4 min read


Can Dogs Live with 3 Legs?



4 min read


Can Dogs Live with 3 Legs?


When illness or injury strike, you could be faced with the heart-breaking decision of whether or not to amputate your dog's leg. In other circumstances, you might be considering adopting a three-legged dog and wondering what it takes to care for an animal that's missing a limb.

Whatever the circumstances may be, it's important to realize that just because a dog is one leg short of the full complement doesn't mean they can't live a long and happy life. In fact, many dogs thrive and live life to the fullest regardless of their missing limb, showing a resilience and enthusiasm for life that's impossible not to admire.

What does it take to care for a dog with three legs? Let's take a closer look.


Signs Your Dog May Need to Have a Limb Amputated

There are many different reasons why your dog may need to go under the knife to have a limb removed. Perhaps the most common of these is canine osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. This common form of cancer usually affects the long leg bones of large-breed dogs, and produces symptoms like swelling, lameness, and pain in the joints or bones. Some dogs will appear tired and lethargic, while others will have a growth or inflammation around the site of the tumor.

But there are also several other cases where amputation may be recommended. For example, if a tumor in or under the skin becomes too large to be completely removed successfully, amputation may be the only option. 

However, the other most common cause of amputation is a severe traumatic injury. While many broken bones and dislocations are fixable, some serious injuries are simply too difficult (or in some cases too costly) to repair, making amputation the best course of action.

It's also worth pointing out that some pets may need to undergo amputation due to a birth defect. For example, it's possible for puppies to be born missing a bone in their leg, which can cause skin sores and is often best treated by amputation, while bone fractures and joint dislocations can also occur during birth.

Body Language

Your dog's body language can contain clues pointing to problems with one or more of their limbs, such as:<br/>

  • Panting
  • Weakness
  • Low Tail Carriage
  • Dropped Ears

Other Signs

Other signs of limb problems can include:<br/>

  • Swelling Or Inflammation
  • Abnormal Growths
  • Lameness
  • Tiredness And Lethargy
  • Reluctance To Exercise
  • Limping
  • Pain Or Sensitivity


The Science of Dogs with 3 Legs


The prospect of amputation strikes fear into the hearts of many pet owners. Losing a limb is undoubtedly a big deal, and one that has life-changing consequences, but it's nowhere near as debilitating as most people think.

Dogs are amazingly resilient creatures and have an impressive ability to bounce back from such a daunting surgical procedure. 

Unlike humans, pets don't have the same psychological worries about how they look — in fact, in many cases your pet will simply be thrilled by the fact that the limb that was causing them so much pain is gone and they now feel a whole lot more comfortable.

The good news is that pet amputees tend to recover very well. Most dogs will be up and moving around in as little as 12 hours following surgery, and losing a limb doesn't stop them from running, playing, exploring, making new friends, and living life to its absolute fullest. It's even possible for pets that have had two limbs amputated to continue walking, and most dogs simply get on with their lives with a minimum of fuss.

And if you don't believe us, head over to YouTube and check out some of the videos of three-legged dogs doing their thing. We challenge you to watch a few of them without reaching for the Kleenex!

Caring for a Three-legged Dog


Whether you've adopted a three-legged pooch or your pet is about to have a limb amputated, rest assured that your furry friend will not only survive but thrive with just three legs. However, while your pet will still be able to live life to its absolute fullest, there are a few simple steps and precautions you'll need to take to help give your pet the best possible care. Remember the following tips when caring for a tripod dog:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Keeping your dog in a healthy weight range is crucial to ensure that their remaining limbs aren't placed under excessive strain. Play games to strengthen your pet's core and make sure to provide plenty of regular exercise, while at the same time feeding a healthy diet and avoiding overly fatty treats.
  • Don't overdo it. While physical exercise is important, don't ask too much of your dog. Monitor your pooch carefully for any signs of fatigue and, if you notice any, give them a chance to rest and recover.
  • Create no-slip zones. Make sure the areas of the home that your dog frequents provide plenty of grip. This will make it as easy as possible for them to get around.
  • Follow your vet's instructions. If your pet has just had a limb amputated, follow your vet's instructions to the letter to ensure a speedy and successful recovery.
  • Be careful around stairs. While most three-legged dogs can learn to negotiate stairs without any problems, it might take a recent amputee a little while to work out the best stair climbing and descending technique. Monitor them closely until they've worked out the best approach.
  • Take good care of foot pads. Keep a close eye on the paws of your dog's remaining limbs. Trim the nails and fur to ensure maximum comfort and prevent slipping.

While losing a limb is certainly a setback, it's not one that will have a hugely detrimental impact on your dog. They may be a little slower and move differently to other dogs, but they're remarkably resilient, loving, and happy animals. Regardless of whether a dog has three legs to stand on or four, it'll still make a wonderful companion.

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Written by a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 04/08/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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