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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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Member Since:
24 September 2009
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19 January 2022 - 3:34 am
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If you think your Tripawd cat or dog is depressed, you’re probably not imagining it. Amputation surgery recovery is not easy for pets or people. Thankfully, it’s only temporary. But here’s what you can do about your Tripawd’s depression today.

Tripawd is depressed
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Maggie the Pug showed signs of amputation depression too.

What We Know About Depression in Pets

Canine cognition researchers and veterinarians learn more about animal emotions all the time. Non-invasive, humane Functional MRI studies on dogs help researchers like Dr. Gregory Burns prove that animals experience many of the same emotions as humans. In this video Dr. Burns discusses how dogs express their emotions: 

Animals exhibit a full range of emotions that often mirror our own. From grief to joy and everything in-between, they show depression signs similar to humans’. For example, a UK study showed dogs depressed when their owners overuse their smartphones and ignore them. 

Research about cats and depression is thin. But it’s only a matter of time until it catches up with canine cognition research.

Depression Signs in Dogs and Cats 

Many years ago if you had said “My Tripawd is depressed,” we would have said “No, that’s just pain medication side effects. Dogs don’t get depressed!” After all, there was no clinical diagnosis for doggie depression then, and there still isn’t now. But just because cat and dog depression hasn’t been scientifically proven yet, doesn’t mean it can’t happen. 

If you suspect your Tripawd is feeling down, these depression signs in otherwise healthy dogs and cats might confirm it:

  • Not wanting to eat.
  • Sleeping more than usual, tired.
  • Clingy behavior.
  • Extra vocal.
  • Unusual and aggressive behavior.
  • Toileting in unusual places.

Recovering Tripawd dogs can show these signs too. These depression signs in dogs don’t necessarily mean your Tripawd is depressed. It could just be side-effects from pain medication. 

When Your Tripawd Is Depressed, Here’s What to Do

If you feel as sad as your new Tripawd looks, that’s to be expected. You may regret your decision to amputate, too.  Those feelings are normal, everyone has them. But check out the Tripawds Quality of Life Survey results. When recovery is over, any feelings of regret disappear for the majority of Tripawd parents.

For now, here’s how to help a cat or dog with depression.

  • Call your vet. Share your dog’s depression symptoms. Let them know you are concerned. A change in his pain medication schedule and dosages might be needed.
  • Arrange a visit by your pet’s favorite people. Spending quality time with someone your pet adores can make everyone happy.
  • Play interactive brain games. Work your Tripawd’s mind, not their body. Brain games tire out dogs faster than ball throwing.
  • When physical activity can resume, arrange a play date for your Tripawd. Make it short and sweet. Take things slow and monitor for over exertion.
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Atticus showed depression signs too.

At the two week mark we were all concerned by his depressed behavior. Once we got cleared, from 2-4 weeks we were on the move! Dog park, wine tasting, beach trip! We packed a lot in, and he loved it. At four weeks post-op he was enough back to his old happy self that we started chemo. @meganandatticus

It only makes sense that a new amputee cat or dog gets depressed.

Animals can feel sad when they are unable to do things they enjoy. We do too. Amputation recovery is temporary. Always remember that.

On to Maggie- she was a little Pug who was 7.5 years old when she lost a rear leg to cancer. Surgery went well, pain well managed and no complications. Mag was an absolute slug for about 6 weeks- only getting out of bed on her own for food or potty breaks. She wouldn’t play with toys, wasn’t engaged on walks (mostly a stroller after the first two weeks of recovery), and wouldn’t engage with her little sis quad-Pug Tani. She was grumpy so I was grumpy- I think we fed off each other. It only occurred to me much later that my attitude affected hers. I was sure I had made a terrible mistake by choosing amputation. About the 6 week mark she finally came around and got back to herself. — @krun15

One More Tip for Depressed Tripawds

Stay upbeat through recovery. Animal behavior research shows that animals mirror our feelings. Keep a positive attitude. You have the power to make recovery easier! This period in your animal’s life won’t last forever. Dogs and cats do get their sparkle back. Not always at the same pace, but they get there.

Lean on the Tripawds community. Post in the Tripawds Discussion Forum topic Treatment and Recovery for help.


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