Hearing that your dog or cat needs a limb amputated seems frightening at first. How can pets cope with spending the rest of their days on three legs? Yet animals adjust surprisingly quickly to what veterinarians call “the tripod life” after limb amputations. You can prepare your home to make them more comfortable and help them stay mobile. In this article you also will find online resources to improve their lives.

Why Does My Pet Need an Amputation?

Most dogs and cats undergo limb amputations because of tumors that cause pain and lameness. Or because of tumors that cannot be removed in a way that leaves clean, tumor-free margins.

Veterinarians commonly amputate a damaged or diseased limb where that limb meets the body. They do this so that any remaining portion of the leg does not become a problem, causing pressure sores or impairment of mobility. 

What Happens Right After Surgery?

Most pets stay one to three nights in the hospital on IV pain medications and undergo physical therapy with veterinary medical staff. Pets who were limping significantly before surgery will likely have an easier recovery, because they’ve already begun adapting to a tripod stance. They then go home on oral pain medications, and the incision typically takes 10 to 14 days to heal.

Bruising and swelling from limb amputations typically resolve themselves within the first two weeks. A “Surgi-sox” or other compressive shirt can help minimize swelling and formation of seroma, the buildup of inflammatory fluid under the skin. Ideally, pets should be confined to a crate or isolated in one room when you can’t supervise them. We do this so they won’s slip or injure themselves as they begin to re-navigate their home environment on three legs.

How Can I Assist in My Pet’s Mobility After Surgery?

A wide variety of harnesses and slings can help. The ideal device depends on which limb has been amputated and how ambulatory your pet is after surgery. Many pets benefit from a “Help ‘em Up” harness with handles, which make it easy for owners to hold onto and guide a pet.

You’ll want to place non-slip rugs or yoga mats on slick surfaces in high traffic areas of the home. Most animals can handle stairs with assistance. If your pet has orthopedic issues in other limbs, ordering ramps ahead of time makes transport and access in and out of the house much easier. Owners who feel confused by these new circumstances can find help at online sites such as Tripawds.com.

You’ll definitely need to keep your pet at a lean body weight. If you do, canine and feline amputees can be highly functional and enjoy excellent quality of life.

How Long Do Dogs and Cats Take to Recover From Limb Amputations?

Many pets who exhibited lameness in the affected leg had stopped putting weight on that limb before surgery. Because of the pain most pets quietly experience from that limb, a fair number are more comfortable and mobile immediately after surgery than before. Age doesn’t necessarily affect recovery. However, age-related arthritis can develop in other joints more rapidly, as pets place more weight on the remaining limbs.

Most dogs and cats will be up and moving on three legs within hours of surgery, or almost always within a day. Large breeds, overweight pets, or those with significant arthritis in the remaining limbs may face slower recovery times. That’s also true for pets who used the affected leg well prior to surgery and had not accommodated themselves to a tripod stance.

Forelimb amputations in dogs always takes more coordination and time to accommodate, because dogs place 70 percent of their weight on forelimbs and 30 percent on hindlimbs. Psychological parameters don’t seem to play a role; patients’ mobility and mental states seem most affected by physical comfort and being at home in their environmental comfort zones.

Think of CARE as the animal version of a medical center for humans. It provides all forms of treatment for pets through emergency care 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, and it offers board-certified specialty care after a referral from your primary veterinarian. See a visual tour of the practice at carecharlotte.com/tour.

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