What is Digit Amputation?

Digit amputation in dogs is an invasive surgical procedure involving the complete removal of the canine’s digit. An amputation will involve cuts made through skin, muscles, nerves and bone, so a trained veterinary surgeon is advised to complete this procedure. The digit of the dog is commonly referred to as the toe to pet owners and is often removed for cosmetic purposes. Removal of the dewclaw (comparable to the thumb in humans) to prevent the injury to hunting and working dogs is a form of digit amputation, as are declawing procedures (which are uncommon in dogs). Conditions that require digit amputation for treatment are usually limited to some form of malignant or benign tumor. 

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Digit Amputation Procedure in Dogs

Prior to conducting the digit amputation procedure, the surgical site will be clipped and prepped for aseptic surgery. The limb that the affected digit occupies will likely have a tourniquet placed to cut off the readily available blood supply circulating to the paw and digits. Once the surgical site is created, the veterinarian will proceed to conducting the amputation. 

A generous incision will be created to prevent closing tension later in the procedure. Any excessive skin created by this mass incision will be trimmed during the time of wound closing. Throughout the surgical procedure, a good visualization will be made in reference to bleeding control. All major arteries and veins are doubled ligated to prevent mass hemorrhaging postoperatively. A scalpel blade will be used to cut the muscle of the digit, but only the necessary muscle tissue. If the canine is affected by a digit tumor, some healthy tissues must be removed with the growth to ensure all abnormal cells have been removed. All digital nerves will be gently pulled away, severed, and retracted into fascial planes. 

Before the digit bone can be cut, the periosteum is circularly excised to the level of amputation. The outer layer of the bone is cut first to prevent the formation of bone spurs in the digit. The bone is then cut with bone cutters, a Gigli wire, or saw, depending on the veterinarian’s choice or available tools. All bone dust and fragments are then removed. The veterinarian will then close the surgical site with a non-absorbable suture and place the canine in recovery for monitoring purposes. 

Efficacy of Digit Amputation in Dogs

Digit amputation is a procedure that successfully removes the toe from the paw. Amputating a digit is also highly successful in removing cancerous cell growth from the affected toe and lessening the chance for a recurrence. 

Digit Amputation Recovery in Dogs

Following the surgical procedure for digit amputation, the canine will be monitored for hypothermia, pain, and excessive bleeding. The dog will require assistance in standing and walking to prevent bruising the surgical site. At home, the canine will be required to wear an Elizabethan collar and remain in a well-padded area to prevent manipulation of the surgical site. Pain medications and an antibiotic will be administered as directed, in addition to temperature checks every day. 

Cost of Digit Amputation in Dogs

The estimated cost for a canine digit amputation is $350. The price can vary depending on the condition the dog is affected with and aftercare needs. 

Dog Digit Amputation Considerations

Digit amputation in dogs can cause immediate postoperative bleeding beneath the skin, gradually oozing from the surgical site. In some incidences, massive hemorrhaging has been reported in dogs that receive improper home care or surgical technique. If the bleeding is not associated with a blood vessel, the blood can be aspirated and a pressure bandage is applied. However, if a blood vessel has been opened, immediate surgical care is required before the dog undergoes major blood loss. Infections are also a possible postoperative consideration that can occur in canines and require prompt veterinary care. 

Digit Amputation Prevention in Dogs

Digit amputation in dogs can be avoided if the pet owner decides not to have the dewclaw removed or if other forms of treatment have worked effectively. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used to treat digit tumors if the dog owner is not comfortable with an amputation. 

Digit Amputation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Partita
Beagle
3 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

We have a 3 year old beagle. He broke his bone on his pinky toe on his hindleg. It's week 6 now, and he is completely energetic, so we thought he was fine. But x ray yesterday says his bone isn't completely healed yet. There are still some gaps that's not filled in, and the healing is slower than we expected. The vet said to wait two more weeks and if it's not fully healed by then, we may need to consider surgery or amputation. I thought that seems drastic considering he seems totally fine. Question is, do dogs stop producing bone growing cells after first 10 days of injury? Shouldn't we just keep him in a cast and limited movement for longer until it heals?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1485 Recommendations
The older a dog is, the longer it will take the the bones to heal; also other factors like movement, nutrition, general health and other variables may cause a prolonged healing time. I would give it in total around ten weeks with strict rest and high quality diet before considering surgery or amputation; however, your Veterinarian may be seeing some other pathology on the bone which may require a different course of action. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thank you. Are there any 'high quality diet' foods you would recommend? He is eating Natural Balance dry food.

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Max
Standard Poodle
9 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Black standard poodle with s.carcinoma. Have had to have 3 of 4 digits removed from his right rear (2 separate visits; others satrted symptoms 6 months after the fitst.) Should the final 4th also be removed ? Whats the possibility of him using the leg again (holds it up always.) Would you recommend a brace or prosthetic? He still wants to run and be a dog desperately. Thank you.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1485 Recommendations
With digit amputation, it may be painful for one digit to hold the weight bearing load of one leg, it may be worth considering an amputation of the remaining digit or the paw itself. Prosthetics are an option, but can be expensive as custom made are always best; this should be discussed with your Veterinarian or Orthopaedic Specialist. Mobility may improve with a prosthetic but some dogs don’t take to it or are suspicious of anything on their leg. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Brindle
American Pit Bull Terrier
11 years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

I have an 11 year American Pit. He was holding his right front paw up with noticeable swelling on the left digit. The nail is much longer and has turned black whereas all of his other nails are still white. X-Rays show a problem in the bone but his Vet said that it can't be determined if it is osteomyelitis, osteosarcoma or a benign tumor. He's on a 14 day aggressive antibiotic & inflammation treatment. I scheduled surgery for next week but I'm scared & confused about this decision. I hate to amputate if it's an infection but then again if it is cancer I don't want the cancer to metastasize. I'd appreciate you thoughts on this. He's my whole life.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1485 Recommendations
I understand your concern not wanting to amputate the digit in case it isn’t cancerous; osteomyelitis and osteosarcoma are unfortunately very much indistinguishable on x-ray. A biopsy of the bone is advisable, but you may as well amputate the digit to prevent and send it for histopathology. I would say, if there is any doubt, amputate the digit; it is only a toe (or more depending on your Veterinarian’s discretion) and not a whole limb. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thank you Dr. Turner for your quick response. A friend told me that I should use a Vet Specialist, but is that really necessary? There aren't any in my area and my Vet Clinic is certified.

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Dodger
Shepard mix
10 Years
Serious condition
1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Redness
Limping
Licking
Yelp
Decreased activity

Medication Used

Cephalexin
Tramadol
Remidol

Hi,
We have a 10 and a half y/o Shepard mix "puppy". He has hip displasia and takes remidol. Last week we took him in for what we thought was an injury, turns out he has a mass in his weight baring toe. After aggressive antibiotics and pain medication, it is worse. Today we were told our only option would be amputation of the toe. Obviously with the back hips being so bad, and the toe being his weight baring toe, we are extremely concerned. He is now 100 lbs, down from 115, but still not a size that I could carry. Are there other options? We were told the only way to know if the mass is cancerous is to amputate and send to the lab. I just feel like there has to be some other option.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1485 Recommendations

Without examining Dodger I cannot really tell if there is another option; digit amputation is a common enough procedure and are highly adaptive shifting weight etc… (even with bad hips). Each case is individual, so if you have concerns you could take Dodger to see another Veterinarian and take a copy of his hip x-rays for the other Veterinarian to look at. Ultimately the toe most likely will need to go, but as I mentioned dogs adapt well. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

My Chihuahua Lily has fractured four of her toes on one foot and the vet says it will need surgery to fix it, but we don't have the money to spend that right now and we have only had her for a month, what are some other options, I want the best one for my dog and I. I love her so much and just want her happy and healthy.

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Oreo
Lab/newfoundland mix
2 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pain
Limping

Medication Used

Tramadol 50 mg.

My dog has injured his dew claw three times in the last couple months. Now the nail is completely off and the quick is exposed. This is causing my dog pain and multiple vet visits. Is toe amputation something that would be recommended and what is typical cost for a lab/newfy mix?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1485 Recommendations

Sometimes a toe amputation is the best course of action for chronic painful conditions like this; the cost to remove a digit from a dog is relatively low to the cost of other surgeries with pricing starting from $325 (charity clinic in Virginia) upwards, but the cost would be dependent on your location and your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thank you!

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Phantom
Min Schnauzer
8 Weeks
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

None

Thanks for responding Dr. Turner. If my puppy toe is removed will it cause him to limp? He also has an umbilical hernia. If that is repaired during neutering, will he be able to live a normal healthy life or will he still have problems in the future?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1485 Recommendations

Umbilical hernias are normally repaired at the same time as neutering as an add on surgery; umbilical hernias usually cause no problems and may resolve spontaneously within six month of age, the the hernia becomes strangulated then this is an emergency and would require emergency surgery. The amputated toe shouldn’t cause much of an issue, but I cannot give you any solid guarantees as each case is different, your Veterinarian would be able to tell you more. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Phantom
Miniature Schnauzer
8 Weeks
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Toe birth defect
None

I just purchased a min schnsuzer 8wks old. He was born with 1 of his front paw toes abnormally. My vet said if the toe continues to go backwards that he may need it amputated. Wondering should i return tbe pup for anthr one or keep him and see how he does on the future.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1485 Recommendations

The choice on whether or not to keep Phantom is completely down to you, the toe may need to be removed if it is abnormal and is causing problems but Phantom is probably a loving dog whose personality would be the same toe or no toe. The choice is down to you, if the toe is causing problems or you want to nip it in the bud you could have it removed as an add on to neutering for example. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

If the toe ihs removed will it cause him to limp in te near future? He also has an umbilical hernia. If that is repaired during neutering will he be able to live a normal healthy life?

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