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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." 

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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Amputation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Pug mix

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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Broken Ankel

my dog broke her ankle last week and chewed off her splint last night and potentially messed up the work they did. I wrapped it the best I could but fear she will lose the limb. I don't have the funds for the surgery.

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. One night without the splint will not likely make it so that the break is worse, but they need to see her to put that splint on right away. I would get her in today to have the splint redone, as the longer that it is without the splint, the more the likelihood that it will get worse. I hope that she heals and recovers soon!

Aug. 3, 2020

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Jack Russell

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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Doesnt Seem Alert, Eyes Have Been Staying Wide Open, Drunk Water Good Today But Throwed Up Twice, Dark Watery Substance, Hasnt Eaten, He Came Home Today After Hind Leg Amputation Due To A Break

I'm afraid he's dying, am I over reacting or should I take him back to the vet..thank you

July 9, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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I"m sorry he is having these problems. Some dogs do take a little while to recover from anesthesia, and he may be sedated. That is a major surgery, however, and he may need a little more care. I do think that it would be a good idea to take him back to your veterinarian, let them know how he is doing, and see if he needs any other medications or treatment. I hope that he is okay.

July 9, 2020

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Harley

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Blue Lacy/ Catahoula

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3 Months

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Pain
Limping
Swollen Joint

My roommates puppy jumped off of my bed a few days ago and got one of his back legs stuck between my footboard and the mattress, now he has to get his leg amputated.... The break is at a very hard spot to fix, the vet said there was a 50/50 chance that it would heal if they could fit a plate in and even if his leg would end up shorter than the rest. What should we be expecting? Will he have arthritis in his back when he is older?

Sept. 17, 2018

Harley's Owner

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Harley

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Blue Lacy/ Catahoula

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3 Months

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Joint Swelling

My roommates dog is needing his leg amputated and he is only a 3 month old pup, will this cause him to have arthritis when he is older or is there anything else we nee to worry about and keep up with?

Sept. 17, 2018

Harley's Owner

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dazzy

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Boxer

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Hives, Droopy Swollen Eyes

Just yesterday we noticed our dog had bumps all over her back. And the past couple of days she has been sniffling and it sounds like she has a lot of mucus. I contacted my vet, but they did not have any openings. He did say to give her benadryl. Anyway her eyes look a little swollen and droopy, and she had what looked to be like hives yesterday. Most of the hives are gone today, but her eyes still look weird. They look a little swollen, droopy and the white part looks almost like a bluish color. She is eating and not acting that weird she is just tired, but she is 10 years old so she sleeps a lot as it is. I am just not sure what I should do I am worried.

Sept. 8, 2018

dazzy's Owner

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Bella

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Pit bull

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Lethargy
Lethargy Withdrawn

My dog,Bella, was recently diagnosed with a mast cell tumor at the base of the tail. The vet recommends tail amputation followed by a biopsy to see the grade of tumor. As of right now it is localized to the one spot on the body. 1. Is it normal to remove the tail then do the biopsy. 2. What is recovery like, will she be able to do stairs?3. Typically what is the life span with diagnoses like this? Thank you I’m advance

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Minnie

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Greyhound

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10 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Limping

My greyhound has severe shoulder pain that started 8 weeks ago, I didn’t see what happened but she had been running in the backyard when it happened. We’ve tried many different pain meds and nothing is helping. All x-rays have been normal. Our vet wants to refer her to an orthopedic surgeon which we just can’t afford, he suggested amputation as a last resort. Is it crazy to amputate a leg when we don’t even know what’s wrong with it? My goal is to just get her out of pain.

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Gracie

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Labrador Retriever

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11 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

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Hi, I have a 11 yr old Chocolate Lab Retriever who has a melanoma tumor on her left rear toe (weight bearing toe I think it's 3rd toe)that grew back after removal of what the vet thought was all of it 2 yrs ago. The vet then said it was a benign melanoma. Well it grew back (they said it would probably do this)this past year and is bigger than the first time. Vet referred me to a surgeon who recommended amputation of the toe or partial (would they more likely do a partial? is that better in terms of recovery or does it matter?), she also suggested chemo/radiation or vaccinations both of which are too expensive. The surgeon said at the time it was a emergency and that I can think on this, that it would only get bigger and ulcerate. She checked her lymph nodes and they were good so it hasn't spread. My question, is amputation the best option in terms of recovery and life span? I have heard stories that a dogs' life is shortened after this. I want only the best for my baby and want her to be around as long as she can so if this shortens her life I don't want to do this. Her health has been great so far.. No health issues other than a occasional ear inflammation.. Also, I live in a apartment with 1 flight of stairs outside.. How do I get a 85 lb lab up and down these stairs to go outside and go to the bathroom.. Pee pads are not a option since I rent.

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Annie

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Labrador Retriever

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limping

Our chocolate lab, Annie, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma two days ago. We’re in middle Tennessee and looking for the most affordable option for an amputation. Where is the best place to go that is affordable?

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Charlie

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English Toy Spaniel

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12 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limping
Lump

About a month ago we noticed a lump on his hind left leg, just above the knee and he was limping/favoring the leg. After going to the local vet and having them take x-rays and tissue samples, they put him an an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory, after the results came back it was determined that it was a form of soft tissue cancer. in the month since the initial visit the lump has grown a lot more. We were advised that surgery to remove the lump would likely take a significant portion of muscle too, greatly affecting use and cause a very prolonged recovery time. We were advised to consider amputation of the leg being that a back leg is much easier to recover from removing. We are VERY torn over our next step because other than the issue he is in perfect spirits, absolutely no other symptoms, eating issues, no pain. But with his age we want to look out what's best for him and will recovery be problematic for him? We also have 2 other dogs with him (his pups actually) Any advice from someone having gone through would be appreciated

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