Three Legged Dog: Amputee Dog Care

three legged dog

The idea of caring for a three legged dog can be very worrying. Whether you are thinking about adopting a 3 legged dog or your own dog is unfortunately losing a leg, you will have a lot of questions. This article aims to put your mind at rest about any questions or thoughts about three legged dogs and help you understand their outlook, which is usually a very positive one.

Dog Leg Amputation Recovery

This is probably the biggest question on your mind right now: How well do dogs recover from such a drastic procedure? Will they ever get back to their usual bouncy selves? The answer in most cases is yes.

A study in 1999 incorporated the behavior of 44 Dutch people who owned a three legged dog. Thirty-three out of those 44 owners were pleasantly surprised with how quickly their dog adapted to walking on three legs, with most dogs taking a month to fully adapt to the change. Some dogs were up and about in just a week. However, 14 dogs were shown to exhibit behavioral changes, such as aggression or anxiety, toward other dogs. As it is such a huge change for the dog, this isn’t too surprising.

If such traits are present in your three legged dog, and they do not fade with time after the procedure, socialization training may be a viable option to improve their temperament with other dogs.

Dog Leg Amputation Complications and Lingering Effects

As with any surgical procedure, there is a chance for possible complications. While they are rare, it’s important to be aware of what to possibly look out for with your three legged dog, especially if they have gone through the procedure very recently. Bruising around the incision several days after the procedure is common and is usually not a reason to worry.

Seroma formation is a common complication after surgery. This is caused by fluid filling dead space within the tissue near the site of the incision. It causes swelling around the area, and it can potentially become dangerous if it becomes too large. In such cases, the excess fluid may need to be drained by your veterinarian.

Any swelling around the incision site should be checked out by your vet, even if is mild. It may be a seroma or possibly even an infection, which would require an immediate response.

Phantom pain

Phantom pain is a common issue seen in the recovery period of three legged dogs. This is where the dog may feel pain from where the limb once was, described as a sudden, transient pain. However, the outlook for this lingering issue is generally good.

According to a study in 2017, in the majority of cases within the study, the dogs only experienced phantom pain during the post-surgery recovery period. It’s very important to follow your vet’s advice on caring for your dog during the weeks after surgery. Keeping your dog rested and unable to lick or chew the incision site can promote good healing and reduce the risk of complications.

Prosthetic Leg for Dog

You may have heard or seen dogs who have a prosthetic limb leading happy and healthy lives. If your dog is unfortunately awaiting an amputation, you may be wondering if a prosthetic limb may be a good option.

Sadly, the viability of having a prosthetic limb varies on a case-by-case basis. Talk to your vet about whether a prosthetic limb could be a good choice for your pet. They can also be very expensive. On top of current vet bills, it may be a budgetary concern for many pet owners. Replacements may be required throughout the dog’s life, causing even more financial issues. Therefore, it is recommended to be sure you have the finances available and the time to put in the daily care necessary before deciding on the prosthetic option, if available.

three legged dog

Living with a Three Legged Dog

Having to care for a three legged dog may seem intimidating at first. However, you may be underestimating just how adaptable our canine friends are. Most dogs return to a high amount of activity for their age. However, they will still need special care.

As there is a limb missing, there is more weight pressing down on the remaining legs of the dog when they are standing. This can possibly increase the chances of having joint problems such as arthritis. Therefore, it is important to lessen the strain by keeping your dog at a healthy weight. Be sure to keep them on a strict diet to prevent obesity and keep them exercising.

Many owners of three legged dogs sometimes forget they are missing a limb at all because they are still incredibly active, happy dogs. But it pays to be cautious to prevent any potential accidents. Minimizing any slippery flooring in your home can help prevent your three legged dog from having any falls. They are not as balanced as they once were, so this can prevent any further injuries.

Adapting your home and his behavior

Disallowing your three legged dog from jumping on and off furniture can also help lessen wear and tear on the joints of their remaining limbs. If your dog has favorite furniture it likes to lie about on like a bed, it can help to have ramps or steps nearby to make it easier for them to get on and off. Stairs should be avoided if possible. Stair gates can help with this. They may not struggle to get up the stairs, but going down can be a lot more dangerous.

To make things easier, you can also put the dog’s food and water bowls at a higher level so they do not have to bend down so much to eat. All these small changes can really help your three legged dog get around and prevent anymore strain to their remaining limbs.

It’s also important to not overreact to everything your dog does. Just let your dog be a dog. They may only have three legs, but they would still love to exercise, play and explore. Don’t be afraid to take them out on adventures.

Three Legged Dogs Still Make Great Characters

With some extra care, three legged dogs can lead the same sort of fulfilling lives as their four legged counterparts. Whether you are adopting or having your current dog going through surgery, remember that many dogs who go through this particularly stressful time adapt and lead happy, normal lives. Just be sure that you can put in the time to care for them a little more. Make sure your home is a safe, easy to navigate place for them to live.

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References and Further Reading:

American College of Veterinary Surgeons

Kirpensteijn, J., van den Bos, R., and Endenburg, N., 1999, “Adaptation of Dogs to the Amputation of a Limb and Their Owners’ Satisfaction with the Procedure,” Veterinary Record, Vol. 144, pgs. 115-118

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

Menchetti, M., et al., 2017, “Approaching Phantom Complex After Limb Amputation in the Canine Species,” Journal of Veterinary Behavior

Seromas: Cause and Management,” Data Sciences International

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website