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What is Limb Amputation?

Limb amputation can be performed on dogs when necessary to remove a damaged or diseased leg that can not be saved by other medical or surgical means. This surgery can be performed on either front or rear limbs and is usually performed high up, close to the body, so the remaining limb does not interfere with movement. Partial limb amputations, allowing the use of prosthetics, are not common in dogs, as dogs have traditionally adjusted well to full limb amputation and availability of prosthetics was limited. However, with new prosthetics and procedures becoming available, prosthetics are becoming more commonly used than in the past. 

Limb amputation may be performed by your veterinarian under general anesthesia when a cancerous tumor is present, due to fractures that will not heal, or due to rampant infection that will not resolve and threatens your dog’s overall health. Dogs quickly learn to adapt to only having three legs and do not seem to experience distress from this condition in the long term. If more than one limb requires amputation adjustment may be more difficult.

Limb Amputation Procedure in Dogs

Prior to amputation your veterinarian will perform tests including blood work to determine overall health and fitness for the procedure, unless amputation is urgent, as may be the case in acute trauma or infection. You will be required to fast your dog from food prior to administration of general anesthetic. Your dog will be sedated, administered an intravenous line through which analgesics, antibiotics and anesthetic will be administered, along with electrolytes and other supportive measures required. Anesthetic will be administered by intubation and maintained by gas for the duration of the procedure. Pain killers will be administered prior to surgery and post surgery. Epidural analgesia may be administered for rear leg amputations to further control pain.

 

The area to be excised is shaved and cleaned. Sterile surgical drapes are used. An incision will be made in the skin around the site for limb amputation, major arteries and veins will be double litigated as they are encountered. Blood vessels to muscles are maintained as much as possible and hemostasis when muscles are incised with a scalpel is achieved with electrocautery or litigation. Muscle is preserved where possible, however when tumors are being removed healthy tissue margins must be removed along with the lesion. Nerves are pulled back and severed and allowed to retract. Care to avoid crushing nerves is taken. If a previously repaired fracture with metal is present, all surgical metal will be removed. If infection is present a culture will be taken to aid in customization of antibiotic therapy. Prior to cutting of limb bones the periosteum is excised and scraped back from the level amputation is to take place, to avoid leaving tissue at the bone stump, which may cause spur formation. 

In the forelimb, the limb may be removed at the level of the humerus or the scapula may be included. For hind limb amputations, the location of the disease or damage may dictate where amputation occurs, although the upper third of the thigh bone is a common site, allowing muscle to be used to cover the limb stump. If a cancerous lesion occurs higher up on the hind limb the amputation may be performed higher up on the hip joint or may include part of the pelvis.

Bone is cut with a saw, wire or bone cutters. Bone ends are smoothed with a file. If a cancerous tumor is present, tissue from the amputated limb may be sent for evaluation by a veterinary pathologist.

Muscles are sutured with absorbable sutures, drains may be placed in gaps to allow drainage of fluids for 48-72 hours post surgery. Skin is sutured so as not to create pressure points, create unwarranted tension or leave loose skin. Your dog will be put in recovery and provided supportive care during recovery from anesthesia. Vital signs will be monitored and pain, hypothermia, or bleeding addressed. Your dog may be assisted with standing and walking so as not to further traumatize the surgical site.

After amputation in the forelimb, bandaging with soft padding is placed over the surgical site to provide protection. Bandaging is less often used in the hind limbs. 

The procedure takes between one and two hours including anesthesia, addressing blood and nerve supply to the limb, and the amputation procedure.

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Efficacy of Limb Amputation in Dogs

Dogs adapt well to limb amputation with little distress and are able to run and play with minimal limitations. If disease was present, amputation may provide immediate resolution of pain and the dog may be relieved to be free from discomfort. Older pets may take longer to adjust to life on three limbs. Any portion of a limb remaining is prone to interfere or may be injured from daily activities and usually this is avoided by removing most of the limb. Prosthesis are rarely used unless bilateral amputation is required, although they are becoming more common and effective as knowledge of procedures and improved prosthetics for dogs become available.

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Limb Amputation Recovery in Dogs

After surgery your dog will be administered analgesics and antiinflammatories. If pain was present in the limb prior to surgery your dog may experience relief from that pain with limb removal and adjust quickly. Your dog may be hospitalized for one to two days or may be sent home the same day. Medications should be administered as directed. If a drain is present, ensure it does not become dislodged prior to your veterinarian removing it in one to three days. The incision will need to be monitored for signs of wound dehiscence, infection, or bleeding and veterinary care obtained immediately if this occurs. Bruising and swelling will occur. Your dog should be put on restricted activity until wound healing occurs and stitches are removed at one to two weeks. An e-collar may be used to prevent your dog from licking and chewing their surgical wound. You may use a sling around their belly to help them with mobility in the first few days if needed. Exercise should be limited for up to four weeks post surgery and your dog maintained on a leash when outside. Limiting roughhousing with other animals is also advisable during the recovery period.

During recovery, regular activity should be introduced gradually, until your dog learns to adapt to prevent injury. Slippery floor surfaces, stairs, and furniture may present challenges at first, and avoiding these hazards until your dog has time to adjust may be helpful at preventing injury during recovery.

It is important to ensure that dogs with limb amputation maintain a healthy weight so as not to put stress on remaining legs.

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Cost of Limb Amputation in Dogs

The cost of limb amputation in a dog including anesthesia, medications, hospitalization and surgical procedure ranges from $500 to $1,000. Cost may be affected by the cost of living in your area.

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Dog Limb Amputation Considerations

Complications such as hemorrhaging, fluid build up and infection can occur post surgery.

Nerve damage can also result from amputation, causing further discomfort, although this is rare. Arthritis in remaining limbs can occur especially if the dog becomes overweight. 

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Limb Amputation Prevention in Dogs

Although neoplasia can not be avoided, the risk of trauma requiring limb amputation can be minimized. Keeping your dog in an enclosed area or on a leash when outside will reduce the risk of being hit by a car, being involved in other accidents, or fights with other dogs that can result in irreversible limb damage. Treating disorder such as infection immediately, before it becomes established and comprises the limb, will also reduce the likelihood that infection of a limb will result in amputation being necessary.

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Limb Amputation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Chiweenie

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Seven Months

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Avoids Putting Pressure On Right Leg

Is it possible that my vet hospital is telling me it is fractured when it’s actually only sprained? They said he fractured his wrist but we’ve not been shown any xrays only told a bill...

July 20, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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Hello- If your veterinarian tells you that your dog’s leg is fractured they are telling the truth. Veterinarians do not falsely make up diagnoses. You can request a photo of the x-ray so that you are able to see the fracture in the wrist.

July 20, 2020

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Jet

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Labrador

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Bleeding At Incision Site

My 2 year old lab mix had his rear leg amputated on February 13th. He got an infection in the incision and has been on antibiotics and the infection is gone but the incision is still bleeding 2 weeks after surgery. I have to keep him in his cage because wherever he lays blood is there and when he is active it bleeds more. The vet is telling me the area just needs to scar up before it will stop bleeding. Is this normal?

Feb. 28, 2018

Jet's Owner


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3320 Recommendations

It is not normal for a wound to be bleeding after surgery, however your Veterinarian may not want to do any further surgery on the wound as the tissue surround the wound may not be perfectly viable due to the infection. It is a case of keeping Jet rested as much as possible and keeping the wound clean and free of debris; without examining the wound and seeing the tissue around the wound I cannot give you any advice apart from follow your Veterinarian’s instructions. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Feb. 28, 2018

My dog's amputation was 2 weeks ago and his behavior has changed on walks. He tried to drag me this and that way, I had no idea he was so strong. While taking potty walks he would often want a break. I thought he was tired but now we can no longer walk around the block without having to stop about 10 times and he is not tired. He also is not doing his "business" during these walks. Please help.

May 24, 2018

Linda

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na

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Corgi

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5 Years

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We just adopted a small dog, I was told she was born with a birth defect of a injured left front leg. I believe she had a injury and the past owner did not take care of the issue. She seems to be walking and running around fine. She doesn't seem to know she is only running on three legs. My question is will the leg ever need to be amputated in the future since it is never used? Will the leg start to deteriorate? How can I keep her other legs healthy since she is using her right front leg to compensate?

Nov. 26, 2017

na's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

If the leg isn’t getting damaged whilst running and isn’t causing any trouble, it may not need to be amputated; but if the leg gets abrasions, cuts or your dog starts chewing on the leg then amputation is a possibilities. I would recommend you visit a Veterinarian for an x-ray of the leg so that any previous injury can be identified. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 27, 2017

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phiphi

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Pomeranian

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5 Years

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hi my dog had an accident on oct 2 and she haves distal tranverse tibial and fibular fracture. I dont have the money they asking for is any help you can direct me to. She still have a broken leg they talk about Amputation but she hasnt seen a specialist because I dont have the money . What can I do?

Nov. 14, 2017

phiphi's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Your options are limited, fractured bones are painful and if they are left to heal on their own they may cause more problems down the line; amputation is a treatment of choice in cases where an owner doesn’t have the funds to pay for orthopaedic surgery. I would try to reach out to a charity clinic or other non-profit in your area which may be able to do the surgery for a lower price or for a token donation. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.aaha.org/pet_owner/lifestyle/cant-afford-critical-veterinary-care-many-nonprofits-can-help!.aspx

Nov. 15, 2017

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Blitz

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Border Terrier

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10 Years

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Sarcoma

My 10 year-old border terrier has had Level III Sarcomas removed from the same hind leg three times in 3 years. Lymph node biopsy and chest xray show it has NOT spread. The sarcoma will return on his leg and I was told removal may not be possible due to lack of tissue to close the wound. I'm considering chemo. and radiation, but there is very little research to prove this treatment works and to do both would cost about $8000. I can't imagine amputating his leg, but that's what I may have to do. I'm looking for support from other dog moms whose furry babies have had an amputation due to cancer.

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Betty

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Rottweiler

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7 Years

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Limping

My 7 year old rott mix might have osteosarcoma. If she does, amputation may save her life. I'm concerned about what the quality of her life will be if we do this to her. Will it be for her, or for us? Anyone have experience with this?

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Andrey

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Mixed

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8 Years

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Mild severity

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Red Ring Around Genitals

Hello,my Wonderful Andrey has had his leg amputated due to cancer. He is taking all his medication for infections. But he has developed redness around the tip of his penis. And his other male privates have also developed redness. Anyone know what's going on?

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