Tripods: Does it hurt you more than it hurts them?

ask a vet a question, online vet advice, sick dog symptoms, canine bone cancerIt could happen to you and your furbaby. It could be an unfortunate collision with a car, or it could be a nasty bone tumor that has a better chance of cure if removed.

The thought of their dog losing a leg is devastating to pet owners everywhere. The need to amputate a limb could be the result of numerous things. I hope it never happens to you or your fur child, but if it does, take the time to pause and repeat after me:

“This isn’t as bad as it seems.”

While pet owners are crushed and in tears over the news that their beloved pet needs to have a limb removed, veterinarians are almost relieved  because we have likely been presented with a pet in a dire situation, such as cancer, and can actually offer owners and that pet a cure! Oftentimes, we don’t have that luxury, so when we have a problem we can fix, it’s a wonderful feeling!

A chance to cut is a chance to cure.

Don’t give up on your pet.  A dog will always be a dog, which is their beauty.

While it is obviously not ideal or what anyone–vet, pet owners or pet–limb amputation may bring surprising joy and happiness back to your and your pet’s life.

The trouble? Convincing pet owners their dog or cat can live a wonderfully satisfying life sans one limb.

It should go without saying, but I believe still lurks in the pet owner’s mind, that dogs don’t stare at three-legged dogs, and they aren’t treated any differently at doggy day care. Dogs don’t recognize disabilities, and they don’t feel sorry for themselves if they are down one leg.

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Also, remember, for a human to lose a limb, we are losing half of our means to be mobile. Dogs are blessed with four, so losing 1/4 is not as life-altering.

The surgery itself is relatively straight-forward, but I think it is coming to see their pets in the hospital after the surgery that is so hard for pet owners. They cry and break down, so saddened to see Fido without all limbs.

Of course it is natural for pet owners to experience these emotions. I do not intend to make light of them in the least, but only want to tell more owners that the story usually has a happy ending.

Given a month to six weeks of recovery time, chances are VERY good your pet will be frolicking, chasing, and jumping just as before, and have a much better shot at a long and happy life without the diseased limb.

All too often, pet owners are so upset upon hearing that amputation is needed that they are worried their pet will suffer embarrassment or immobility and their minds are made up to euthanize.  Sadly, they think this is the kind option.  Don’t take my word for it?  Get a second vet opinion!  Ask a vet and you will hear the same happy endings time and again.

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If we could only learn to move forward and work with what we have like dogs do. There is much we have to learn from our pets.

Tell me, what do you think about removing a dog’s leg to save a life?  Do you think you would do it?

Dr. Laci


Dr. Laci Nash Schaible, DVM

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January 14, 2011 at 09:17

Do I think i would do it, in a heart beat. Dogs also don’t spend much time deciding what they should do with the extra shoe they now have.

I can sympathize with the owners and the decision they need to make. Having pulled 4 dogs with 3 legs from shelters for the rescue program I volunteered with, you are totally correct, dogs and cats for that matter, don’t have any concept of missing one leg.

Once healed and if you tell a dog he/she only has 3 legs, the dog will just look at you and think “so what’s your point” as he/she runs off and resumes their regular life.

January 14, 2011 at 12:05

Exactly George!

Wow, you have worked with four tripod canines? That is incredible! Thanks for reading.

January 14, 2011 at 13:52

We had a cat at our shelter recently who was born with only three usable legs. She got around fine, but preferred to curl up in your lap and have you bring food to her. We were never sure if she was trying to avoid walking or just spoiled.

She’s getting along great in her new home.

January 14, 2011 at 15:58

Glad to hear someone gave her a chance and that she is doing well.

Sounds like you are doing great things at your shelter.

January 14, 2011 at 16:19

I think as a theory, yes, it makes sense to amputate to save life. I have seen enough three legged dogs who looked like they didn’t even notice the leg missing. I have even seen dogs with two legs only who seemed able to enjoy their lives just fine.

In practice? I think that might depend on overall health of the dog. Jasmine seems to be having enough problems with all four legs. How would her body respond to one missing? I would have to do a lot of hard thinking whether saving life would also preserve life quality.

January 14, 2011 at 16:25

Jana, you make a valid point about Jasmine’s trouble with her limbs.

Amputation is an option for osteosarcoma. When we diagnosed Madison, I immediately thought of this. There is a simple “test” you can do to gently wrap up their limb that would be removed and see how they do on their others. Madi got so sore (arthritis) from this, amputating was not an option for her. Meaning to write about that in a blog…perhaps next week.

January 14, 2011 at 19:34

Great article!! There’s a 2-legged Greyhound who still gets around with out a problem( ) and I’ve got a 3 legged rabbit and ALMOST have to have a 3 legged dog last year. I do agree that it all depends on the individual case…and the owner to an extent as well.

January 14, 2011 at 21:48

I’m considering adoption of a three-legged dog. Are there any practical considerations to consider?

January 16, 2011 at 14:55

Hi Nancy,

Three-legged dogs are incredibly effective at getting around! The only real thing to consider is they may need assistance getting in/out of high vehicles, just as to avoid extra stress on their other limbs. There are plenty of dog ramps available for this. It would be less of a problem if it is the back leg that is missing versus the front.

It is wonderful that you are considering adopting! Yay!

January 22, 2011 at 03:01

I have a 12 year old rescue cat who has been with me for 2 years. He has always had a ‘gammy leg’ which we were told was the result of an accident some time in the past, which means he is on the max dose of Metacam for arthritis. Since the recent cold weather he has been really struggling with it. The vet has x-rayed and now says it’s amputation or euthanasia – on Monday.
Because of his age and the fact that he has always been a slightly chunky lad, I am worried that he will not adapt well. Do you have any advice? How well do older cats cope?

January 24, 2011 at 14:11

Michelle, I’d be careful with the metacam. It is no longer recommended for cats because of really bad side effects. I would pull him off it as quickly as possible!

Older animals can do really well. It all depends on how his other joints are though. Best of luck to you and him. Thanks for commenting.

January 27, 2011 at 11:00

Animals do amazingly well adjusting to different situations. Don’t forget there are also wheelchairs and mobility devices that can help those who are unable to power themselves with their remaining limbs.

Laci – I think you are so on the money when you say we would do well to learn from how our animals adapt. What looks to us like a tragedy may only be a blip on their screen and they may still have much joyful time remaining.

- Heather
Founder and Team Leader
New England Pet Hospice

January 27, 2011 at 14:51

We really do have endless life lessons we can learn from them!

February 1, 2011 at 12:09

If it meant more time with my beloved furry one, then yes I’d do it in a heartbeat. As long, of course, that they had no other physical problems that would make it to hard on them to get around.

February 3, 2011 at 16:59

Hi Debbie, So glad to hear that! Thanks for commenting!

March 8, 2011 at 18:02

Hi everyone! Mama Mia, the three legged cat I mentioned in an earlier comment, is a finalist in Iams’ Home 4 the Holidays Animal Adoption Story essay contest. It would be great it everyone could head to and read her story, as well as those of the other three finalists, and cast your vote. But, you know, if you would vote for her we’d REALLY appreciate it! :)

April 27, 2011 at 13:56

Me and my fiancee have an adoption pending on a retired greyhound missing her right back leg! She is the SWEETEST dog, and 3 days after her surgery, she was up and walking around like nothing had happened. My fiancee is in the air force, and he also helps injured veterans, and he uses Wiggle’s (my dog’s name) story to help them realize that a disability shouldn’t stop your life! I love that dog, she’s made my life completly different!!

May 4, 2011 at 16:22

Wow, that is powerful. I bet not only has she changed your life, I bet she has changed many many veterans life. That is absolutely incredible! Applauds to you and your fiancee for thinking outside the box with such a noble cause.

May 26, 2011 at 13:53

I am strongly debating adopting a 3 legged Basenji mix from the Humane society, however I am concerned about possible future health issues. Maybe back or joint problems? I’m just not really sure what to expect. Also, how would she do on trail runs or long hikes?

November 9, 2011 at 03:08

An attention-grabbing dialogue is value comment. I’m sure that its greater to write on this subject, towards the often be a taboo topic but typically persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To an additional location. Cheers

November 14, 2011 at 22:27

My German Shepherd, 9 m/o, broke his femur, and after $1000 surgery, he is in need of more surgery that also may not hold. We are facing either putting him down or amputation because of money running out. After this article, I realize my concerns are normal. I am going to send this article to my husband and hopefully he will be comforted with the idea of a three legged dog. Thanks for taking the time to write this. We will just have to change his name from “GT”, because he was fast like a Mustang GT, to just “T,” for tripod!

February 16, 2012 at 16:57

My 1.4yr old Boxer Ali just went thru amputation on her right front leg yesterday. Our Vet told us that her tumor was the size of a naval orange and a 45min procedure became a 2hr surgery. He did had to remove some tissue from the scapula so Ali will more than likely stay at the hospital till Saturday. We know we made the right decision by amputating her leg and looking forward to whatever time God gives us with our beautiful boxer. We did not do a bone biopsy before the surgery because we could not afford both so we skipped the biopsy. Vet told us they can send her leg for biopsy to identify the tumor. Since she is staying at the hospital 3 more days our quote for amputation is getting higher. We do not have much money left, vet told us we do not need to do a leg biopsy and save $114.00 my question is does a leg biopsy still need to be done if everything lead to cancer? We are stuck on a decision on getting the leg biopsy or saving some money.

May 16, 2012 at 12:55

CallieAs no one has answered I thguoht I might try to help. I dont live anywhere near Rochester New York but I do know how to find a good vet. Get the phone book and look at accredited clinics in your area. Generally, larger clinics have better facilities than smaller ones (though not always true) just because it is much harder to make a larger clinic make money cf with a small one. Call the clinics you like the look of and ask to speak to someone about desexing. Generally, every clinic should know lots about desexing it is a common procedure. With each clinic ask for more information regarding age of pet at desexing, the use of preanaesthetic blood testing, intravenous fluid therapy, catheters, internal vs external sutures (stitches), insurance, pain relief. You will get a good feel for the clinic this way. Do they know what they are talking about. Clinics that do not offer any of these things or will give only do them if you ask are still in the dark ages. Those who offer all these things are Gold Standard’ but will be expensive. Depending on what you want you might take the middle ground. Ask who they refer their hard cases to. Ring the referral clinic and find out what they think of your proposed clinic. Ask your new neighbours and friends where they go.Hope this helps a little.

March 13, 2012 at 03:54

I almost never leave responses, but i did some searching and wound up here Online Vet Talks about 3-legged dogs and cats | Ask a vet | VetLIVE. And I do have 2 questions for you if you do not mind. Could it be simply me or does it look as if like some of the remarks come across like coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are writing on additional online social sites, I’d like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Could you list of all of all your communal sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

May 18, 2012 at 01:15

Honestly, the best thing you can do for them is to get a credit card just for pet emeiegncres, start a savings account for pet emeiegncres or get care credit. Pet Insurance unfortunately usually costs people more than it saves. The problem with most pet insurance companies is that they are not going to cover anything they consider a pre-existing condition’ or anything they consider hereditary’. While your dog maybe healthy now, the things they consider pre-existing conditions are any illness or disease that is common in your breed of dogs, even if it’s a mutt. Every dog has certain conditions that are common to that bread. Like Cocker Spaniels are prone to Hypothyroidism, patellar luxation, skin problems and urinary tract problems. If you had a Cocker Spaniel and got him insurance, even if he’s perfectly healthy now your insurance wouldn’t cover any of those things because they consider them pre-existing’ due to breed type. The unfortunately fact is, every breed has these conditions that are common to that breed. The reason it’s so important that insurance covers these is because your dog is much more likely to come down with one of these illnesses if it’s in his breed history than anything else. That is also why insurance companies wont cover them because it would cost them too much money.Even if you have a mutt from a shelter you can’t escape this because the vet has to put down a breed type on their paper work. Even if it’s a mutt, they’ll look at the dog and try to guess. The pet insurance companies will also insist on you giving them a breed on their paper work as well, you can’t just put down mutt’ or mix’. So when you are looking at the paper work for insurance companies, really REALLY read the fine print hard and inquire what that company considers pre-existing conditions’ and what sort of things they don’t cover. Look up the sort of illnesses your breed (or what you think it might be if you have a mix) so you can tell/ask if they cover those things or not. A lot of insurance companies wont cover accidents either. If they feel it was due to owner negligence you will be out of luck. Like if you were at the park with your dog playing fetch and it got hit by a car they’ll consider it your fault due to not having the dog on a leash. Or if they find your fence was damaged and not fixed well enough and your dog got out they’ll consider it your fault. So again, read the fine print REALLY well. It’s hard to recommend a company to you because the companies vary so much on what they cover. You need to look at what sort of dog you have, it’s age and what you want that insurance to cover then really really do your homework on them as far as what they will and wont cover and how much you want to pay deductible wise, co-pay wise etc. There is nothing worse than having an accident or illness with your pet and thinking you are covered when you aren’t. That’s why I say it’s much better to get a credit card, care credit, or start a savings account. There will be no surprises during a time of need with those. Good luck and I wish the best to you and your pets! Was this answer helpful?

March 30, 2012 at 15:16

If you use a petsitter, I always recommend having a “back-up” boarding facility your pet sitter can use if s/he has their own unexpected emergency. Pet sitters can need emergency surgery, get in a car wreck, or have a family member pass away while pet sitting…just like any of the rest of us. And while you may love your pet sitter, you may not love or trust all of their friends or family who may be asked or volunteer to step in. As an owner of a pet resort, we have a number of clients where we are “back-up” for their pet sitter. If an emergency comes up, we will accept their pets without question, or even go pick them up at the house. The only way we are able to do this is because all paperwork, vaccines and preferences have been completed in advance by the owner at our facility. The petsitter and neighbors are informed that they can bring the pets to our facility at any time, and we’ll know what to do until the owner gets home.

April 19, 2012 at 00:53

I just adopted a three legged chiuauha three weeks ago! She is our first dog and we couldn’t love her more. We can barely keep up with her! She doesn’t even realize her leg is gone some times we catch her trying to scratch with her missing leg and the look in her face is hilarious like why the heck isn’t my itch going away!? Anyone who is wondering if it isn’t a good idea to amputate take it from me our dog Frida is an amazing pup I love her and her three legs!

July 27, 2012 at 08:06

I think the very best food for dogs with allergies is California Natural it has the most limeitd ingredient list of ANY dry food. Another option would be one of the allergy formulas put out by Natural Balance. Taste of the Wild makes some formulas with unique proteins (bison, duck), but California Natural has the least ingredients, meaning less likely to contain an allergen. All of the dogs can eat any of these foods.

Zeynep Ann
August 8, 2012 at 08:30

Hello I recently rescued a kitten from the side of the street in Turkey where I live it’s approximately 6 days old I believe since it just opened it’s eyes and the ears are still folded. I believe it was deserted by it’s mother a street cat because it only has three legs. It’s tiny and have been feeding it cats milk and keeping it warm. However the scab on the stub keeps coming off when it wiggles all over the place. Have been putting an ointment but if there is anything else I could do please let me know. Took it to the Vet here but said they’d be surprised if it lives. It’s been there days and it’s getting stronger.