Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat
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I didn't expect to be here today. I mean I knew it was an eventual possibility, but we'd been holding out hope, otherwise. And yet.
About four months ago, my almost nine year old hound mix Oliver started limping. Innocuously in the morning but by afternoon, his left forelimb muscle had swollen hard. Took him in the vet that afternoon and an ultrasound showed fluid pockets, but the x-ray came back negative. So antibiotics and Rimadyl. After two weeks, he stopped limping. Until after a walk he started again. So back to the vet for another round of X-rays and a Valley Fever test. At that point, the vet threw up his hands so we went for a second opinion at a different vet. They did another sonogram and another set of X-rays. Bones still good, but she said it wasn't pockets of fluid but rather fluid infiltrating his fibrous tissue. We tried steroids and Gabapentin at that point. From there, his limp started returning in full force. Next came a CT where the read-out was believed mass of some kind deep in the skeletal muscle but they couldn't actually see it so muscle biopsy. And that's what led us to this. They did a muscle biopsy last Saturday and the wound refused to heal. Antibiotics didn't make a difference (tho Gabapentin and anti anxiety meds helped him cope). He started knuckling as well. This morning, I woke to find the wound was three sizes what it had been and it looked like tissue had been pushed out. Naturally, we took him in and the vet let us know that there was likely significant nerve damage from whatever was going on as well as tissue decay. She recommended amputation, which obviously landed on us with the force of an atomic bomb initially. Then, as a family, we discussed it, read a few stories here, watched a few videos, talked to the staff there who had three-legged pups and said yes.
They did chest x-rays and verified a lack of metastatic activity. His leg will be sent off to finally get answers on what has been plaguing him, but the doctor feels confident that even if it is cancer, there wasn't spread and we've stopped it and given him his best chance. I believe that.
Hardest decision I've ever made. Oliver is my boy - he's been with me through so much and I wasn't ready to let him go. Especially if he wasn't ready and his eyes and the way he curled into my lap told me he wasn't. That said, I've fought mentally against the idea that I'm hurting him and putting him through so much pain and stress and the fear he won't forgive me for it or that I'm letting him down. Not good thoughts.
Went home and talked to our ten year old - we hadn't planned to teach her a lesson in empathy this early in life, but here we are. After we explained everything, she responded, "Can we keep the arm and make a robotic one for him?" Kids really do handle everything better.
In any case, they let me bring Oliver home tonight (our vet doesn't have overnight staff). When I met him there, he was already on three legs, though wobbly and high on ketamine. He stumbled to me, off balance and side-heavy but insistent and stubborn. Right now, he's sound asleep on a mound of blankets, wrapped in my tee-shirt. I'm sure, based on the difficulty of this journey thus far, that there will be some really hard days ahead but the last two weeks especially have been a rollercoaster of hope and then despair and then fear I was about to lose him.
Thank you in advance for the thousands of questions I will have as I try to guide my lad through this. I appreciate you all. I'm not sure without this forum and this website that I would have had the courage to do this.
Hi Shawn, Oliver and family, welcome! You've joined the club nopawdy wants to join but we are here for you and ready to help make this transition easier.
How did last night go? Bringing home a Tripawd on the same day of surgery is no picnic, but I can tell by your great attitude that you can handle anything. What kind of pain meds did they send him home with? We tend to find that dogs and cats with good pain management do much better than those who don't get it.
If you haven't already seen our Jerry's Required Reading List or the Tripawds e-books library, be sure to check them out for answers to common questions. Of course we are also here to help however we can so don't be shy OK?
Keep us posted!
They sent him home with Gabapentin, Tramadol, Rimadyl, Trazadone and an antibiotic. Ive just given him his morning meds except for the Trazadone which I want to try to balance more towards his sleep times since it's an every twelve hour drug.
Last night was interesting - he started crying about an hour after I got him home but I quickly noticed he would stop if I would cuddle closer and massage his neck and then start when I'd move away. So I did it for about an hour until he finally passed out and slept through.
This morning, we got him enough to pee (I had to carry him - he's not willing to take more than a few steps; I'm guessing off the really high drugs that he's more aware of his lack of balance). He drank a good amount of water but turned his face away at his kibble. I did manage to get him to take the pill pockets and a bit of cheese, though. He's lying down, panting a fair amount bit now and occasionally licking his lips- I don't know if that's pain or what, but he's not crying, and he does show some small comfort when I come closer tho not as much as last night.
They said we could take the wrap around his incision off within 24-48 hours; not looking forward to that part since I'm sure the wound will be shocking to see, but after the one I saw on his leg that led to yesterday, I think I can deal. Weirdly, what I find the most immediately unsettling is how far down the shave on him was. He's wearing one of my old super soft shirts right now so hopefully that's comfortable for him, at least.
The last four months - but especially the last month - were so exhausting and so emotionally trying for both of us. Trying so many things to get an answer (the irony is the surgery to treat cost 3x less than all the attempts at diagnosis), and putting him through so much and I felt like every day I was riding the hope and then crashing despair train. I know there is a road still ahead and many adaptions, but I am so hopeful that this will allow him to return to the happy, neurotic, obstinate "No, Pinky, we're going to take over the world" boy he is.
This is my Oliver:
Ohhhh he melts my heart! What a sweet pup!
It sounds like a pretty typical recovery, with well-managed pain. So far, I can't see anything really concerning in how he's doing so YAY for that
Many people end up here after a long battle trying to save a leg or just get a diagnosis. It's so weird how amputation is quite a relief once it's over, as drastic as it is. Imagine how much better Oliver feels too! Or at least he will, very soon, when he's ready to take over the world again. We cannot wait!
Let us know if you have any questions and keep us posted.
Only thing I've noticed is that he seems to have a reaction to Tramadol that I don't leave - starts panting and gets anxious after taking it (it's the only new drug on the list; the others he'd been taking before the surgery). I am considering reaching out to the doc and checking into an alternative, especially since he's also on Trazodone, which I think has done wonders to calm his nerves during this period.
Today was a "good" day for us, for the most part. Aside from the panting moments which always alarm me just because they make me start to worry almost on command, he did his outside business and walked a few steps each time. He had no interest in his dog food but did eat a cup of spaghetti noodles I'd made for myself for dinner. He took a few really good naps and went and let me take him outside to his kingdom perch in the backyard (we have view fencing so he sits on a lift there and stares across the greenbelt like he's surveying his kingdom) just for normalcy.
I think the hardest part beyond what are likely his pain and agitation moments is that I can see his frustration and anxiety about not being able to stand up and move around gracefully. He hitches every time he tries and there's absolutely no confidence in him that he can make it up without help. But it's day one so I'm hopeful as he adapts, that will become a non issue for him.
Thank you again.
24 March 2020
Hi Shawn! Oliver is such an adorable pup and he seems to be managing recovery pretty well so far! Griffin experienced dysphoria with Tramadol, so we stopped that drug 4 days after surgery. It sounds like Oliver has a robust pain management regimen, so your vet might be fine with eliminating Tramadol. Good luck! ~ Stacy (Griffin's Journey)
Griffin lived an amazing life for 11 years! Diagnosed with osteosarcoma on March 17, 2020, Griffin's right forelimb was amputated on April 2, 2020. Ten days later he was running and playing fetch! Lung metastasis discovered in July 2020 did not slow down Griffin and he lived joyfully for the next 7 months, passing peacefully at home on February 11, 2021. https://griffin.tripawds.com
16 July 2020
I just want to welcome you to the club. Our situation is so very different from yours -- the cause of the amputation, but recovery is recovery. We are about 6 weeks out, and our pup is doing so well. The first 2 weeks require vigilance and care--keeping an eye out, monitoring. So, my only advice is to just do one day at a time, watch his cues, take care of your own needs. This too shall pass.
As you can see our dogs could be cousins. The photo of Them is a baby pic, but he has the same black/brown coloring and floppy ears. So precious.
Awwww yeah, he'll get that confidence back! One day soon he will totally surprise you with something he used to do effortlessly. He'll do it again, only more awesome because now he's got the Tripawd factor!
It's not unusual about his reaction to Tramadol. Many dogs have a reaction like that, I'd let your vet know. I believe that codeine can be used in its place.
Thanks for the greetings. We appreciate it.
We do have a question. Last night, Oliver's sleep was fairly restless. From a sitting position, he wouldn't put his head down. Occasionally some panting, but no crying. Every time he'd put his head down, he'd pop it up again within a minute. This morning, though, he's slung across the bed, lying on his incision side no less, intermittently dozing. Is this just a positional thing where I need to help him get adjusted at night?
I got the impression there was some heightened pain at night - I'd pulled him off the Tramadol but haven't yet replaced it with anything.
This morning, he ate his breakfast, drank water, hopped to the door (stopped outside and needed help to the grass) and then hopped back in. On his second time out, I had to carry him a significant amount of the way through the house and urge him a few steps on outside but then he handled his business and came back in by himself.
He seems a bit quieter and maybe a bit more bummed out than he was yesterday but I think, otherwise okay aside from my worry about the way he slept last night. It's hard to tell what is me being overreactive or what's a concern. Any thoughts?
Hmm. You're very observant!
Yeah that does sound like he needs better pain control. The quiet behavior, difficulty with mobility that second time out and yep, many dogs are more painful at night when the medication needs more fine-tuning. Let your vet know and get something else for him, sounds like he could use some better meds.