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What would you do without a leg? It’s hard for most humans to imagine life without a leg. It would prevent us from doing many of the activities that we love to do. Many people have trouble dealing with the amputation emotionally and physically. Leg amputation is not common in people, which is a good thing, because it is a life-altering surgery. What would you think if you were told that leg amputations in dogs are not the same as leg amputations in people? Yes, the surgery is the same, but dogs rarely have the emotional or physical problems that people have. In fact, dogs adapt very well and surprisingly quickly to life on three legs!
Leg amputation means the total removal of the leg. It may be a front or a back leg. There are a few reasons you might decide to have your dog’s leg amputated. The three most common reasons are; cancer, damage, and cost. Many leg cancers are very aggressive and can destroy bones and muscles in the leg. These cancers tend to be very painful and can even cause bones to break. Some leg cancers, such as osteosarcoma, spread very quickly to other organs (often the lungs). Therefore, by the time the cancer is diagnosed and you decide to amputate the painful leg, the cancer has already spread throughout the body. So in this case, amputating the leg will not cure the cancer, but it will make the dog much more comfortable. Other cancers, such as soft tissue sarcoma, do not spread quickly to other organs. In these animals, it is likely that amputation will get rid of the pain and will also cure the cancer.
Sometimes the leg is so damaged that there is no hope that it will ever work again. One of the most common causes for severe leg damage is after a dog is hit by a car. It can be damage to the nerves (which signal the muscles to move), to the blood vessels (which supply the bones and muscles with nutrients), or to the muscles themselves. This damage may be so severe that it is impossible to repair and the only option is euthanasia or amputation. Also, even though people don’t like to put a cost on the care they give their animals, they may be faced with a big bill for veterinary care at some point in their dog’s life. Unfortunately, you have to take cost into consideration when you make decisions about the health of your pet. Some leg repairs will take a lot more time and money than an amputation. As you may be beginning to realize, amputation may not be the best option, but it is not necessarily a bad option.
A leg amputation is a very big surgery. It is not cheap (although it may be cheaper than other options) and it is not simple. Like any other surgery, you will have to take special care of your dog afterwards. Your dog will be on pain medication after the surgery, and will need bandage changes.
On a positive note, you will be shocked at how quickly your dog will adjust to life on three legs! It will quickly gain balance and coordination. Dogs can run almost as fast on three legs as they can on four. They have no trouble getting around. The only exception to this is very large dogs (such as St Bernard’s). Because of their weight, these dogs have more trouble adjusting to an amputation. Also, dogs with amputation of a back leg tend to recover faster than dogs with amputation of a front leg. This is because dogs carry more of their weight on their front legs than on their back legs.
But how do you make this tough decision to amputate your pet’s leg? It is perfectly natural for you to recoil from the thought of amputating your dog’s leg. It is not nice to think about amputation, but before you get upset about amputating your dog’s leg, first think about how your dog will feel about it. It is true that amputation is a big surgery, but amputation will not ruin your dog’s life. In fact, dogs do very well and don’t even seem to notice that their leg is gone. Very often, the owner is more upset about the situation than the dog is. If you talk to your veterinarian, he/she may be able to put you in touch with another owner who has a dog with a three legs. Take your time and talk through your decision with your family and veterinarian. A three legged dog is still a happy dog!