What Happens When Pets Need to Have Their Limb Amputated?
Sun, April 18, 2021

What Happens When Pets Need to Have Their Limb Amputated?


In the animal world, you will see three-legged deer, lions, and other fauna survive in the wild without human help, said Annie Roth of National Geographic, an American pay television network. Quadrupeds is the scientific term for four-legged animals are more resilient than us with regard to losing a limb. This is because animals have a couple of ways of coping with the loss of their limb.

Among dogs and cats, a damaged or diseased limb is removed from where the limb meets the body to prevent the remaining portion of the leg from causing a problem, said ACVS (American College of Veterinary Surgeons), a specialty board that defines the standards of surgical excellence in veterinary medicine and more. Partial limb amputations and prosthetics are new treatment plans for some pets, and not all pets and owners would benefit from them. Stump management and prosthetic use entail daily care and attention.

Dog Owner and Cat Owners’ Experience and Satisfaction Regarding Limb Amputation

Tripawds Foundation, a charity aimed at helping amputee pets and their people, found that cancer (60%), accident (36.36%), fungal infection (0.91%), and birth defect (2.73%) were the main reasons for amputation among dogs. For cats, the reasons for amputation were cancer (56.52%), accident (39.13%), and birth defect (4.35%). Dog owners said their pet canine lost its front (58%) and hind legs (42%). Among cat owners, the figures for 34.78% for front legs and 65.22% for hind legs (65.22%).

When asked if owners were initially opposed to amputation, 31.80% of dog owners and 55% of cat owners said yes, while only 68.20% and 45% answered no. When asked how the owners described their dog’s amputation to the loss of its limb, they said “great” (78.80%), “good” (18.40%), and “fair” (2.80). For cat owners, they answered either “great” (82.61%) and “good” (17.39%).

When asked how long did it take for their dog to adapt to the loss of its limb, the owners said it took approximately one week (54.55%), two weeks (22.01%), three weeks (9.09%), one month (8.13%), six weeks (3.35%), and two months (2.87%). Meanwhile, cat owners said it took approximately one week (40.91%), two weeks (31.82%), three weeks (13.64%), six weeks (4.55%), and two months (9.09%) for their cat to adapt to its lost limb.

70.82% of dog owners said their dog did not exhibit any changes in behavior after losing its limb, while 29.18% reported changes. However, the latter figure is higher among cats (36.36%) than the former (63.64%). Dog owners said they expected their dog to take longer (70.46%) for their pet to adapt to the loss of its limb (versus 6.33% shorter and 23.21% the same). However, the figure was slightly higher for cat owners who answered “longer” (77.27% versus 4.55% shorter and 18.18% the same). If given the choice, 96.65% of dog owners and 100% of cat owners said they would do the amputation again considering what they know now. Among cat owners, no respondent answered “no,” but a smaller proportion of dog owners answered it (3.35%).



Balancing On Three Legs

Across the globe, veterinarians perform countless leg amputations every day but rarely do they recommend replacing the lost limb with a prosthetic. Animals can balance themselves without a fourth leg— regardless if it’s artificial. If an animal loses its leg— thanks to the “tripod” stance— it can balance itself by positioning its unpaired leg towards the center of its body, evenly distributing its weight.  

According to Monika Melichar, zoologist and founder of Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario, Canada, three-legged animals oftentimes don’t encounter problems in running, walking, and jumping.

For cats, squirrels, and animals with long tails, balancing is a piece of cake as they can use their tails as a counterbalance when climbing narrow structures.  Dogs do not suffer from psychological distress and can do the aforementioned actions, unlike humans, stated Michigan Ave Animal Hospital, a pet-focused and client-centered hospital.  Dogs do not need fine motor skills to function, making it easier for them to adapt to having three legs.

When Is the “Right” Time To Amputate A Limb?

Amputation may be recommended by your veterinarian because of cancer, severe trauma, or a birth defect resulting in a useless leg. Tumors such as soft tissue sarcomas, which develop on the limbs, can indicate leg amputation. Soft tissue sarcomas are malignant but tend to spread slowly throughout your pet’s body. Further, your primary care veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostics before deciding to amputate your pet’s leg.

For instance, your veterinarian can do a complete blood count, chemistry, and urinalysis to evaluate your pet’s overall health.  X-rays of the limb to be removed can also be done to see if the other side can support the extra weight, abdominal films, or chest. X-rays can ensure that your pet does not show any signs of cancer.  Bear in mind that amputation can be done on animals of all ages and breeds, though older ones may take some time to adapt to having three legs depending on the reasons for amputation.



What Happens During Surgery?

Pain killers or analgesics (usually morphine derivative drugs) will be administrated to block pain receptors in the brain before the pain begins. Drugs can be injected or given via a patch that is placed on your pet’s saved area of skin six to eight hours before the surgery. In most cases, the procedure takes about 1.5 to two hours, including the time needed for preparing for the surgery and anesthesia. The overall risk is low and overall complication rate is also low. However, serious complications can lead to death or prompt the need for additional surgery.  

What Should I Do After the Procedure?

Most pets will be discharged within seven days after amputation on their comfort and ability to walk. Your veterinarian will prescribe oral pain relievers, as well as adhesive fentanyl patches. An Elizabethan collar will be used in the first 10 to 14 days to prevent your pet from licking or chewing the incision. Keep your pet in a comfortable, safe indoor location for 24 to 48 hours until they are steady on their feet. Don’t let it walk or run on stairs or slippery floors. Rigorous activities should not be done for four weeks, but short, leashed walks are okay.


Animals will bounce back to their normal activity levels after amputation. Amputation may be heartbreaking for owners, but it is justified when their pet suffers from tumors or severe trauma. Owners might think that amputation symbolizes doom and limited mobility; however, this procedure can help pets live a longer, healthier life.