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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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Possible amputation
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30 September 2008 - 2:22 pm
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Hi everyone,

This is my first message here and reading some of your posts has done a great deal in reassuring me and seeing some light in my dog's not so bright future.

We are owned by 2 lovely dogs:  Jinny, a 3 year old golden retriever and Cujo, an 11 months old Rottweiler. Cujo is a lovely gentle boy, which we love very much, but unfortunately he has problems with his right front leg.

At the end of July, he started limping on and off.  I took him to the vet right away and they did X-rays, which showed that there was nothing broken, but that one of his growth plates had closed prematurely.  One of the bones had stopped growing while the other one continued, forcing it to curve a little.

His vet didn't think this was causing the pain or the limping, but that he had probably hurt himself while playing with his sister.  She gave him pain and inflammation medicine and scheduled a follow-up 2 weeks later.  On the follow-up, since he was still limping she sent me to an orthopedist surgeon, who she had consulted on the phone for Cujo.

Diagnosis of the orthopedist: pano (growth pains) which were causing the limp, but surgery was needed for his leg or he would otherwise end up with arthritis problems.  We had 2 options: ostectomy - removing part of the bone that had stopped growing, installing a metal plate on that bone and 3 weeks in a cast (all that to give a chance to the other bone to straighten) for a cost of $ 1,500.00 OR osteotomy - break the curved bone and straighten it with metal plates, cast and complete stop of activities for 6 weeks minimum for a cost of $ 3,000.

Neither surgeries were warranted to succeed but the surgeon was very confident that the ostectomy would be a success.  We went to show Cujo and his x-rays to my father's cousin, who was a orthopedist surgery teacher at a vet's university.  She reassured us that the surgeon we had chosen was a very good one and that the ostectomy had as much chances of success as the osteotomy.

We therefore went with the surgery.  After 3 weeks the cast was removed and the bad news arrived:  no amelioration, the surgery was a failure.  Total invoice: roughly $ 2,000.00 with the follow-ups.  

The surgeon is now pushing the other surgery - again, without any warranties of success.  The arthritis has already started in his leg, so it would have to be done fast. 

Unfortunately, we cannot afford another surgery. If we had known from the start, we would have had the other surgery made, but we already spent      $ 2,000.00 and cannot afford another $ 3,000.00.  Even if we could, I'm not even sure I would go with it.  I have heard awful stories from people who have had osteotomy done on their dogs:  how they changed after having to be caged for months to stop them from walking, complications leading to stop of activities for more than 5 months, no success with the operation, pain coming back after a few months, ...

Another option is available for Cujo: amputation. 

My plan at the moment is to go back to Cujo's regular vet., so that she can prescribe medication for the pain (if needed) and hopefully something to slow the progress of the arthritis.  And when the time comes, when he is in pain, amputation.  (I stopped smoking today to save for $$ for his medication and amputation)

He doesn't seem to be in pain at the moment.  He is playing a lot, eating normally and he is able to put weight on his foot, but he limps.  We stopped taking him for walks, not to put him in any pain and to push amputation as far away as possible in his future. 

A lot of people are judging my decision, saying I should just have him euthanized, that it's not a life for a dog to only have 3 legs.  From what I have read in your posts, in think amputation is giving him a chance of a happy, almost normal, life.

I'm sorry for the lenght of my post, which I have tried to keep as short as possible and for my English mistakes (French is my 1st language). 

What mostly concerns me is to know if amputation is going to cause problems with his others legs?  The orthopedist has done xrays on all of them and the 3 others do not have any problems at all. 

Will he develop pain in his other legs, since they'll be supporting his weight (90 lbs. at the moment and still growing)?   

Will he still be able to play with his sister? Or will we have to stop him from playing because his left front leg be more at risk of injury?

Thank you in advance for all your answers,

A very sad and worried mom




The Rainbow Bridge

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30 September 2008 - 6:49 pm
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You have definitely come to the right place, and we hope that we can be of some assistance in helping you make these tough decisions.

When I got sick with bone cancer, a lot of people told my pawrents that they were crazy. "Amputation," they said? "That's cruel!" But as you've come to see, we think it's really the best, quickest, most pain-free, and best solution when it comes to dogs who have our "extra" leg go bad. After all, we're born with four legs and a spare, don't forget that!

My pawrents started Tripawds because they found little support out there for giving three legged dogs a chance at a happy (or "hoppy"!) life. See, dogs can live a great life on three legs!  Tripawds was started as a place for people to go to if they had to make this tough decision.

First things first; we dogs don't give two hoots if we have three legs or four. We aren't embarassed about our condition, all we want to do is play! play! play! It's humans that have the issue with it.

Sure, the surgery sucks, and there are always risks of complications. But in the nearly two years of's existence, we've seen more dogs recover beautifully than not.

When it comes to the risk of injury to our legs, sure, we do need to be a little more careful. Mom and Dad stopped taking me to doggy daycare because I used to go ballistic and play so hard, they were worried that I would hurt myself and daycare staff wouldn't see it. That's OK though, I play enough at home now. But, the important thing to remember is, humans have to let their dogs be dogs. Don't be so paranoid that we can't have fun! My Mom took a very long time to get used to this idea.

Tripawd dogs who don't have cancer tend to just go back to their ordinary lives, albeit maybe just a little slower than they were, but oftentimes not. Hikes might be a little shorter because we tire out a little easier, but sometimes tripawd dogs without cancer will prove that theory wrong too. See our Health Tips page for some extra info. Cujo is a very lucky boy in that he doesn't have the extra issue of cancer to deal with. Once he has his surgery and recovers, that's it! He can go on and live a great life.

When the vet recommended amputation for me, my pawrents were concerned because I have a long history of mild hip displaysia. Well, let me tell you, that displaysia hasn't been an issue, unlike my cancer. As long as I stay lean and mean and fit, life on three legs is good to me.

Isabelle, we know you are in a tough spot. Many people out there just don't get the incredibly kind and loving decisions you've already made for Cujo. Well you know what? Forget about eveyone else! Do what's right in your heart. Would you rather have Cujo around for a long, long time, maybe just a little bit slower, or not at all? 

I know you already know the answer.

Keep us posted, we are thinking of you and here to help. 

P.S. OMG no apologies necessary for your English, it's waaaaay better than my French!

Bonjour, my friend,


It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.™
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30 September 2008 - 8:05 pm
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Thank you very much for your answer Jerry Smile

How reassuring it is to read you and to read from someone who really understands and agrees with my decision.

You are right .. I will do what's right with my hearth and not listen to negative things people have to say.

Cujo is such a happy fellow.  He deserves to life.  I will certainly not have my dog euthanized because he's ''broken'' and doesn't meet people's standard of beauty or normalacy.

And thanks again for answering my health concerns towards Cujo.  You have taken a lot off my shoulders.





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1 October 2008 - 11:25 am
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Isabelle & Cujo,

Jerry is right on all counts.  The people who are teling you to put Cujo down do not understand the bond between you and Cujo.  When people bond with their dogs, I feel that it is deeper than a bond with a human and there's a reason why I say this.  The love shared is extremely sensitive and intuitive and there is complete trust.  The innocence of the bond and the unconditional love only adds more to the bond.  People who have never loved a dog the way you & others on this site do are missing out on a relationship that teaches us humility, understanding and depth to our thinking and in our hearts.  I applaud you for having this bond with Cujo and I must say, you're English is perfect.  You have learned a second language very well.  I would never have guessed that you spoke French as you first language, ever!  Good luck with your decision and I hope that you will continue to learn from this site and please keep us updated on Cujo's progress.  Love, Blazer, Kitty Kimber & Vicki T

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2 October 2008 - 8:02 am
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Hi Isabelle,  Cujo is so wonderful to have you.  He is a young boy and will adjust quickly to having 3 legs.  It will take a little time for the other legs and new muscles used to gain strengthe but he will be able to run and play again.  Radar is a front leg amputee and it is such a joy to see him play bow, or dance around with his teddy bear in his mouth, or running in the yard with the other dogs. 

You've made the right decision.  Hugs

Connie & Radar

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28 July 2008
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2 October 2008 - 9:35 pm
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Isabelle and Cujo

Many people were negative about my Titan (a bullmastiff) having his front leg amputated. You have to do what is right for you. Don't listen to the negativity. I always knew what I wanted to do for Titan but the negative thoughts really got to my husband. I made him read Without Regret . It has been almost 2 months since Titan's amputation. I am happy to say he is doing AWESOME! My husband is so happy we did this. I think the people who give the negative views are scared. Do you know after we made the decision to amputate those people were telling us how brave we were. Everyone has different priorities in their lives. I don't feel anyone should be judged nor should they judge. You do what you want to do about Cujo. None of those people willl be caring for her you guys will be. Let us know what happens. I think since he is young he can bounce back and have a great life.

Heidi and Titan

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26 January 2008
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6 October 2008 - 3:38 am
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Salut Isabelle,

Some people are very strange when it comes to deformities and irregularities; because they're scared and/or ignorant. Maybe we should stop and listen to our dogs' own attitudes to disabilities - even when they're their own -  that it doesn't stop you from doing anything you want to. I'm sure your Cujo is the perfect example.



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