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Coping with amputation

Many of us have seen a three-legged dog at one time or another, and in most cases they get along with just fine. Whether it's the result of an accident or disease, limb amputation has become much more common than it once was. Although it involves major surgery, amputation can actually help dogs, rather than hinder them, by removing their source of pain and suffering. Most dogs will adjust to life on three legs with your help and your vet’s advice.

In fact, amputation may often be the best option for animals with severe injuries from car accidents, or for those suffering from bone cancer or other serious diseases. Of course, it may not be easy for dogs to learn how to move around as they once did. However, with time, most can compensate for the changes in weight distribution and learn to walk and even run again.

Seeing a content and spirited dog walk down the street on three legs is a reminder that an amputation doesn't have to be the end of the world. Instead, consider it as the beginning of a new life, a positive option that can humanely extend dogs' lives.

However, electing to have your dog’s limb amputated is a difficult decision. The surgery, recovery and prognosis (depending on the reason for the amputation) should be discussed at length with your vet. Larger/heavier dogs may not cope as well as slim, small dogs and in cases of cancer the amputation may not be a curative procedure. Raise all your concerns with your vet before the surgery so you can come to an informed decision.

Helping your dog adapt

  • Follow your vets after care instructions carefully and ask questions if there is anything you are unsure of.
  • These instructions will likely suggest keeping your dog confined after the operation.
  • Don't encourage your dog to jump.
  • Dogs need to build strength in the remaining limbs so ask your vet about a slowly increasing exercise program. Input from a veterinary physiotherapist may also be helpful.. Initially short lead walks will be tiring for your dog.
  • Ask your vet about alternative forms of exercise including hydrotherapy/swimming.
  • Your dog may find it more difficult to jump onto favorite furniture/beds so provide ramps or steps up to higher locations and make sure food/water/beds are easily accessible without the need to jump.
  • Your dog may not be able to escape danger as quickly at first, so keep him or her out of harm's way until your pet can fend for itself.
  • Keep a close eye on your dog's weight, as weight gain places more strain on the other legs and makes it much harder to cope. This is very important, as dogs may be more prone to gaining weight due to a reduction in exercise.
  • Allow plenty of time for rehabilitation and adjustment.
  • Other pets may be upset initially by the change in their companion, so reintroduce the patient slowly and keep an eye on things.
  • It is possible for pets to suffer phantom pains in removed limbs so contact your vet if your dog seems in discomfort as further treatment may be required.
  • If you are worried your dog is not adjusting/coping with the changes, contact your vet to discuss how to make your dog’s life easier.

Many dogs are currently on three legs and enjoying life. However, this is a difficult decision that will not be the best thing for other dogs. Consider your decision carefully and remember that in many cases; with patience, understanding and time, you and your dog will learn to adjust.

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