How Easily Do Dogs Adjust to Having an Amputation?

Has your dog been injured in an accident that requires the vet to amputate one of his legs? Or does he have a medical condition such as osteosarcoma that has reached the point where the affected limb needs to be amputated to save your dog's life? How will your dog adjust to having a leg amputated? These are all issues dog owners across the nation deal with on a daily basis. With so many different truths and myths, the idea of your four-legged companion losing his leg can be very scary.

There Are Times When Amputation Is the Only Answer

There are times when your vet may have no choice but to amputate one of your dog's legs. This can be the result of a traumatic injury that has left the leg so badly damaged it cannot be saved. While this type of amputation happens frequently, it is not the most common.

Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) is the most common reasons vets end up having to amputate a limb. Although this disease typically affects older dogs, it can also occur in younger dogs. The disease may start in your dog's wrist (carpus), shoulder (proximal humerus), and the knee joints. Once this happens, the vet may recommend amputation to stop the spread of the diseases and to give your dog a chance at a much longer life.

Are All Dogs Eligible for Amputation?

There are myths going around that big dogs are not good candidates for amputation due to their size. The truth is that all dogs are perfectly capable of surviving an amputation, providing the vet says they are healthy enough. A dog's ability to survive an amputation is based on his health and any accompanying condition, not just his breed or size.

Some will tell you that older dogs cannot adapt to walking on three legs. Again, this is not the case as dogs are far more resourceful than we give them credit for. In fact, dogs have a much faster recovery rate from this type of surgery than humans.

Others will tell you that your dog will never be the same following the amputation of a limb. In many ways this is true: he won't look the same and the pain pills may make him drowsy for a few weeks. But beyond this, he will soon return to being his same old self. You may even find that he is a lot happier if the limb in question was causing him any pain before being amputated.

After the Amputation

Once you bring your pup home from the surgery, it will take him a few days to recover and you may have to help stabilize him until he his steady on his feet. Most will figure it out within a couple of days, but don't be surprised if it takes up to two weeks. Older dogs are more likely to take longer than younger ones. Once he has recovered and adjusted to walking on three legs, he should be up to his old tricks and be able to run once his incisions have healed. 

Things You Can Do to Help

  • Keep his weight under control to reduce stress on the three remaining limbs
  • Give him a nice soft bed to lie on 
  • Keep his toenails trimmed as this will help make it easier for him to get traction 
  • Try to keep him off slippery surfaces 
  • Give him plenty of regular exercise 
  • Put his food and water bowls on a raised platform
  • Get out there and have fun together! 

Last Thoughts

In most cases, you as your pup's best friend are far more stressed about the amputation than your dog will ever be. As humans, we don't like the idea of the vet having no choice but to amputate a limb. This is only natural as we don’t want to see our furry friend suffering. But the reality is that your dog will be just fine and in a very short period of time will getting about on three legs just as well as he did on four. If you have any questions about amputation, pre-care, aftercare, or helping your dog to adapt, be sure to talk to your vet.

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