It can be a heart-breaking decision if your veterinary surgeon tells you that the only way to save your dog’s life will be amputation, if the limb is either diseased or drastically injured. It will only be considered if that is the last available treatment to keep them alive – no vet wants to remove a limb.
Dogs with one limb removed can still lead a good life and have remarkable recovery powers – better than humans. Most dogs cope easily with only three limbs, but advancement in surgery, replacement limbs and other amazing veterinary achievements does mean that you have options. Unfortunately, these options don’t come cheap – but what price do you put on your pet being able to live a full and active life?
Much of the amazing ‘bionic’ surgery advancements have been brought to light by surgeons such as Noel Fitzpatrick now known as ‘The Supervet’ on TV, who has dedicated his career to such pioneering treatments. From replacement joints to full prosthetic limbs, such surgery can have astounding results, but you must be aware that deep consideration must be exercised and thoroughly talked through with your vet. It is not a process to be decided upon quickly until you have the full facts and the viability.
Can you care for your three-legged dog? It’s not just about their ability to cope with a missing limb, but you will also have the emotional strain. Will he or she be better off with prosthetics and how confident is the surgeon that your pet will benefit and have a much more improved life?
Mobility can be an issue, depending on the breed of your dog and its size and weight. It will depend totally on how your dog adapts to life without one of his limbs. In the early stage of amputation, you will need to regard your pet as ‘handicapped’ and make sure that suitable ramps to enable him to enter and exit your house, get in bed, or any other situations where there may be an incline. It may be difficult in the early stages for your pet to get into your car or other vehicle, jump on the bed and all those other naughty things they enjoy!
Keeping the remaining limbs performing at optimum level should also be considered, as should the paws and pads be kept clean and in good condition. Load bearing will obviously increase with a missing limb.
Many dogs do take to the loss of a limb, but others may suffer depression as well as physical difficulty, so watch out for changes in your dog’s demeanour.
In the sad case of your dog having an amputation, the first and most important situation is to ensure that the wound heals healthily, which will take up to around 6 weeks. The soft tissues around where the amputation took place must be 100% healed and your pet is showing no signs of discomfort.
Sometimes experienced vets will be able to take the necessary measurements, but certainly CAT scans will be necessary, as well as other imaging procedures. However, your vet may refer you to an orthopaedic veterinarian, who is geared for this instance – these professionals who deal with this daily will sometimes also use 3D imaging. Whichever way, accurate measurements and comfortable, secure fitting will get your dog up and mobile within a few weeks, once a mould has been made that is exactly right.
In the first 6-8 weeks, you will need to visit your vet or orthopaedic surgeon several times to ensure that everything is in order and that your dog is comfortable. They will recommend that in the first few weeks, the prosthetic is only fitted for a couple of hours, and then wear can be gradually built up so that your dog can have four legs during his waking time.
Do what you would normally do for your dog – care for him, watch out for any signs of damage to the wound, keep vigilant about cleanliness and just give him more fuss than usual.
In the case of prosthetics, there will be a period of rehabilitation, and normally physiotherapy will be recommended to speed up the recovery period. Swimming in a hydro pool is a great way to a speedy recovery and for your dog to enjoy himself.
Even when the specialists are happy, it is good to have check-ups for your dog to ensure his health is progressing and to ease your own mind.
One of the main things to watch for is diet. You need to ensure that your dog does not put on weight, as this will exacerbate any joint problems. A controlled, vet recommended diet will keep your pet as healthy as possible. Many people who own dogs with a prosthetic limb recommend raising their food and water bowls to ease any excess strain on the spine. As mentioned before, any potential difficulties around the home should also be considered, but dogs are so intrepid, they usually manage to overcome these problems.
You will know by his movement, which becomes much easier over time. All dogs are different and respond to therapy at different stages. Never panic, as it can take several months before he is completely used to it.
Simply by veterinary checks, which are necessary, the specialist will be able to tell you if any adjustments to the prosthetic need to be made.
Your beloved pet should not need to have a prosthetic replaced. However, if your dog is young and still in a growth period, adjustments will need to be made, but not a whole new prosthetic.
It depends whether it’s partial or full limb prosthetic, but you would probably be looking at around £600 (partial) to up to £5,000, depending on what needs to be made for the size of your dog. Remember on top of this you will have other vet charges and physio/rehabilitation charges.
It is worth checking your pet insurance as well. Some large pet insurance companies provide something towards the cost of prosthetics. You may also need to check your home/car insurance, and maybe add a proviso that covers the loss or damage to the prosthetic.
As we say, dogs are far more resilient and determined to ‘get back on their feet’. Take the story of Nakio, who lost all four legs to frostbite and now has all of them replaced with prosthetics! He is so popular, he even has his own Facebook page.
Never despair, your dog has enough guts and grit to withstand almost anything.