What is Amputation?

Amputation involves the surgical removal of a body part that is diseased or damaged beyond salvage. In dogs, the parts more commonly amputated are a limb, toe(s), or the tail. It should be remembered the docking the tail of newborn pups is an act of amputation. 

The aim of amputation is as a salvage procedure to prevent pain or suffering by removing a damaged body part or to prevent the spread of certain aggressive forms of cancer. This is a surgical procedure commonly undertaken in first opinion practice. 

Whilst amputation may seem a radical option to us, dogs do not seem to experience the same mental sense of loss as humans, and the vast majority adapt extremely well to the loss of a limb. Indeed there is a saying in veterinary circles that dogs have "Three legs and a spare." 

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Amputation Procedure in Dogs

This is a surgical procedure that requires full general anesthesia. 

First the patient should be thoroughly assessed to check there are no other treatment options and that amputation is the most humane treatment. 

From start to final suture removal, a typical timeline is 10 - 14 days. 

In the majority of cases where amputation is necessary, the dog hasn't been using the limb for some time. This means once the anesthetic and discomfort of surgery has worn off, the majority of dogs adjust remarkably well. Indeed, some are noticeably brighter and more mobile than pre-surgery because they no longer experience pain or discomfort from the diseased limb.

The amputation procedure involves: 

  • Inducing a full general anesthetic
  • Clipping hair from the affected area and that immediately surrounding it.
  • Scrubbing the area with disinfectant to make it surgically sterile
  • Draping the area
  • A scrubbed surgeon makes a skin excisions, dissects away muscles, transects bone, and then repairs the dissected tissue and closes the skin.
  • Limb stumps are usually left undressed, whilst toe or tail amputations may have a dressing applied. 
  • The dog must wear a cone until the sutures are removed

The dog is often hospitalized overnight for pain relief and discharged the following day. 

Efficacy of Amputation in Dogs

Key to successful surgery is selecting those cases in which amputation is the best option. In these cases, the majority do very well afterwards and readily adapt to life without the missing body part. Obviously, amputation is irreversible so it is not undertaken lightly. Also, using effective pain relief prior to surgery is important to reduce the risk of 'phantom limb pain' afterwards. This is a condition in which the dog experiences ongoing stimulation of the nerve roots, despite the limb's removal. In some cases, amputation can be life-saving, such as the patient with a complex fracture where the only other option is euthanasia, or in the cancer patient with an aggressive osteosarcoma where removal of the primary tumor reduces the risk of spread.

Amputation Recovery in Dogs

The vet will supply effective pain relief to be given to the patient at home. If the surgery was lengthy, or the dog has a weak immune system, then a course of antibiotics may be prescribed. 

The dog is liable to be quiet for a few days after what is major surgery. Provide soft, padded bedding and encourage the dog to lie with the affected side uppermost. 

It may be necessary to support the dog in a sling improvised from a towel slung under their belly when the dog goes to the toilet for the first few times after surgery. 

The dog must wear a cone to prevent them from licking or chewing the surgical site. 

The owner should be vigilant for any discharge from the surgical site, such as blood or pus, and contact the clinic if they are concerned. Other signs to be alert for include swelling, excessive bruising, or the wound opening up. 

The dog requires a check-up three days after surgery, and provided the recovery is uneventful, the sutures are removed 10 to 14 days post surgery.

Cost of Amputation in Dogs

The average cost of limb amputation is $700-$1000. Prices may vary depending on whether a debilitated patient needs intravenous fluids during the anesthetic and special nursing care. Cost of pain relief for the recovery period ranges from $12 to $40, whilst a typical antibiotic course is $17 to $40 depending on the size of the dog and antibiotic selected. 

Dog Amputation Considerations

Animals do not experience the same psychological hang-ups about amputation that people do. After a short period of adaptation, most dogs do very well indeed. During the recovery period, it is essential to maintain good hygiene of the pet's bedding and surroundings so that the wound does not become infected. If surgery was performed to prevent cancer spreading, then follow-up radiographs or imaging of the chest or liver may be advisable three months later.

Amputation Prevention in Dogs

Prevention of amputation is often not possible, as it is a last resort treatment. However, in some cases amputation may be performed due to financial constraints, such as when the cost of specialist fracture repair are prohibitive. In these cases, another course of action other than amputation may be possible when financial products are available to manage the cost of treatment. 

Amputation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Nina
Mix Shepard
12 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pain

how well will a 12-year-old dog do with a left hind leg amputation? I just found out today she has a mass cell tumor on her left hind leg but it's not bone cancer. I have asked for a referral to VCA Oncology in Albuquerque, NM to see if the mass can be shrunk then surgically removed. Your thoughts.Thank you

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

Dogs adapt well to the amputation of a hind limb and are usually mobile almost immediately, although they may forget they have less leg power (especially if jumping on to furniture). Mast cell tumours will vary in size depending on release of histamine, but amputation is best as there is little skin and tissue on limbs to comfortably take a 2cm margin of healthy tissue and to suture the wound closed; removing less would be irresponsible. I’ve added two links below to some reputable sources on mast cell tumours. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/canine-cutaneous-mast-cell-tumors-current-cocnepts-patient-management
http://ovc.uoguelph.ca/icci/trials/Evaluation-of-the-antihistaminic-effects-of-diphenhydramine-in-dogs-undergoing-excision-of-mast-cell-tumors

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Stella
Labrador Retriever
9
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

My nine-year-old black lab has torn the ligaments in her right hind knee. They say the surgery to fix it somewhat could be three to $6000. I can't afford that so I am wondering if amputation is it another solution. Her quality-of-life is gone to zero she can't even run on the trail she can only walk in pain.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations
Amputation is always an option and whilst not ideal, is an option for some people when surgery is cost prohibitive or not practical; given the pain and discomfort, it may be worth having the limb amputated. As Veterinarians, we like to allow a dog to keep all four legs if there is that option; with amputation of a hind limb, most owners are surprised how adaptive dogs are to having only three legs. This is something you should discuss with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Bud
Doberman
7 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pain

Medication Used

none

My daughter received an estimate for amputation of her dog's leg of $4,000. He has quite a bit of pain in his elbow but no confirmation of any diagnosis after $1,000's in diagnostics.

Is this a reasonable estimate or should we look around. Do you have any recommendations near Sacramento CA.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

California is very expensive for Veterinary care, a typical national cost of forelimb amputation in dogs is around $2,000 (for simple cases). Given your location, You are only 20 miles away from UC Davis Veterinary School which has world class facilities. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Dunkin
Labradoodle
12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Cyst on his tail
Open wound

We may have to have our dog's tail amputated. My question is- if our vet says he can do it, but there is "less risk " if we use a surgeon- what is the risk involved with having the vet do the procedure vs. having a surgeon do it?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

A caudectomy is a simple procedure, it was the first surgery I performed on a live animal (on a cat). There may be a few factors why your Veterinarian may not want to perform the surgery including anaesthesia as older dogs are more prone to complications and whilst risks may be mitigated with blood tests and modern anaesthetics, there is still a risk especially if your Veterinarian pick up something else on physical examination (heart murmur or abnormal blood test results). There may be some other complication which I am not aware of, but if you have questions you should speak with your Veterinarian regarding the rationale for referring you to a Veterinary Surgeon. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Gabbi
Pitbull terrier mix
14
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Arthitis

My 14 year old pitbull / terrier mix has a broken front leg that needs amputated. But she has arthritis in her back legs and it is hard for her to get up. What should I do

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations
If her front leg is broken and your Veterinarian has recommended amputation it should be carried out as it will make her more comfortable as the broken bone will no longer be causing her pain. Whilst Gabbi may be weak in her back end, dogs are generally good at adapting to amputation and at her age her movement will be less than a younger dog; helping her get up and giving good nursing care will help. Gabbi’s suitability for surgery would be dependent on a physical examination and at her age a preanaesthetic blood test. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Daisy
Shepherd mix
13 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Aggression

Medication Used

Gabapentin
2 different antibiotics
A pain killer patch
Tramadol

Hi there. Daisy was recently attacked by coyotes and had a fracture in her femur on a leg that already had a torn acl (my vet and I decided to use pain management instead of surgery due to her age) and ended up with her leg amputated 3 days ago.
She is in (and has been since the attack) in a lot of pain, she's on multiple medications for that as well as multiple antibiotics and something for her newly found anxiety as well.
My question relates to her recovery- with her age, euthinastia was something we considered before we decided to amputate. Since she got hurt, she has been extremely aggressive when trying to move her or if you go near her hind end. This is polar opposite to her normal personality.
She also has put very minimal weight on the good leg and generally has to be lifted to be moved, and has been urinating on herself instead of outside.
Both of these things are making me question if I did the right thing by having her leg amputated.
How long is a realistic time frame to give to see if she will adjust?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

Amputation is quite a major surgery for a dog and requires a lot of adjustment with no understanding why the limb is missing; but dogs adapt well, especially with hindlimb amputation. I understand your concerns and that you want to do the right thing for Daisy, but remember that three days is a very short period of time after this surgery and it may take a week or two for things to become somewhat normal. Each case is individual and I cannot really generalise; some dogs bounce back well regardless of age and others struggle. I would make her comfortable and give excellent nursing care and have a think about it in a fortnight. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Panda
Australian Shepherd
10
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

None. Diagnosed during regular check
hypothyroidism

My dog was diagnosed with a mass cell tumor on his right front arm. Unfortunately it has grown to the point where it's embedded into his muscle and deep tissue and cannot be surgically removed. Amputation was an option given to us followed by chemo. I'm in distraught with even considering amputation. I just want him to not be in any pain and for him to live a long life. Any tips?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

I understand your position, it is distressing knowing that once a limb is amputated there is no going back; however, at this point it is the treatment of choice and it is best to amputate now than to wait for progression further in the future. Dogs are highly adaptive and tolerate limb amputation well, it is be best course of action for Panda. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Baloo
Rottweiler
4 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Right shoulder
Limping

Medication Used

Coxflam

My Rottweiler is 4 years old. 10 days ago he starting experiencing excruciating pain in is right front leg. we took him to the vet where they took XRays and said he has some inflammation and looks like arthritis. They didn't do much and put him on anti inflams. its been 10 days and made no difference. We took him to a specialist and they also said inflamed and put him on anti inflams. They cant see anything on the xray but suspect bone cancer. They said i have to wait 4 weeks and come back. Why do I have to wait?

I read that even with amputation and chemo my dogs lifespan will be max 6 months is this true? They did a chest xray and checked if the supposed cancer spread to the lungs but it was clear.

Is amputation possible and chemo and he will live a long healthy life?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

In this scenario there are many ‘it depends’; for simple inflammation of bone (osteomyelitis) there is no cancer and may be treated medically or with amputation with no lasting effects on a dog’s lifespan; if there is bone cancer, the type of the cancer and the stage will have a bearing on the prognosis because in some instances the amputation will remove all cancerous cells but in other cases there will be spread to other areas of the body before amputation. Your Veterinarian or Specialist may wish to wait to see if there is any progression before continuing with tests. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Reagan
German Shorthaired Pointer
7 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Sore, weak

My dog has already had her leg amputated from being hit by a car. That is the back leg, my question is that now that she is getting older (7) her back leg seems to be under stress after a longer periods of exercise. I.e. today she went swimming with other dogs and for a walk and while at home now she can barely walk. Is there any good solution to helping her maintain that one leg or anything she can take besides a dog aspirin?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations
Since Reagan’s remaining hind leg is under more stress it is important to reduce activity to prevent injury which can be difficult in this breed; long term pain management may help but it may be worth trying with some supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin in addition to some rest and exercise reduction. I would recommend you visit your Veterinarian for an examination and an x-ray of his hind led to see if there are any signs of articular injury. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Hootch
Labrador Retriever
8 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Pain
Swelling
Rapid growing tum

Our family dog has a rapid growing tumor on his upper, inner thigh. His entire leg is swollen and is causing him s lot of pain. He is currently taking a lot of medication and sometimes it seems to help. We have been told that amputation or end of life are the only options here. After spending almost $2000 on x-rays and a biopsy which told us nothing we were given a referral to a specialty hospital and a quote of up to $4500 for the amputation. He has already had surgery on both of his knees and it does have arthritis in his back. We do know that dogs are very resilient and adapt well to a missing limb. However, As this is a very expensive procedure and there is no guarantee of the outcome and we have no idea if it's cancer, we are trying to make the decision which is better for him and his quality-of-life.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations
I am just as much in the dark as you are if you have no conclusive biopsy results to go from; it can be a hard decision to make as there is still a lot of uncertainty and the cost of the surgery will play a major factor in your decision. As a Veterinarian looking in, I would say to have the surgery and to have the limb sent for histopathology (or at least the affected portion); but as a dog owner myself looking from the other side you need to determine if and what is exactly in Hootch’s best interests. Unfortunately, only you can answer that question. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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