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.
JUMP TO FORUMS ↓
Join The Tripawds Community
Learn how to help three legged dogs and cats in the forums below. Browse and search as a guest or register for free and get full member benefits:
Get the new book by the Tripawds founders for life lessons learned from their Chief Fun Officer Jerry G. Dawg! Download the e-book, and find fun Be More Dog apparel and gifts in the Be More Dog Bookstore.
I am wondering if anyone else is caring for a puppy? Totem is just over 4 months old so will live as a tripawd his entire life. So many stories here are about older dogs with cancer, and I’ve learned a lot reading them. Totem is an otherwise healthy puppy which I hope is to his advantage. On the other hand I just hate it that he is starting out with no more spare legs and has years to go. Clearly, I am living in the wreckage of the future. I’d love to hear from people who’s dogs lost a limb while very young.
I posted once when I didn’t have my password (on a different computer) but that was several days ago so I think that post is lost. I’ll try again. My dog lost her front right leg at 4 months due to an injury. She passed a year ago a month shy of 15. I, like you, fretted about losing the spare so early. So from the get go I was all about minimizing strain and injury but I also tried not to let that interfere too much with her having a happy and fulfilling doggy life. With everything said and done, looking back, I think I did a good job on finding that balance. The key to success is making sure they have fun every day with the day including strength building exercise, plenty of breaks and ideally some non-damaging exercise (i.e. swimming!!, you can let them swim non-stop for as long as they can because swimming builds muscle and stamina with zero joint damage).
My little Nyaya had amazing strength and stamina up until about 7 years of age. Her favorite thing on the planet was fetch. Outside of swimming (which wasn’t possible through the winter) I didn’t let her go as long and hard as she wanted, but I found that letting her play hard for 10 minutes with a 5 minute break worked well as long as I limited it to two 10 minute periods over an hour. Everyone told me I was being silly, but whenever I let left her in the hands of someone else she would be returned to me broken. Not because they were mean but because while in their company she would act like playing fetch for 2 hours straight was the best thing ever. They would only stop when she could no walk to return the ball or freesbie to them. I would get her back and have 2 weeks of nursing her back to normal with the first few times involving a terrified visit to the vet.
Being three legged will result in more arthritis at a younger age than would normally be incurred of a dog in similar shape. My dog was missing a front leg, but a dog in the neighborhood has been missing a back leg since it was under a year. It has had it easier in the sense of more agility and stamina (losing a back leg is a bit easier because more weight is distributed over the front legs, plus the front legs ‘steer’), but it like Nyaya has still felt ‘older’ than it would of for being in the shape it was (like me its owner focused on regular exercise that built muscle and maintained a normal weight). But because many pet owners do not make a commitment to keeping their dogs in shape the age that arthritis set is was the same as the age for many dogs in the neighborhood (first signs showing at about 8 or 9, with more significant symptoms starting at over 12 years of age).
From 7 to 11 Nyaya was a solidly active adult dog. But it was 7 when I started noticing that the distance we covered playing fetch was retreating and that if I didn’t carry her to the park down the road she wouldn’t have the energy to play once we got there. She got IMHA at 11. That diagnosis is as deadly and horrible as cancer and the treatment took a year and a half. The treatment involved very high dose prednisone and, once it became obvious that would kill her, strong immunosuppressive drugs. The prednisone wrecked havoc on her muscle mass and gave her Cushing’s disease. Because of this her mobility plummeted. Odds are your dog won’t be so unlucky and if that is the case your investment in regular, moderate, healthy exercise, will allow your dog to get to 13 o 14 before it feels the affects of the arthritis associated with its debilitation. Muscle is armor, that is a phrase the University of Washington sports medicine orthopedic surgeons told my boyfriend when he asked how he could minimize his knee pain. Build up muscle and it will compensate for weak joints.
My recommendations are to
– build Totem’s muscle mass and stamina through regular exercise for short periods to avoiding him get overexerted making him prone to injury. Take him swimming whenever possible.
– if missing a front leg minimize unnecessary joint damage by trying to prevent him from jumping out of car, running down stairs, leaping off of furniture, etc. The one remaining front leg is taking a pounding every day through walking (if you don’t believe me wait until your lying on the floor and your pup hops its front leg onto your chest and you feel like you have been bludgeoned). I went to great lengths to prevent Nyaya from putting excessive stress on her remaining front leg by carrying her down the stairs (blocking her from running up them during the with a baby gate ) and putting a old chair cushion on the floor below the couch so she could sleep on it and leap off to race to the door, and never allowing her to leap out of a car (jumping up, and going up stairs was fine, and I think that would be true even if a back leg were missing because its a push up, versus fall down).
– avoid long walks. Three legged dogs can move better if they have momentum. I thought it was more relevant for dogs missing a front leg, but I came across the owner of the dog with a missing back leg walking her dog and I asked her what she was doing and she explained that she was teaching her dog to walk on leash so it would know how to be walked that way in case she passed and someone else had to care for her dog. The owner is in her 80s and had been avoiding walks because they were hard for her dog. By walks I mean moving at a slow pace across a distance. Prior to that she (like me) had always taken her dog to the park off leash and let it trot or go at full speed (I once saw her dog chase a squirrel down, zigging and zagging with the squirrel and kill it…dogs missing front legs can’t zig or zag…) . When Nyaya was very young I took her on a long walk with other dogs. One mile out she was done and I got to carry her 1 mile back. After that I drove her to the park to conserve her energy for the part she really enjoyed, the playing (not the traveling). When she got older and I had more time I got a doggie cart and walked her to the park in it and then let her out to play once there. I would of loved to have attached the cart to a bike, but she was skittish of me pushing the cart a first so I didn’t try. Point is try to have your dog use the limited active time you will allow in the day on awesome fun experience and waste it on mundane travel exercise.
– find new fun when old play ways can’t be maintained. If your lucky enough that your pup lives a long and happy life there is going to come a time when he no longer wants to play fetch, then no longer wants to swim, etc. When this happens don’t just quit doing anything find a new thing that your dog want/can do and take the time through the day to give them the opportunity to do it. Nyaya’s last year was hard and she lost her ability to do much of anything but stand up, walk a few feet, and relieve herslef. But I found new fun things for her to do. At that point just sitting and chilling watching the world go by when I pushed her in the cart and dogs walk by in the park made her happy so that was our outing. I bought tons of squeaking toys that she could sit in one place and destroy them (sometimes in less than a minute). I also discovered foraging baskets. A puppy would of decimated it in seconds without giving the activity much of a thought, but they wore out my old Nyaya out while making her very very happy. I would also just whip her into a howling frenzy in the evenings because I could. The cool things about dogs are they live in the moment. So it is possible for you to make every moment happy and awesome because they aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday or might happen tomorrow.
– proactively manage the pain when it comes. When your dog gets to 7 to 8 start reviewing the best in class in arthritis pain management for dogs. Hopefully there will be some new, better options by then. When Nyaya was 10 we started her on adequan for her arthritis and it was working well. But IMHA took that way from her as any injected material could cause a reoccurrence. About the time she started deteriorating her liver counts blew through the roof so NSAID type drugs were not an option. My vet felt only opioids were safe, and while these worked, they were not at all ideal. She also hated strangers touching her so massages/chiropractic treatments were not an option. If she hadn’t had these unexpected troubles unrelated to being 3-legged she would of been more comfortable as she aged. Odds are that Totem won’t be so unlucky and that if you keep him strong and in shape he will live a life as comfortable and painfree as an average dog
Nyaya was part blue heeler and part Australian Shepard. Totem looks like he has heeler in him. If so you will have to work and work hard at not letting him over do it but you will also have to exercise him frequently to keep him from going psycho and being a bad dog. I took Nyaya out for four periods a day until she was 3 because if I didn’t she would chase her tail in a circle and act like a crazy dog. It worked because I forced her to take breaks (sometimes carrying her across the asphalt and putting her down on the grass). In the house I would toss the ball when she brought it to me, but it was for a short distance and I replaced the carpet putting 1 inch pads down making the floor cushy and forgiving on the joints.
This was so kind of you to share all the invaluable lessons learned during Nyaya’s glorious earth journey. And what a glorious earth journey it was!
And now she’s still touching life’s and inspiring others through you. Yes indeedy, her life matters and her purpose continues on.
Thank you again for taking the time to chronicle all the ways you made sure Nyaya had the best life possible safely and in a way that gave her “longevity just like four leggers”.
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!
Otter thank you soooo much for sharing such important details about Nyaya’s amazing life with you! Your experience and the way you managed her care was spectacular and exactly what we hope all Tripawds will enjoy over the course of a lifetime. It also closely reflects our own experience with Wyatt Ray . This is so valuable, thank you!
Dear Otter, I am stunned that you would take the time to share your story with me…and so very grateful. Totem lost a rear leg, so a little different. We are interviewing a new vet this afternoon because I really need someone else keeping an eye on Totem and guiding us as he matures. Your response is more guidance than I ever could have hoped for. The vet that performed the amputation basically told us “he will be fine. He’ll do whatever a 4 legged dog can do.” I knew there had to be more to it than that.
Totem, too, loves to fetch, and I’ve wondered if he should do that at all. Your suggestion of no more than 10 minutes gave a sigh of relief. He is a much better runner than walker and can burst into running all around so I know to allow it but limit it. He also loves to tug but fortunately most of his tugging is done lying on the carpet on his back, thus not using his back leg for leverage. So, as of now, his exercise is fetching, short walks, some tugging and the occasional free run about. What am I missing? He is very trim and we are committed to keeping that in check. And, there is indeed some heeler in there as well as beagle.
It is so helpful to hear from someone who’s dog did not lose a leg due to illness, who is a perfectly healthy young dog with a full like ahead. What concerns me most now is working on a reliable recall if he is not going to always be on leash. I am wary of introducing him to new dogs given that his amputation is the result of a brutal dog attack. There are no dog parks in my town. I hate for him to spend all of his time with two senior humans.
Thank you thank you
27 July 2014
Otter – you’ve provided invaluable information based on long-term experience. I know Jerry encourages people to carefully control activity and it is hard for a puppy but well worth it as is obvious from your experience with Nyaya.
Robyn – I live in a smaller rural community and there was a vet (now retired) who offered puppy gatherings once a week which was a safe space for the pups to socialize. Perhaps there’s something similar in a place near you or someone who offers recall training along with some social time.
We are interviewing a new vet this afternoon because I really need someone else keeping an eye on Totem and guiding us as he matures.
Hey just wondering how the new vet interview went?
It is so helpful to hear from someone who’s dog did not lose a leg due to illness, who is a perfectly healthy young dog with a full like ahead.
Some more examples: I’ll start by bragging about our Wyatt Ray . He lost his leg as an eight month old puppy and is now eleven. Our friend Spree is also a good one to read about. She lived into old age as a Tripawd, thanks to her mom’s conscientious attention to her physical needs. Oh and Tana the German Shepherd is another great one to read about.
We chose to visit a vet in her mid thirties that many of our friends recommended. We really liked her and felt comfortable with her. First, they do not allow humans in their clinic. She came out to our car, with mask, and stood out in the shade with us while I asked her numerous questions. She spent at least 20 minutes with us before taking Totem in to examine him. By spending that much time with us she won me over.
She assured us that Totem does not know he lost anything, that he will have a fine life with 3 legs etc etc. I asked her about early vs late neutering. She gave me her point of view…that late neutering is a fairly new approach. That early neutering does help prevent hormone related cancers…she is unsure about late neutering helping prevent bone cancer. She advised that if we allow Totem to reach sexual maturity he will begin marking and won’t stop even after neutering later. She was open to whatever we wanted to do. We chose to have him neutered at 5-1/2 months next week.
She didn’t really tell us anything new. Advised us to continue, carefully, introducing him to friendly dogs, keep his weight down. At 5 months she advised 15 minute walks morning and evening. When he is older he should be able to walk for longer periods.
So, we will stick with her. Thank you for all your counsel. I am almost finished with Be More Dog , a fascinating story. Where did you guys end up?
Oh I’m so glad you found someone you want to work with, she sounds like a great vet! It makes all the difference to have a vet you can really believe in, even when things are going well in a pet’s life.
Thank you so much for reading our book! That makes our s hoppy! Where did we end up? Well, we are still on the road after all these years! We just couldn’t decide where to settle down so at one point we said “Well, why do we need to?!” Basically we keep west of the Mississippi in our fifth wheel, but the pandemic has put a temporary stop to moving around. We had been in Oregon since March and just relocated to my parent’s home in Los Angeles to be with them for a while. Our official headquarters reside in Texas, however, near Houston.
Here’s a link Jerry just updated about spaying and neutering
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!
Nyaya’s injury was also from a dog attack. Her mother and other siblings attacked her when she was 8 weeks old. I adopted her when she was 10 weeks old. Kind of funny and sad, but the vet I took her to to check out her ‘injured’ limb happened to be the one who treated her after the attack from her mother. I asked can you read me the information about her attack from her chart? The vet replied back that it reads “attacked by bitch” 🙂 So I guess Nyaya’s amputation was also due to a brutal dog attack. Her left side of her chest wall was also caved in from the other puppies attacking her. You could feel it was significantly depressed compared to the other ribcage, but that injury never affected her as she aged.
I don’t think the attack affected her interaction with other dogs. She was always open to trying to sniff another dog out, but she could tell quickly when she didn’t take to the a dog and would shy back defensively. But she also found dogs she loved and couldn’t wait to see. It didn’t occur to me that her socialization could be impacted by her experience. I just knew I wanted a dog that wasn’t freaked out by other dogs so when she was a puppy I would always ask other dog owners in the park if my dog could say hello. If Nyaya didn’t take to the dog, or the dog didn’t take to her and we ended things quick. But if she found a new play buddy it was great. I let her/them call the shots.
I loved dog parks! But Nyaya hated them. I guess because she couldn’t keep track of or keep up with so many dogs running around. I think a dog missing a back leg would do better because it can zig and zag. So we didn’t go more than a few times. I realized she hated and decided I shouldn’t take her if she hated it (but I did love it!:). Given COVID gets in pets and there is kennel cough and other risks of dog parks I’m not a big fan. Find any park with regular walkers some of which Totem will likely enjoy.
Lastly I would suggest you try hard to balance your fear of Totem being injured with a desire for him to have the best and happiest doggie life. The woman I spoke of with the three legged dog missing a back leg since it was about 6 months(hit by a car before she adopted it) took her dog to agility training (with a front leg missing Nyaya could never have done that) and training to track rats in cages hidden in barns. Apparently tracking rats in cages by smell is a thing now for dogs to do and the dogs have a great time and the rats aren’t stressed much less harmed. Her dog is also a hyper active herder breed. Herder breeds need alot of exercise, but they also bond strongly with their owners and tend not to run off. Totem is young and healthy. If you over do it, don’t rush him to the vet. Limit his activity and learn about what not to do the next time. You didn’t mention swimming. If you can figure out how to let him swim that would be awesome as it is the best strength building exercise that doesn’t hurt joints.
Not related to the rest of this post, but possibly relevant is do not use real tennis balls for playing fetch. Nyaya loved fetch and loved chomping on the tennis ball as she ran it back to us. We had a friend who was a tennis instructor who kept us supplied in old balls. As I said I would take Nyaya out for 4 walks a day when she was under 3 and 3 a day up to age 9. She could probably retrieve the ball 10 times in 15 minute period and loved to chomp on it before giving it back to me. I expect up to age three she chomped on a tennis ball up to a hundred times each day. At around 7 the vet looked at her teeth and exclaimed how much her teeth had been worn down and asked me if I was playing with tennis balls. Turns out the tennis balls are made of a fiber glass that acts like sand paper. When a dog chomps down on them it sands away the surface of their teeth. Nyaya’s incisors were at worn down to about half their original length and I just hadn’t noticed. Nyaya could kill a tennis ball for a dog (deflate it rendering it useless) in 3 or 4 chomps so we went to rubber/soft plastic dogs for dog. The lesson was don’t use real tennis balls.
I look at Totem’s picture and can’t help but smile. He is a real cutie and he might not get too big. Nyaya was around 40 pounds, plus or minus 4 lobs all her life. I was strict about that. If she got to 42 all treats were cut off. If I didn’t notice until 44 or so the amount of food in each meal was decreased. On the plus side if she got under 40 treats were increased. In her last year she couldn’t walk far enough/fast enough to go to the restroom to so I carried her outside to use the restroom 4 to 6 times a day. If she would of found a spot just outside of the door she could of done it herself. But she had to walk around a bit to find the ‘right’ spot. So I carried her outside to the area she liked put her down and then let her ‘roam’ to find the perfect spot. I couldn’t of done that with a dog that weighed more. Given I’m getting older I think I want a smaller dog next time, but I don’t want a tiny dog. I know it is silly as many dog owners don’t have to carry their dogs so much, but it is all I have known so I feel strongly about it. Totem seems like a dog that will have an active, ‘big dog’ personality but may weigh closer to 30 lbs than 40. I think that is perfect! You get a real dog personality in a manageable size. Enjoy him and let him enjoy the world, but with moderation!