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Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat

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16 year old mini pit/terrier
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Member Since:
16 September 2023
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16 September 2023 - 5:37 am
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My little bug, Shelby, a 16 year old 30lb terrier mix has recently had sudden swelling in her rear left thigh/knee area. I had taken her into the vet around april when I noticed her gait wasn't quite right and she was restless throughout the night for about 3 days. 

At the time there was very minimal swelling and her xray showed some scar tissue near her knee. The vet suggested some anti-inflammatories, painmeds and rest. I inquired about accupuncture which we started along with cold laser therapy the following week. After two weeks of the accupuncture and laser her leg really began to swell, she appeared to be losing feeling/ function of her foot. The vet suspected a tumor so we stopped the cold laser therapy and switched the anti-inflammatory for steriods. 

Fast forwarding a few months and the swelling has continued and was not made worse by a spider bite on her bum foot. Through all my efforts she now needs constant supervision or she will literally attempt to chew off her foot. 


From the beginning the vet has not recommended surgery because of her age. Prior to these incidents she has always been a VERY active senior dog. Still enjoy 4+ mile hikes and zoomies all over our 5 acres. 

Even now with a bum leg she enjoyes walking to and from the creek, stealing toys from the other dogs and is always excited about meal times, but the swelling/weight of her leg is really beginning to inhibit her mobility. She looks happiest when she gets her bursts of running, though they seem to be getting harder for her. 

Her last senior blood panel came back looking good, albeit slightly elevated kidney enzymes. 

I am beginning to wonder if maybe I was too quick to eliminate surgery as an optionand maybe now ive waited too long. I think the vet and I really hoped the steriods would bring down the swelling.


I planned on getting a second opinion on Tuesday, but her foot is now becoming necrotic and so I plan on taking her into the ER first this in the morning. 

I would love to hear about other mature pups who have gone through with the amputation.

Thank you so much for reading and for providing help in such a difficult choice!

New England
Member Since:
11 January 2022
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16 September 2023 - 7:31 am
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Welcome Nicole. Your future posts will not require approval.

I'm short on time, but will come back in a little bit with more info. We've definitely had senior dogs do well on three legs! Here are some success stories https://tripawd.....nior+dog 


Member Since:
22 February 2013
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16 September 2023 - 10:11 am
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Sorry things have gotten to this point.  You are doing ever "-right" for I'm going on every dog is different and every dog handles age differently. It sounds like your pup is definitely in great shape and young at heart. your pup, okay?  FWIW, the steps  taken up to this point sound like a logical path of trying least invasive  protocols first.  So don't  beat yourself up, okay?  Your Bet was right in rying other options first before amputation. 

Now, that said, we always say age is just a number around here!  We have had dogs even older than your pup have amputation  and do very well.  It sounds like your pup is in great shape and would be a good candidate for amputation. You can always get a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon.

I'm not going to say anymore at this point as I know you are heading to the ER to gather more information and more treatment suggestion plans.

Update us when you get back and let us know how we can help further. We're going to send some positive energy to your sweet pup, okay?


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!

The Rainbow Bridge

Member Since:
25 April 2007
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21 September 2023 - 11:52 am
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Hi Nicole, just catching up on Shelby's story. How are things going? 

Member Since:
16 September 2023
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26 September 2023 - 12:07 am
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Hi all!


Apologies for the delayed reply, it's been quite the whirlwind over here.

I took her into the er and he said the best I could do was to continue cleaning the wound created by the spider bite/her chewing at her paw. I also forgot to mention that whenever we go on car rides Shelby gets WILDY lethargic. We traveled together alot pretty constantly for 2 years so she became very familiar with taking naps on long car rides. So when she gets to the vet she acts as if she's on the brink of death. A completely different dog than I see at home. 

If I were a vet I would give her weeks if not days based on her behavior while at the vet. I've taken her to other places in the car recently and she does get lethargic, but no where near as bad as when we go to the vets.

So er doctor said keep the wound clean, keep her comfortable. The vet on Tuesday recommended some dietary changes that may help, but also said to do my best to keep her comfortable and happy until it's time. She guessed a few weeks. 

Then on Wednesday we went for her accupuncture. The vet was very very happy about the progress on her wound, but while cleaning it discovered a fracture in her leg. The same leg as the wound and tumor. The vet suggested it was time to say goodbye. I told her I wanted to wait and do it at home.

We got home and she literally ran to the garden after getting out of the car, eyes bright and smiling. I couldn't imagine saying goodbye to her. I decided to give us a few days together since she didn't seem to be in pain and still quite spunky. I scheduled the appointment to say goodbye Monday evening (today). The day came, I dug the hole the day before, was preparing to say goodbye, but still feeling so unsure about the choice. I asked my boyfriend (father of two other pups) his opinion. Tears in his eyes, he said I just don't think today is the day, look at her. She bright. I questioned the choice even more!

A friend who has known Shelby her entire life came up this afternoon to be part of the ceremony. She's worked in vets offices for a few years. She also agreed, if it doesn't feel right, if she's not in pain, it doesn't have to be today. She didn't think she looked ready either and agreed her quality of life was better than most dogs out there. I can stay home with her, access to lots of puppy bed options inside, in the sun in the shade. You name it she can lay in it. Walks (now wagon rides due to the fracture) down to the creek. Despite the fracture she still pops up to beg, to get water, food and to relieve herself outside. 

We've called in to the orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital she used to work at, they will be reviewing her files today/tomorrow and seeing when they can schedule her for a consult. I have no idea what the consult will bring, but I know right now I'm happy to be typing this all out while laying next to my girl sleeping peacefully. 

AND she taking incredibly to the change in diet (red meats, leafy greens, liver, Dr Harvey's and no kibble/no carbs or sugars) her weight is starting to look way healthier.

I would love any input and am eager to see what the specialist says. 


Member Since:
4 July 2023
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26 September 2023 - 6:05 am
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Hey there!

Good to meet you - though sorry it had to be this way!

First off, wow and brava for continuing to follow your gut in all this. Shelby is a truly lucky pup to have you on her side. And from what you say, she does seem to have a lot of life and vitality left, so way to be an advocate and look for other avenues - and even other vets! And regardless of whatever happens, the quality of life you are crafting for her is inspiring. Again, such a lucky pup!!sp_hearticon2

I just wanted to jump in and say something I’ve seen @jerry say in so many other places: Maybe getting some video is important to communicate what Shelby is like at home versus at the vet? I’m sure you’ve probably told vets all of this, but video can make it real especially when:

...when she gets to the vet she acts as if she's on the brink of death. A completely different dog than I see at home. 

If I were a vet I would give her weeks if not days based on her behavior while at the vet.

We got home and she literally ran to the garden after getting out of the car, eyes bright and smiling.

It may help you sway them to thinking about what is the best for the dog she is at home, rather than the near-comatose, on-deaths-door beast she becomes on a vet visit. If you could get some video of her doing things around home, even the day of the vet visit, and then even bring along your friend or boyfriend to document her decline into lethargy over the course of the car ride and into the vets office, that really could help them understand the life truly left in her and that there could be appropriate treatments for the spunky pup you live with at home!

I've taken her to other places in the car recently and she does get lethargic, but no where near as bad as when we go to the vets.

Also, since you think her lethargy is more pronounced at the vet, I wonder if it might be a stress response? Perhaps you could try an Adaptil calming collar (or calming aid of your choice) on her to help soothe any stress? I know you really don’t need her any more relaxed per se, but oddly,  reducing her stress might make her more perky?!? Just a thought.

Rooting for you guys!sp_hearticon2

Natalie & Juno (aka June)

The Rainbow Bridge

Member Since:
25 April 2007
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26 September 2023 - 10:59 am
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Hey there good to hear from you. What an emotional rollercoaster for everyone, yikes! Making any medical decisions for our animals is difficult, but a situation like yours, with a senior dog, is even tougher. 

I agree, take video and see what the vet says about her behavior at home. It could very well be a stress response to being at the vet clinic. Some dogs freak out, but Shelby does the opposite!

Is she on any pain control? Walking around with a fracture is incredibly painful, she is likely hiding the level of pain she is experiencing. While you wait, see if any of the vets she has seen can prescribe something for her.

I hope you can get into the ortho clinic soon. Please keep us posted.

Member Since:
16 September 2023
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27 September 2023 - 4:29 pm
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Thank you all so much for all the support and suggestions!

The ortho specialist did get back to me and suggested I get a chest xray to be sure there are no issues there and if it's clear moving onto an abdominal ultrasound.

We just got back from the xray and her lungs do look clear, but unfortunately her liver does appear to be enlarged. Which likely doesn't make her a good candidate for surgery. 

She is on painmeds. Gabapentin, prednisone, full spectrum cbd and a natural supplement for pain great corydalis. I also have tramadol on hand if she seems uncomfortable, though she has not  seemed to need it. I imagine when she does will be a sign it is time to say goodbye. 

I have her leg very well splinted using some aluminum panels from my elbow brace along with lots of  soft padding and vetwrap. 

She's still running down to the creek with her brothers and sisters (though im lifting her rear end of the ground with a sling to avoid any pressure on her leg). She's still getting up to potty, eating, drinking, running into the kitchen to beg when we cook and barking and wagging when we either of us get home. 

I just don't know how I can saw goodbye when she's still having fun and looking at me with those bright eyes... 

Member Since:
4 July 2023
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30 September 2023 - 3:47 pm
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I just read through this and wanted to say I’m so sorry.  I hate this cancer so much. Did you speak with your vet about how the enlarged liver would progress as far as symptoms?  If there was little chance of some sort of sudden crisis and she’s actually acting like she’s happy, then let her enjoy more time with you.  I completely agree that it would be so hard to say goodbye when she still seems to be enjoying life.  As long as it’s safe to do so, then use a quality of life scale and take it day by day.  I’m facing having to make this dreaded decision soon too so, while I definitely don’t have the answer, I completely understand.  

The Rainbow Bridge

Member Since:
25 April 2007
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30 September 2023 - 10:35 pm
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Oh dangit I'm sorry about the liver issue. At least you got those diagnostics done before, and came to a decision.

Letting her live out her time without pain is such a gift. If you want to be extra sure she's not in pain (dogs are so good at hiding it!), consider meeting with a hospice vet so they can give her a good evaluation. And you'll also have someone to call when you believe it's her time. 

In the meantime, stay present and celebrate all the things she loves in this life. Our blog post, "Prepare for Pet Loss Before It Happens," can guide you during this ruff time.

Please keep us posted and let us know show she is doing. And give her lots of smooches from all of us!

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