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Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat

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Using a harness or sling just after amputation
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Forum Posts: 38
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29 August 2009
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17 September 2009 - 10:36 pm
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Our big pups can present some unique challenges after amputation, and one we had was properly using a harness or sling after amputation.  Boinks had a lot of trouble getting up after surgery, she was heavy, and we had a lot of questions about when to use a harness/sling and how to properly use it when we did.

The RuffWear Harness looked great, but there was the caution to use it after the incision was healed completely.  Waiting wasn't an option for us, as our big girl needed major assistance from the get go.


On the people side, we remembered the hard way that we needed to pay attention to using our leg muscles as much as possible to help her lift herself to alleviate strain on our backs.  This meant taking extra care to get ourselves in a good position prior to lifting, not always an easy thing to do.  Additionally, when we were more stable and confident, so was she.  That said, it's hard in the moment to keep your own proper alignment and balance, so be prepared for some aches of your own and don't forget to give yourself some attention if you need it, whether that's a massage or acupuncture or just a hot bath.

It can be hard to keep your wherewithal as you're getting used to this new routine and it can be frustrating at times.  If something isn't working, try to take a deep breath and reassess the situtation, asking for advice as often as needed.

Harnesses/Slings We Used

On the pup side, we started out using jersey sheets cut into slings to lift her.  One for the front and one for the rear.  These had the benefit of being very soft and they had a lot of give for the tender parts.  They also seemed to keep their position of being spread out across her belly fairly well.   The downside was a lack of control, so we thought perhaps they had too much give.

We also used towels, with mixed results.  I felt like they bunched too much as she started moving and that they didn't provide the comfort that the jersey sheets did.

We moved onto a cotton harness for her front end after seeing a similar one used at the veterinary clinic with seeming good result.  We added some extra padding prior to slipping it under her as she was still only a few days out from the amputation.  This offered much greater control, but in retrospect, I think it was less comfortable for her as she quickly started to behave as if this assistance was a form of punishment.  Our pups are individuals, though, so reactions will vary.



We had concerns about the slings/harnesses causing pain at the incision site.  If your big girl or boy needs help getting up, sometimes putting pressure there is unavoidable, at least it was for us.  The vet tech assured us that this wasn't a problem and that if the harness cut across the incision site, it would be ok.  I don't know how accurate this is, and hope others will offer advice or input on that front.  We tried to have the cotton harness cover the incision site such that it wasn't cutting across her stitches, but it was not always possible and it would shift position as we walked her.  Boinks did not show pain readily, but she didn't yelp when we used a harness, so we took this as a positive sign.

I also had concerns about the back sling pressing uncomfortably into her bladder or tummy.  Hopefully someone can offer reassurance or suggestions there.  I found a rear end harness late in the process, and since Boinks was not using her back legs well at all (she had a front limb amputated), this might have provided better comfort and more stability for lifting her back legs up into position.  This was from Walkabout Harnesses, although there are likely others out there that can be recommended.  Since we didn't get a chance to try it, I can't comment on its effectiveness.

Other Considerations

Be prepared for sudden drops to the ground.  Our big pups can tire easily and this was a common occurence for us.  We of course tried to ease her down as much as possible.  It's easier to keep them in motion, so if you can avoid stopping before you get to your destination, this is probably preferrable, but you'll have to let your pup guide you, as well. 

We often helped our big girl get outside or near the door first before harnessing her so that she didn't tire before she could try to do her business.  To do this, we used moving blankets to slide (and sometimes lift) her to where she didn't have as far to travel before she was on soft grass.  Remember to use your legs to pull if you do this. 

These were our experiences with using a harness or sling the two weeks after amputation.  Hopefully others can weigh in on what helped their pups when they needed this extra assistance during this phase of recovery.


Here and Now

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18 September 2009 - 8:34 am
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Thank you very much for sharing your insight, especially after all you've been through with Boinks. It is certain to help others.

While we have heard of no specific cases where the Ruff Wear harness has hampered healing, we can't help but believe direct pressure from the straps might irritate the wound. Anyone considering any harness should consult their veterinarian with any specific questions.

And while we don't have direct experience with the Walkabout harnesses, we did find the Walkabout Front Harness available online from Pets United, and the Walkabout Back Harness at



Wesley Chapel, FL
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18 September 2009 - 9:26 am
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We bought a sling from Foster & Smith, and so far it's worked out alot better than when we tried a towel, or belt, or even one of those cut open canvas grocery bags that have been suggested here. We intend on buying a ruffneck harness in the next few weeks, and hopefully that will make things even easier for Jake.

Jake, 10yr old golden retriever (fractured his front right leg on 9/1, bone biopsy revealed osteosarcoma on 9/10, amputation on 9/17) and his family Marguerite, Jacques and Wolfie, 5yr old german shepherd and the newest addition to the family, Nala, a 7mth old Bengal mix kittie. Jake lost his battle on 11/9/2009, almost 8 weeks after his surgery. We will never forget our sweet golden angel… ….. CANCER SUCKS!

Here and Now

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18 September 2009 - 11:19 am
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jakesmom said: … We intend on buying a ruffneck harness in the next few weeks…

Just curious, do you mean Ruff Wear harness, or is the Ruffneck harness one I have not yet heard of? Got a link?

New England
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18 September 2009 - 12:06 pm
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Peanut was already mobile when I picked her up from surgery. She hopped out of the office and into my car, with me and 3 vet techs huddled around her for support. She hasn't stopped since. In fact, I want to make her lie down more and try moving less! Naturally, I worry about possible injury to her remaining 3 legs, or too much muscle exhaustion early on, or her becoming discouraged by a slip or fall, or her just pushing herself too hard, or… you get the picture.

I've ordered a Ruff Wear harness (from this site, in fact), but was also advised not to use it right away. It takes a week or so for delivery. But I intend to heed that advice and wait longer before using it.

For now, we are using the canvas bag method. It seemed like a good idea considering her size and strength. The width of the bag offers more support contact; the handles make it easy to grip; and it easily slips around her when necessary. It's been a simple solution to a complex problem. The only thing I don't like about it, or possibly any sling, is that it has the potential to slide down her belly toward her back legs. She's a front leg amp, so I need the support to stay up front. I briefly considered cutting out an arm hole for her right leg to go through, but I'm afraid that might cause her to rip through the bag while I'm assisting her. Remember, she's a 160lb Saint Bernard (well, I guess now she's probably 155lbs? – how much does a St Bernard leg weigh anyway!?).

I recall reading on someone else's post that they used fleece scarves. I think I might dig out my winter gear and see if I can come up with something similar. It doesn't hurt to explore all options.


~*~*~ Peanut is strength, love, and happiness. ~*~*~ 11/30/03 – 12/26/09

The Rainbow Bridge

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18 September 2009 - 2:41 pm
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brandnewkey said:

I've ordered a Ruff Wear harness (from this site, in fact), but was also advised not to use it right away. It takes a week or so for delivery. But I intend to heed that advice and wait longer before using it.

For now, we are using the canvas bag method. It seemed like a good idea considering her size and strength. \

Melanie, thanks so much for ordering from us.

Yeah, like Jim said, we can't help but think that the Ruffwear straps “may” irritate stitches. Our own experience was that we used it on Jerry a week after surgery because that's just when we got it. We throw that caution in there only because we didn't try it any earlier than that, so we can't say for sure what it will do.

Yeah, we like the canvas bag idea too. A member here thought of that.

We also like the AST Support Harness, have you see that one yet?

It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.™
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New England
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19 September 2009 - 6:27 pm
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Thanks, Jerry. Yes, I've heard of the AST harness… but since I have the RuffWear on its way, the AST is an extra expense I cannot afford right now. It's looks great, though. I read all about it and watched your video. Maybe someday….

~*~*~ Peanut is strength, love, and happiness. ~*~*~ 11/30/03 – 12/26/09

Livermore CA
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19 September 2009 - 8:53 pm
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Melanie…Cemil was rather like Peanut in that he left the hospital under his own power.  I never had to use a sling–in fact (I did buy one) I only used it to inspire him to get up when it was time for him to move around.  If I tried to lift him up, he did the cement thing and wouldn't move.  He's done fine without any help.

As for the weight of a St Bernard leg–I don't know, but I can tell you the weight of an Anatolian Shepherd leg.  Cemil was 156 before surgery and 148 afterward.  I learned that little statistic when I went back to watch them take his staples out.  They weighed him again; that was Day 10, and he was down to 142.  He has now gained it all back.


Cemil and mom Mary, Mujde and Radzi….appreciating and enjoying Today

Cemil's blog

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