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Keeping Your Three-Legged Dog Healthy
Three legs to stand on


A really expensive car can go from zero to 60 in less than six seconds, but that car would have nothing on Harvey, a seven-month-old Mastiff/Husky mix, who went from being an $85 dog to a $2,000 dog in less than four hours. That’s how long it took Harvey to be adopted from the Tacoma Humane Society, perform a cursory inspection of his new home on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Seattle, race out onto the outside terrace to check out the dog house and vault over the surrounding hip wall. Harvey hit an awning, landed on the sidewalk and ended up in the emergency room with a badly broken right rear leg that later had to be amputated. “The vet said they usually try to pin the leg first,” says Lindsey Votava, who had fallen in love with Harvey on Petfinder.com, “but with the extent of Harvey’s injury it would have been like trying to put together a bag of potato chips.”

Votava and her husband, Leif Dalan, were clear that having Harvey’s leg amputated would give him the best chance of recovery. Trying to save the leg would have doubled their vet bill and meant they would have had to immobilize Harvey for up to eight weeks, which would have violated several of the laws of physics. “Harvey walked up the stairs after his surgery,” recalls Votava, and never missed a beat. He maintains a wicked Frisbee schedule at the dog park and does everything a four-legged dog does, except “he can’t scratch his ear.” They give him glucosamine for his joints and try to keep him from overexercising so that he doesn’t injure his remaining limbs. “We have to think for him,” Votava says. “That jumping off the roof was how he is. He’s a totally go, go, go kind of dog.”

It’s not unusual these days for a dog to lose a leg, generally for one of two reasons: they suffer some sort of accident or trauma, like Harvey’s, or they develop bone cancer or other bone disease. The latter is what happened to Bernie, an eight-year-old Rottweiler whose left front leg was amputated in January. Bernie was recovering nicely from surgery to her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) when her guardian, Tom Tilden, noticed she was limping and not bouncing back as quickly as he had expected. An X-ray showed bone cancer. “The first vet we consulted suggested giving her painkillers until the pain got to be too bad and then having her put down,” says Tilden. “We found another doctor.”

Bernie’s situation is completely different from Harvey’s. Harvey is lean and lost a rear leg while he was still a puppy; he was able to adjust immediately. Bernie is a stockier breed and lost a front leg relatively late in her life. “The front leg accounts for approximately 70 percent of the dog’s strength and balance,” says Sheila Wells, a hydrotherapist in Seattle who works with Bernie several times per week. “That is why front-leg amputees often have a more difficult time adjusting to their new state. The rear can follow but the front has to lead.”

Keeping the Tripod Dog Healthy

Wells, who has been operating her canine hydrotherapy studio, Wellsprings, since 1995, has a special fondness for three-legged dogs. When she was a child, her uncle had a Border Collie, Trixie, whose front leg had to be amputated after she got into a jam with a poisonous jellyfish in Sooke Harbour, British Columbia. “My uncle’s veterinarian told me, ‘Swim her,’” says Wells. Wells saw the benefits of this type of therapy, and a career was born. “Trixie lived another 10 years, during which she raced around like the wind.”

Wells says that in her experience, most three-legged dogs are “very highly functioning.” Some dogs do better than others, depending on their size (smaller dogs have an easier time), age and other physical problems. “The biggest challenge a dog faces when it loses a limb,” says Wells, “is that it has to relearn proprioception, which means it needs to get a new idea of where its body is in space and how to balance; it’s like the bubble in a level.” The most important challenge for tripod-dog owners, she says, is to protect the remaining limbs; often people will let the dog overdo it, and that ends up putting undue stress on the dog’s joints, which can lead to injuries and arthritis. She recommends that owners observe the following checklist to keep the three-legged dog healthy for as long as possible:



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Submitted by Codie Rae | November 17 2009 |

To anyone who is facing the decision to amputate, who has a three-legged dog and has been unable to get your questions answered, who is considering adopting a tripawd....please come explore our website, join our community, learn all about the magic and joy, and yes, heartbreak, that come with sharing your life with a tripawd dog. Whether your dog has lost, or will lose, a leg to cancer or in an accident, Tripawds.com is full of advice, support, and stories about coping with and living life on three legs. I share my life with Codie Rae, a 4 year old tripawd GSD who lost a leg to human stupidity. Codie Rae's motto is: WooHoo Tripawds Rule! And I couldn't agree more.

Submitted by Nicole Tyssedal | July 17 2014 |

I just had my dogs front right leg amputated on Tuesday. He too was a victim of human stupidity. I adopted him 4 years ago. His leg was badly damaged, but he still used it to get around. Recently he was showing signs of pain and after much thought and research on the subject, I opted for amputation. My dog is an older boy around 10 years, but very full of life. Although he just had surgery 2 days ago, he seems to be having extreme difficulty using his back legs. It's almost as if they aren't functioning properly, or a slight paralysis. My husband thinks it's just the heavy medication he is on and the fact that he just had a major surgery involving sedation. Is it normal for a dog to not want to stand or have difficulty with their back legs 2 days after surgery? He had a front leg amputation so why aren't his back legs working? I am so concerned for my boy. Can't help wondering if I did the right thing. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 8 2010 |

A friend of mine recently adopted a two-legged pitty called Fifty. He appears to have no idea that he's missing any limbs and gets around just fine! Read about him at his new blog: http://fitythepitty.blogspot.com/

Submitted by AJ | February 7 2011 |

Ok dog lovers I need help. A co-worker and good friend had to have his dogs right leg amputated today. Tim Denison is a Sgt with a Police Dept in Tx. He retired his K9 partner last year and adopted him from the agency. This only proves the love and dedication officers and k9 's have for each other. They can only hope they got all the cancer. I am asking of anyone out there could help me set up a donation or volunteer to help him raise money to have some kind of prostetic leg for his partner. Officer Denison and his partner put thier lives on the line daily for our safety. Lets help them out please.
My email is spurdatfur@yahoo.com

Submitted by 4FurryBFF | February 11 2011 |

All the best with therapy. Www.4furryBFF.bloodspot.com water therapy is amazing!

Submitted by wheelchairs | July 9 2011 |

Very good post, I was really searching for this topic, as I wanted this topic to understand completely and it is also very rare in internet, that is why it was very difficult to understand.

Thank you for sharing this.


Submitted by Susan | January 9 2012 |

I, too, was happy to see your article, Dana. Even though it was written a long time ago, still info pet owners need to know. I work for Drew Hittenberger, a very fine and compassionate Bay Area prosthetist who is currently making a prosthetic for a very dear Sonoma County dog who lost his leg in a violent scuffle.

Submitted by D.Dorey | March 20 2012 |

is there a prosthetic device for our husky whom was born with a chicken wing of a leg, the cord was wrapped around his limb before birth and the leg didn't grow properly. If so where is the closes place near windsor ontario that we could get info on it . my heart breaks everytime our dog HOPE runs and nose dives into the ground and she can't make it up the 2 steps i have outside i feel so bad for her. please email me any suggestions of whom i should get intouch with. Thak you she tries to move the arm but doesn't realize that she can't use it. please help

Submitted by ekto23 | April 10 2012 |

Ash is my three legged Kelpie, and she does pretty well. Her story is up on the net at bluekelpie.me because I want to share the ways I care about her special tripod needs. Articles like this one were important to me as I made the decision to amputate and I was not given the option for prosthesis. Her shoulder blade has been removed.

Submitted by steve | December 24 2012 |

i have a 8 week old pomerainian she has a 1 1/2 inch stump on here front leg i need a prostetic leg that will attach around hee stump and her body. any leads will help.

Submitted by Jo | January 13 2013 |

I have a 6 month Maltese silky terrier he only got his back legs his two front ones broke of at the elbow n the other half is under it so looks like four arms at the front but the elbow to the paw does not move so next month it has to get it removed so he will be left with two stumps at the front. I need to get him two prosthetic arms at the front n ones he can go up two steps. Can anyone help me plz or know anyone can help me

Submitted by Iron Dog's Mom | January 29 2013 |

Just needed some thoughts and prayers from all the dog lovers out there.
Last Saturday evening, our beloved husky-sheppard mix went missing. We had left him alone for a short while, anyhow to make a long store short, when we returned we could not find him (BTW....he is 12 years old and has never left the property). We called his name and went looking for him, with no signs of him anywhere. The next day, we did the same, plus we called all local shelters and posted pictures of him, to no avail. We continued this search throughout the week, as the temperatures dropped to 3 degrees at night and snow fell, we ultimately were very concerned to his whereabouts. Some moments we felt as if someone just came in and took him, for there were NO sights of him anywhere. One day shy of him being missing a week, we came home from work to hear 2 dogs barking with excitement, one being "Alex" and the other his sister Saddie, a beagle-mixed hound. Their barking was a sweet sound of music to our ears. We jumped out of the vehicle to find Alex wagging his tail, happy to be home, but with horror we saw his front right paw soaked with blood and mangled like it was put through a meat grinder. We immediately called our Vet, who got us in contact with the "On-Call" Vet Clinic and we rushed him to the hospital. Amazingly Alex NEVER whimpered, nor cried, just wagged his tail and was gracious that he was alive and with us. At the hospital, the Vet informed us that he was caught in a "Foot-trap" that obviously was used to "trap" animals, such as foxes, coyotes, racoons, etc. The Vet kept him overnight to re-hydrate him, for he lost over 25 lbs in this whole ordeal and we were told he probably kept himself alive by eating snow and grass and dirt that was around him. The next day when we went to pick him up, he had broken 1 toe, had over 50 stitches (the vet quit counting after 50). His leg was wrapped and we were told to take the bandage off the following Monday to allow air to heal all the wounds. Monday came, and that evening as I was slowing pulling off his bandage, the stench of infection was lingering in the air, but I did as I was told. Monday night came and went and Today when we woke up, I walked into the living room and Alex had managed to get off his neck collar and EAT away his infected paw. There was NO blood, for all the tissue around his wound was dead. We immediately called our VET and were told to come in. When his Vet walked into the room, she immediately informed us that the leg has to be amputated tomorrow in order to save his life. The trap had caused blood to not circulate to the bottom half of his foot and there was no saving his foot or leg, for fear that if the leg was left attached that it would too become infected and cause more damage or even death. I believe Alex will come through this operation like a champ, for he survived 6 nights and 7 days in temperatures that were below freezing and kept himself alive to come home to his baby sister and his family. I am upset that "Trappers" could be so irresponsible for NOT checking their traps. It is PA state law required that they check their traps at least every 30 hours, for this was told to me by the Game Commission, but the Game Commission also said to me "sorry, but there is nothing we can do you should of had your dog tied up". I'm furious that people who call themselves "HUNTERS" hunt animals by trapping them and NOT be responsible enough to check the traps that they have set.
Please to all of you animal lovers, pet owners out there, please say a prayer for our beloved pet "Alex", who we have knick-named "IRON DOG" for which he has suffered a great deal in the past week and if survived being "TRAPPED", he will survive his amputation. He has a baby sister, Saddie, who lays beside him and watches every move he makes and we, as his parents, will take good care of him.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 12 2013 |

I sure hope Alex is doing well. Our black miniature schnauzer Jett had his rear leg amputated today. He is 7 years old. He had a toe removed last July after finding out it was cancer. We really thought that was the end of it. His tests in October were ok but when we took him on January 18, 2013 for vaccines and a check up the vet felt lumps up that same leg. She said chest x-rays still looked good but wanted to biopsy the leg. The next week the biopsy was done and the following Monday she called us and said it was positively melanoma. We were devastated as he is our "child". Feb. 7 he had surgery to remove the spots she found on his leg. She called us that night to say she could not get all the cancer moving up his leg because it was in clusters that were all over his leg. Once again, we were sick about it. So we thought about it over the weekend, and decided if the cancer was confined mainly to that leg maybe we should consider amputation. I cried a lot but we came to the conclusion if we wanted him to live longer at all we better have it done... So, tonight he is at the vet's office and we are at home worrying about him. Our vet told us the first 24 hours are critical for blood clots. I am writing this as I can't sleep and am so worried about him and your story was so touching. Jett is such a sweet little guy who makes our life an absolute joy. I am sure your dog is like that to you too and I hope he got along with surgery well and recuperates quickly. Thinking of you as a fellow dog lover.

Submitted by Holly | March 20 2013 |

My baby had her leg amputated Dec 12th due to an injury from jumping out of her previous owners truck, they didn't take her to a vet for a few days, then they just dropped her at a shelter. Then she broke it the next day after her surgery, so she had to have another surgery. It healed pretty well but still not good enough so they decided to amputate 3 months later. (I've had her since the day of her second surgery) how do I help her scratch her ears???? She lost her back left leg, so she obviously can't scratch the left ear, but she can't keep enough balance to scratch the right one either. That's pretty much her only issue. But how do i help her?

Submitted by Kristen | April 8 2013 |

My baby Tuff is a 2 year old blue Heeler, he got away from me this morning and got hit by a bus. His only wound was his front shoulder had a tear and his paws were scrapped up (the bus driver never even stopped to acknowledge that he hit my dog and also the school said too bad should have kept him chained up.) he has been at the vet since the accident this morning after a few hours the vet called us to tell him that his shoulder had completely dislocated and twisted around backwards, but he said that the X-ray show nerve damage and that they could amputate or put him down...he is our baby so we want to give him a chance. Well the vet called us tonight and said the Tuff is doing good, he even wagged his tail for the vet. His surgery is set for the morning, All of your posts are helpful on what to expect from him thank you!!!

Submitted by Sue Parker | May 10 2013 |

To anyone in this situation, I would say hydrotherapy is a must, we go well dogs hydrotherapy pool in Cheshire England, but they have these pools everywhere. Your dog just swims without pressure or pain on the remaining leg. I thought my dog would hate it like she hates the shower. But she has been amazing and would do anything to see her that happy everyday. Weightless exercise to get the heart rate up and stretch tight muscles. She can not do long walks but this is she just keeps going x

Submitted by Ron Schaffer | February 3 2014 |

Time to let these dogs have their day!
In response, I have penned a children's book in honor of three-legged dogs everywhere.
Their struggle is our struggle!

Submitted by samdanis20 | February 26 2014 |

Veterinary Implants Direct LLC is owned by an experienced Orthopedic Veterinary Surgeon. Our goal is to provide the best value for orthopedic implants by keeping our overhead low so that the savings can be passed directly to you. We are dedicated to our customers and are committed to complete customer satisfaction.

Submitted by Erik | March 4 2014 |

So first, they are irresponsible enough to allow their dog access to the terrace, which lead to his injury. Then, in the interest of keeping the vet bill and their level of inconvenience down, they amputate rather than treat conservatively and try to save his legs. Now I'm glad they were responsible enough to have him treated, rather than killing him off as many idiots would have done, but I wouldn't exactly call them model pet owners either.

Submitted by Priscille kona | June 26 2014 |

Hello! My 5months old puppy had his first right leg amputed today and people were advising me to euthanise him so that he wouldn't suffer but I just can't let go of him... I am anxious thi' and don't know how to make him feel better anf how to help him get used to his condition.. Can anyine advise me?

Submitted by Colleen | July 2 2014 |

I have a three-legged lab and he gets around very well. I do not take him for walks as it is difficult for him to just walk. He can run through the yard just great. You will find out that just walking is trying for them. My dog was three-legged when I adopted him so I don't know how to care for a dog just out of surgery. My dog is about three years old and is the joy of my life. Hang in there and your puppy will too.

Submitted by Fabio's Momma | July 22 2014 |

Can anyone help please.....We have had to have his front leg removed. We are unsure how to help him get comfortable any idea would be greatly appreciation !!!! Stressed & worried !!! Thank you !!!

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