What to Expect After Your Dog Has a Front Leg Amputated
Learning that your dog needs to have a leg amputated is very scary. The good news is that dogs, even senior dogs, adapt to having three legs quite quickly. They find their new center of balance and can run and play just like four-legged dogs. Additionally, some dogs are more mobile after their surgery. For example, a dog with a bone tumor in her leg may limp and experience pain; you may not allow her to run or jump so that there is less risk of the bone breaking. But, after the amputation and healing period, she can go back to running and jumping and playing.
Before the Surgery
Before the surgery, the vet will provide information on what you need to do to prepare. Talk to your vet about whether or not you should give your dog medication. You should also ask when your dog must stop eating and drinking.
Picking Up Your Dog After Surgery
Here's a list of things you'll need to consider:
- When you pick up your dog from the vet, be prepared to see a scared, confused dog. Be as happy and as normal as you can be when you greet your dog.
- When you pick up your dog from the vet, will your dog be able to easily get into your car or SUV? If your dog is big and has trouble, will you be able to pick her up? It is much easier if you bring someone with you. The other person can help maneuver the dog into the car and can also sit in the back with your dog to comfort and steady her. It may be difficult for your dog to steady herself as you take turns or stop and go with traffic.
- Bring a towel or sheet. You can put a large towel under the dog and hold both ends of the towel up (like a giant sling) in order to help your dog walk from the vet to the car.
- When you arrive home, it may be difficult to get a large dog out of the car. Be careful when picking your dog up.
- Try to park as close to your house as you can. On the way to the door, it's best to make a pit stop for your dog to relieve herself if necessary, too. Get it out of the way now, while you're already outside.
The rest of the day is probably going to be the hardest day for you and your dog. A dog with a front leg amputation will not only have trouble standing and sitting, but also in the down position. When in the down position, a dog uses its elbows to hold its head up. With only one elbow remaining, the dog will need to figure out a new center of balance. The elbow may slide out from under the dog, too, as she becomes accustomed to her new positioning. When lying down completely, your dog will need to position the amputation side towards the ceiling. It will take her a while to get comfortable. Here are some tricks to help your dog:
- If you have wood or tile floors, put a path of carpet or rug between the door and the place where your dog will rest. You do not want your dog to slip and fall onto her incision.
- Consider putting a blanket on the floor or dog bed in case there is any blood.
- Offer your dog water often.
- Give your dog medicine and painkillers, as needed.
- Try to get your dog to eat something. Your dog might not want to eat at all, so try the smelliest food that they like. Simple baby food like mashed turkey or ham may work the best. Make sure the baby food does not contain onions, which are toxic. Buy a variety of cheeses, too. A smoked cheese like gouda might smell stronger and be more appealing. Don't keep food right in front of your dog's head if she doesn't eat. Just offer it often, but don't overwhelm her. She'll move her head away from the food if she isn't interested.
The First Two Weeks
Once you've gotten past the first day, the next big hurdle is to get through the first two weeks. The good news is that your dog will show progress every few hours, whether it's learning how to stand up or figuring out how to go down a couple stairs. The vet may want to see your dog a few days after the surgery to make sure that everything is healing properly and to remove any lidocaine tubes, if they were inserted. Your dog will probably have a Fentanyl patch for the first four days or so. (A Fentanyl patch provides a strong painkiller through the skin.) The medicine may make your dog feel weird. When the patch comes off, they may still feel weird. You may notice your dog's mood seems to go up and down. This is normal. If possible, sleep by your dog at night and stay home with your dog during the day for the first few days. Continue to try to get your dog to eat. Her appetite will slowly return. Take her outside frequently in case she needs to do her business, but don't expect anything. The medicine mixed with the small amounts of food she's eating may prevent her from doing her business for several days. Here are more tips:
- Until the stitches are out, keep your dog calm; she shouldn't run, even if you're happy to see her get her energy back.
- You may want to order a harness that she can wear once the stitches are out. Order the harness in advance so it arrives by the time the stitches are removed. Ruffwear makes a great harness called the Web Master (TM) Harness. It is so much easier to walk a dog with a front leg amputation if you put the leash on a harness vs. the collar. When the leash is on the collar, there is too much bounce in your dog's step; the bouncing leash will probably annoy her and you.
- A great trick is to put modular carpet tiles where needed. Put carpet tiles in front of doors, in front of her food and water bowls, up the stairs, etc. FLOR carpet tiles work well and can be ordered online. If you cut the tiles in half, they will fit on your stairs.
- If you think your dog will wear them, boots may help with traction, too.
- Give your dog's food bowl a boost so that she doesn't need to lean all the way over to eat; this will make it comfier for her.
- If you think your dog will scratch her incision area and don't want her to wear a cone, put an old t-shirt on her. This may even make her more comfortable because it will protect her incision from the elements.
- Praise your dog for every step of progress she makes. Invite her favorite people over so that they can entertain her.
- If your dog seems bored because she can't take long walks yet, take her for a car ride. It will boost her spirits. Additionally, she'll get tired from trying to keep stable in the car, so she may rest better at home.
- Give your dog lots of pets and massages. Her muscles are probably very tired from being used in a new way. Even when you take her outside for quick breaks, massage her muscles when she rests.
- When walking, your dog might like it if you walk on her side or even have a fence on one side of her and you on the other. It will offer her a better sense of balance.
After the first two weeks, you should see a marked improvement in your dog. Once the stitches are out and you have your harness, you can begin taking your dog for longer walks. She may get tired quickly, and she may need a lot of breaks. You may notice that she has more energy going out than coming home. It's been so long since she's been out, and she wants to smell all of the new scents. One trick is to walk your dog in a circle instead of straight out and straight back; this keeps the environment more interesting for her. By now her appetite should be better, so you may also want to bring treats on your walk. Bil-Jac (the kind that is soft and you keep in your freezer) is a great treat. It will probably be easier for your dog to run than it is for her to walk. In no time, your dog will be sprinting again. Depending on how long your dog's fur is, it may take several months for her fur to grow back. Another interesting point: people who never showed interest in your dog before may start petting her, while some other people won't even notice that she only has three legs.
6 and 1/2 weeks later
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.