It can be extremely shocking and overwhelming to learn that your pet’s limb has to be amputated. At Northside Veterinary Hospital, we understand your concerns and compassionately provide all the support you and your pet need from start to finish. Our veterinarian surgeons have efficiently performed hundreds of amputations every year. You do not have to worry about your dog or cat because they cope exceptionally well after amputations; in fact, they do not suffer the same psychological trauma as us humans. They can live extremely well after the loss of a limb.

What Is an Amputation?

Amputation is the surgical removal of a limb that is diseased beyond salvage. Common parts amputated in dogs include the toe (s), tail, or limbs, including the tail docking of a newborn puppy. Amputation is done to stop an infection or disease like cancer from spreading to other body parts, to alleviate chronic pain, remove tumors that cause lameness, for wounds that do not heal due to poor blood circulation or severe arthritis, and remove extensive bone trauma. Additionally, pets born with congenital disabilities may benefit from an amputation since the abnormal part may cause more trouble when present. It is best done when the pet is young to allow it to adjust to its three-legged life as part of its everyday life.
Forelimb amputations involve the removal of the entire limb, leaving an incision line on the chest’s side, while hind limb amputations remove the limb at the hip joint or thigh bone. Some amputations may be modified to fit into a prosthetic limb for situations where your pet cannot tolerate walking on three legs. After amputation, the pet feels relieved from the pain they are enduring, and it improves their quality of life.

Before Amputation

Your vet will evaluate your pet to identify whether other factors might affect the surgery or influence their speedy recovery. Medical conditions such as orthopedic or neurological problems may limit mobility or slow healing.

Giant breed dogs can also be amputated, despite the common misconception that they cannot. With proper rehabilitation and postoperative care, they can have excellent outcomes. Additionally, it would be best if obese pets lost weight, if possible, before surgery. Pets with other mobility issues might require post-operative rehabilitation.

Your vet or surgeon may recommend additional diagnostic tests before an amputation depending on your pet’s age, amputation reason, and overall health. Such tests may include blood work, serum biochemical tests, urinalysis, and X-rays of the affected limb and the other side to ensure that it can support the body’s extra weight. Abdominal and chest films also ensure no sign of cancer in the body. Amputations are done as the last resort when other treatment options are not working.

Day of Surgery

Since amputations are major surgeries, they are performed under general anesthesia for complete unconsciousness. The limb is amputated as close as possible to the body to avoid subjecting the remaining portion of the limb to repeated trauma. This also helps prevent hindrances or interferences with movement. After amputation, pets try to use a stump to balance or get up, which may create pressure sores, balance problems, and injuries. Once the anesthetic and surgery discomfort wears off, most pets transit remarkably well since they no longer feel the pain from the diseased limb.

Amputation Recovery

After surgery, pain medications are given to take during home recovery. Generally, recovery takes about two weeks until the affected area is healed. You will be given discharge instructions on how to care for your pet. Following your vet’s post-operative care instructions is crucial for proper healing. Mobility issues or complications may lengthen the recovery period.

Care should be given to the pet; cleaning the surgery site and keeping it dry is essential in avoiding infections. Please keep your pet comfortable by providing warmth and beddings and ensure it lies down amputated side up. If the incision site is soiled by blood, gently clean it with a soft cloth and warm water. If there is a need for concern, contact your vet, especially if there is redness, bleeding, swelling, pus, wound opening, or bruising. If your pet was amputated due to cancer, chemotherapy or radiotherapy might be required. Consult your vet about further cancer treatments.

Ensure your pet does not swim or bathe until the sutures are removed, which can take 10 to 14 days after surgery. Your pet will be made to wear a cone to prevent it from licking, itching, or licking the surgery site. A sling under the belly is also recommended for 7 to 10 days a few times when the dog has to go to the bathroom and avoid slippery floors. Your dog should have a regular bowel movement after five days. Urination should take place within 24 hours; if not, consult with your vet. Sutures require constant monitoring until they are removed after up to 14 days.
If your pet seems anxious, constantly whines, and behaves unusually, it may be experiencing pain or discomfort, and it would be best if you consult your vet about it. Recovery from hind limb amputation is faster than the front forelimbs because more weight is carried in the forelimbs. Postoperative pain management is necessary during healing.

Pain control measures may include the following:

  • Preoperative analgesia administration
  • Preoperative anti-inflammatory administration
  • Postoperative injectables and oral pain killers
  • Transdermal analgesic patch

When taking your pet outside for short breaks, use a sling for safety purposes and let it rest in a safe location, avoiding slippery floors and stairs. Avoid vigorous activities during the recovery time and only stick to short walks as instructed by your vet. Monitor your pet’s appetite and attitude changes to see if there is an improvement. Give your pet a balanced diet and plenty of fluids but ensure it maintains a healthy weight since weight gain makes it challenging to cope with three limbs. Do not ignore or forget to take your dog for a progress examination and evaluation by the vet. Future injuries to the other limbs may make recovery difficult, but most pets are resilient and strong-willed.

Your pet needs time to adjust to walking on three limbs. Rest is required to regain strength and coordinate the new weight distribution, and physical therapy is vital in recovery. Long-term quality of life is excellent after an amputation; your pet can run, jump or swim easily after fully healing. Once your pet is fully recovered, it can return to its normal lifestyle and live a healthy life.

At Northside Veterinary Services, we understand amputations can be a scary time for you and your pet. We are here for you and your pet every step of the way. Contact us today for more information about amputations or to schedule an appointment. We are glad to help.