It can be shocking and upsetting to hear that the recommendation for your pet’s diagnosis is amputation of the affected limb. Situations where amputation is an option include the most serious of conditions, including cancer or overwhelming trauma. But surprisingly, most cats and dogs are so adaptable and resilient that they do remarkably well after an amputation. In fact, the pet owner is more likely to feel the stigma, pity, and sense of loss that accompany the procedure than the pet experiencing the amputation.
Common Reasons for Amputation in Pets
Amputations are typically performed when a limb cannot be salvaged or the pet is in extreme pain and at risk of serious injury, and removal will allow the pet to live a more normal life. Common conditions that require amputation include:
- Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer — Bone cancer, which can seldom be cured, aggressively spreads to other body parts, particularly the lungs. Although removing the cancerous limb may not be curative, amputation and chemotherapy can often prolong life so you can spend more time with your beloved pet.
- Extensive bone trauma — Shattered bones from car accidents or other traumas sometimes are unlikely to heal and return to normal function. Leg amputation can offer an immediate solution instead of months of failed treatments and possible life-long pain.
- Severe tissue damage or infection — Tissue loss from traumatic accidents or severe infection may be so extensive that sufficient healing to cover underlying structures is not possible. Also, extensive scar tissue is often tight and limiting, which can interfere with normal use and cause chronic pain.
- Birth defects — Abnormal development can render a leg useless and cause a pet more trouble than its removal. If amputation is performed when a pet is young, adjusting to a three-legged life will be part of his normal development, and he won’t know life any differently.
Amputation Surgery in Pets
Amputation, which is considered major surgery, is performed under general anesthesia. The limb should be amputated close to the body so the remaining portion will not be subject to repeated trauma and interfere with movement. Pets will often try to use a stump to get up or to balance, which creates pressure sores and injuries, and can lead to balance problems, so even if the injury or disease is lower in the leg, the entire limb should be removed.
Helping Your Pet Return to Normal After Amputation
After amputation surgery, our veterinary team will give specific instructions about restrictions that must be followed for your pet’s recovery. His return to normal function is our goal, but you will need to take it slowly while he is healing. Amputation will change your pet’s weight distribution and center of gravity, and he will probably need your help for the first several days. A sling placed under his chest after a front-leg amputation, or under his belly after his rear leg is amputated, will help him walk and learn how to redistribute his weight to avoid falling.
While your pet is recovering, keep him comfortable with plenty of non-slip soft padding and blankets, and ensure he has access to food and water. He will likely come home with an E-collar to prevent him from licking or chewing his incision. We will provide pain medications, which should be administered as instructed, even if your pet does not seem painful. Administering medications before your pet becomes painful helps to keep him more comfortable and pain-free.
During the first couple of weeks following surgery, you should restrict your pet’s activity to short leash walks only, with a gradual return to normal activity as directed by your veterinary surgeon. After this recovery period, he should resume his normal lifestyle. Most pets learn to walk on three legs relatively quickly, and are playing again in no time. In some instances, the pet was not using the affected limb before amputation, and the procedure removed a source of pain or discomfort, so he is eager to get back to normal. Your attitude toward your pet can help him become confident with his new body.
For long-term three-legged success, keep your pet in good physical condition and prevent him from becoming overweight, which will place more stress on his joints and make degenerative joint disease more likely. With only three legs, he will not be able to shift his weight to compensate for painful joints as well as other pets, so preventing arthritis is critical.
The experienced team at Dallas Veterinary Surgical Center can work with you, your pet, and your family veterinarian to make your pet’s amputation as stress-free as possible. Contact us if you would like to discuss amputation as a possible treatment for your pet.