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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.

Two days after surgery
Two days after surgery

Getting Comfortable

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.

Seven days after surgery
Seven days after surgery

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.

Ongoing

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.

16 days after surgery
16 days after surgery

6 and 1/2 weeks later

Comments 17 comments

Tripawds 5 years ago

Remember, a strong pack leader makes for a much easier recovery!


Kiri Francy profile image

Kiri Francy 5 years ago from USA Author

Definitely! Our pup looked to us to see how we'd react when she was getting accustomed to life with 3 legs.


Diana300sd 4 years ago

My yorkies has to have her front foot taken off right above the toes because of non union healing toes. I was told it would be better to have her hole leg taken rather than the foot. Is this true


Tripawds 4 years ago

Diana, your vet is correct. Many dogs with partial front limb amputations end up having healing difficulties, the limb gets banged around too much, etc.. We frequently meet members at Tripawds because their dog had to go through a full amputation after a partial one didn't heal properly.

Try not to worry, your pup will be fine. Her size is a big asset when it comes to being a three-legged pup, you'll be surprised and amazed!


Kiri Francy profile image

Kiri Francy 4 years ago from USA Author

Yup, you will be amazed at how well dogs adapt. It is inspirational.


Stephanie 2 years ago

My dog had front leg fully removed 1mo. Ago and since has lost almost all his blood.... And been stitched twice. And still has an open hole in chest big enough to put a golf ball in. They did not even send him home with any pain meds... Does this seem right?


Kiri Francy profile image

Kiri Francy 2 years ago from USA Author

Stephanie, I hope your dog is okay. It sounds odd that your dog didn't get pain meds.


Tripawds 2 years ago

Stephanie I'm sorry to hear your dog is going through such trauma. Sending a dog home without pain meds is criminal, and your vet letting that wound get to that point is crazy. Find a new vet asap if you want your dog to survive this ordeal. Hugs to you both. Good luck!


Cindy 22 months ago

Our dog needs his front leg removed due to cancer. One of my husband's concerns is our dog is relieving himself. We understand that we will need to walk with him and hold him up but will he be able to considering balance and everything. He is a large dog.


Kiri Francy profile image

Kiri Francy 22 months ago from USA Author

Hi Cindy,

I'm sorry to hear about your pup. When my dog had her front leg amputated, we really only had to hold her up and help her walk on the first day and then a little less on the second day. It was either the afternoon of the second or third day that she figured out how to go down the three steps to get outside, with us gently guiding her in case she lost her balance (which did happen a few times here and there). Learning how to go up stairs took longer. As far as relieving herself, she was fine. But, it might be different for a male dog. Check out tripawds.com...they have a ton of info and a forum. Best wishes to you and your dog!


Jerry-G-Dawg 22 months ago

Cindy you will be so surprised at how easily dogs adapt to this. Most dogs are out there peeing & pooping on their own within a day or two. They reposition their legs for better balance and it's not a problem.

Thanks for the 3-paws up Kiri! Our male pups Jerry & Wyatt never had a problem figuring out the potty business, most boydogs do just fine.


Amber 21 months ago

Today me and my husband rescued a Chi from a local animal shelter when they had got her, her front leg and been broken for so long they had to remove it. We got her less than an hour after she got to leave the vet. No pain meds or anything was told she had got a shot before ahead left and it would last a while. We also adopted her son who is very attached to her they both are doing good as for me I have a soft heart and it is veRy heartbreaking for me. I am worried she is gonna be in a lot of pain or something could not be right seeing the pictures of other dogs who was going home having a bandage around them she does not she has ten staples and when I was looking at them to count them I touched her just barley and she cried but seems fine now. I just don't know what to expect or not to please help me!


Kiri Francy profile image

Kiri Francy 21 months ago from USA Author

Amber, it sounds unusual that your dog didn't get painkillers. Did the vet schedule a follow-up exam? You should follow up with them or a different vet to get pain meds. I know that my dog got 3 different types of pain meds. One was an anti-inflammatory, another was a Fentanyl patch that provided medicine through her skin, and a third was a little tube that provided Lidocaine to the area. (I don't remember my dog having a bandage.) Get a second opinion, if you are worried. Thanks for rescuing the dogs. I hope your pup is doing well now.


Jenholt21 18 months ago

Hi. I just made the decision to have my 8 month old Shepard mix's leg amputated. Almost two months ago Kira hurt herself somehow overnight. She was limping, so I took her to the vet the next morning. They didn't find any sort of break or anything on x-rays and they believed she just bruised it badly and she'd be fine in a few days. She was sent home with pain meds and to told to try to make her take it easy. The next evening, her leg began to swell up HUGE. I took her back in to the vet and they kept her overnight for fluids, observation, and for them to figure out what exactly was going on as well. They figured out she had a form of strep. It nearly killed her, but she made it through. She had some sort of leg injury in combo with a tiny wound that we were finally able to find when her swelling went down. But when her swelling went down and she was recovering, she still wouldn't use her leg anymore. I took her back in and found out that the infection destroyed her cartilage in her knee. So, my options were to have knee replacement surgery, or amputation. We decided amputation because she is so active it would be very difficult to afford the surgery ($2000+) as well as keep her down for 8 weeks to recover.

I am so thankful for finding this page. I have been heartbroken over this, but seeing these success stories has really made me feel confident that she will live a great life still.


Kiri Francy profile image

Kiri Francy 18 months ago from USA Author

I'm glad you found this page helpful. Best of luck to your pup!


cheryl 2 months ago

I became a first time own of a amputation dog my shiver fracture his leg his vet the pet emercy vet would not set it because I didn't have money or good credit only thing they did was sit it the best they could with a spit and told me to take him to his vets which did but they said it wasn't not lined up the fracture was on 6/11/2016 so his vet put a pin in it broke and on 9/9/2016 they took his leg they didn't tell me anything beside that is the best thing to do


Kiri Francy profile image

Kiri Francy 2 months ago from USA Author

Cheryl, I hope your pup is okay and recovers quickly!

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