofi managing stairs like that after only 6 weeks. What an amazing dog. I think Ava’s less proud and stubborn and more silly and over exuberant but I’m hoping it’ll have the same effect
Oh my goodness Paula that photo of you and Nitro cuddling thats exactly how my girl cuddles me. I’m in the UK.
Thanks for the reading and shopping list Jerry, I’ll definitely have more questions and probably an ‘oh no what have I done’ moment shortly afterwards. I appreciate all of you taking the time to answer my questions and the support so far, it’s so kind of you.
I’ve provisionally booked it for Thursday as they had a space then and the sooner it’s done the sooner I can help her recover but I’m so nervous still. I know I’m going to wonder what on earth I’ve done to her straight after so I’m trying to prepare myself for that. I know it’s this or lose her and I look in her eyes and she just isnt ready yet.
I know how you feel. I made myself sick the day before surgery. I looked at pictures online of amputation incision sites because when i went to pick up Brownie I didn’t want to act shocked. But Brownies incision actually looked great and the pictures online were much worse.
We are sending good thoughts for Thursday. I don’t know a lot about medication but I do know you need to make sure your vet sends you home with some pain meds. If you have hard floors non slip rugs work great. You can make a harness by cutting a shopping bag and use as a sling. After the stiches come out they have a great harness in the gear shop. It’s the webmaster flag line. It is great for front leg amputees. We love ours!
And as Sally would say get lots of chocolate for you…..
20 January 2020
We are just a few days ahead of you on this journey. Our dog had been limping since August, we thought it was an injury. Mid-December we had X-rays taken which showed a large lesion in the left humerus, with a presumed diagnosis of osteosarcoma. Things got bad so quick that we were told on 1/2 that if we did not amputate in the next few days, we would have to put our almost 11yr old Aussie down within a week or two. We were already devastated, and had not planned on an amputation. If felt so rushed to put him down because of pain, as he didn’t seem ‘sick’. We have no plans for chemo, so that made things even tougher as we likely have a short window on the other side of amputation. In the end we proceeded with an amputation, which happened 12 days ago. He stayed in the hospital a few nights, as he was part of a clinical trial. I initially felt bad about the time away, but having small kids and work, it was easier in the immediate post-op setting. He came home post-op day 3, and as soon as we saw him, we knew we made the right choice. At one week post-op, he was on less meds than before. He has definitely had some days were he is not himself, he is usually very vocal but hadn’t barked at all for the first week. We have gotten him out of the house a bit to help his spirits, which seemed to help greatly. Today he was back to the dog I remember pre-limp, following me around, trying to get food from the kitchen, barking at neighbors, and even wanting cuddles. I know you are in such a hard place right now, and I hope you can come to a decision that makes you at peace. We do not regret our decision, even though it was one of the hardest things we have ever done.
Amy thanks for taking time to share your story and give hope to Ava’s pack! That is really sweet.
I’m so glad your pup is doing well and things are getting back to the new normal. Please consider starting a new topic so we can follow along with your journey too!