Amputation Surgery for Dogs: The How and The Why

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    Choosing to amputate your pet’s limb can be a tough and emotional decision. Amputation for dogs is one of the most effective treatments for controlling or eliminating certain forms of cancer, and many patients have this operation without complications each year.

    Until recently, amputations were frequently addressed with the mindset that “well, at least they have three more legs.” This was frequently the dominant opinion of not just the veterinary surgeon, but also of everyone who had a voice in their treatment. 

    While the mindset about having three more legs still exists, there have been incredible improvements over the years about the attitude we have towards amputation. That is something that needs to change, especially among the veterinary surgeons involved. Another dominant idea that has endured throughout the years is to get as much of the severed limb out of the way as possible. The reasoning for this is because if “X” is removed, it is better to cut as high as possible so that the animal does not forget and try to utilize the remaining leg, perhaps inflicting harm to the end of that limb.

    german shepherd standing in the water with three legs from amputation

    How Do Dogs React to Amputation for Dogs?

    One of the main worries you may have about amputation is how your pet will adjust to having only three legs, both psychologically and physically. Although individuals may experience complex emotions in the aftermath of a limb loss, such as rage, humiliation, or even embarrassment, it is important to remember that pets do not think like humans. A three-legged pet interacts with other animals and people in the same way as a four-legged pet does. Physically, dogs are generally up and wandering about the next day and ready to go home. In fact, many pets walk just as well as, if not better than before surgery. This is especially true if the pet has been in discomfort or lame for a long time. After the bothersome limb is removed, most dogs appear to be more than ready to resume their usual, active lifestyles. They can run and play as hard as they used to!

    What Dogs Need Amputation?

    Amputation of a pet’s limb is one of the most extreme measures an owner may take. Amputation can be performed for a variety of reasons, including irreversible damage, infection, paralysis, severe arthritis, persistent pain, or even malignancy. In some situations, such as trauma or bacterial infection, removing the patient’s leg heals them. In the event of bone tumors, amputation is performed to reduce pain and improve quality of life, although it seldom cures the underlying malignancy. Owners usually reject the option of amputation because it is viewed as too drastic, and they are concerned that their cat will be unable to adjust to life with only three legs. This is a valid issue, and the choice to amputate should not be taken lightly. Here are some of the most common causes dogs’ have limbs amputated:

    Severe Tissue Damage or Infection

    class=”uae-toc-hide-heading” Tissue loss caused by traumatic accidents or severe illness may be so significant that adequate recovery to cover underlying structures is impossible. Furthermore, significant scar tissue is frequently tight and restricting, interfering with normal usage and causing persistent discomfort.

    Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer)

    Osteosarcoma is a bone tumor that is malignant and resembles human pediatric osteosarcoma. Limbs are the most often affected but it can still affect other bones like the jaw, hips, pelvis, ribcage, and skull. It’s even possible for it to arise in non-bony tissue like mammary glands and muscles. This form of cancer is often very painful for affected dogs and amputation is often the only option aside from chemo and radiation. Although removing the diseased leg is not always curative, amputation and chemotherapy can often extend their life and allow you to spend more time with your pet.

    Bone Trauma

    Broken bones from automobile accidents or other traumas are not always likely to heal and resume normal function. Instead of months of unsuccessful therapies and perhaps life-long suffering, leg amputation can provide an immediate cure. Another reason bone trauma may lead to amputation is when the damage is not corrected in a timely manner and the limb is permanently deformed (which is often very painful). This is more common with stray animals who have been hit by a car and left on their own until someone finds them.

    Birth Defects

    Birth defects that lead to amputation are those which result in limb deformities. These deformities may be present at birth or even show up as the dog is growing. A limb deformity can usually render a limb useless and even cause the dog more harm and pain. Dogs who are born with a limb deformity often have the limb amputated at a very young age so they grow up with three legs (or even two) and it’s a part of their normal life.

    What Are the Types of Amputations?

    Tail Amputation

    brittany spaniel standing in field with amputated tail

    Tail amputation, also known as docking, is a procedure often done on newborn puppies as a way to meet breed standards or as a safety precaution for farm dogs, LGDs, and hunting dogs. and it is done for safety. This is something that should be done by a veterinarian but some breeders will do it themselves (which is extremely unethical but somehow still accepted even though breeders often don’t use anesthetic). Examples of breeds that might have this done at Australian Cattle Dogs, Australian Shepherds, and Doberman Pinchers. But, some adult dogs will need to have their tail amputated at some point in their life, usually due to injury (a common one is when dogs have “happy tail syndrome”) or other medical reasons like a tumor. It is a more complicated surgery when dogs are adults due to the bones being fully developed and should NEVER be done for cosmetic reasons on an adult dog. 

    Digit (Toe) Amputations

    Toe amputations happen to be very common among dogs. This may be recommended as the result of trauma, severe infection, tumor or conformational abnormality that has affected the toe. Toe amputation is also a more minor form of amputation and dogs can usually go home within a few hours after the surgery.

    High Femoral Amputation

    lab mix post- amputation surgery

    High femoral amputations are the most commonly performed amputation for hind limbs in dogs which occurs in the upper third of the bone. The cut end of the femur is beveled, and the remaining thigh musculature is stitched around it, creating an asymmetric hindquarter with the sound limb. The bulk of the hindquarters enables the dog to maintain balance while sitting and laying down.

    Hip Disarticulation Amputation

    Hip disarticulation is another method utilized in hindlimb amputations. The femur bone is removed completely by severing the ligaments and tendons that hold it in the hip socket, leaving just the pelvis and surrounding muscle in situ. Trauma or malignancy in the upper femur may necessitate this type of amputation over the high femoral type. The end result is a hindquarter with reduced cushioning and a little asymmetry. 

    Scapulothoracic Disarticulation Amputation

    Scapulothoracic Disarticulation is another common form of amputation for dogs. It’s fairly similar to the above-mentioned hip disarticulation in which no bones are actually cut. Instead, the limb itself is removed at the shoulder blade which leaves a smooth-well padded forequarter. This can also be done by removing the humerus but then the amputation site is unbalanced and not as cosmetically pleasing.

    Transradial and Transbital Amputation

    great dane wearing a prosthetic leg from leg amputation
    Photo Credit: Animal Ortho Care

    Dogs who will be using a prosthetic limb will have a long residual limb leftover from the amputation. This is so the prosthetic has something to attach to as well as allow for distribution of pressure that is transmitted from the prosthetic itself.. This is done by preserving the elbow joint or knee joint as well as the most preservation as possible of the immediate lower limb. Dogs may also be amputated at or below the wrist joint or ankle joint. While limb length preservation is typically preferred, an excessively lengthy residual limb may cause difficulties such as a lack of space for the prosthetic foot. A thorough examination by a board-certified prosthetist is essential for the best result. Luckily there are options available now for dogs to be able to wear a prosthetic without residual limbs.

    What is Surgery For Amputation Like for Dogs?

    Amputation surgery is an invasive procedure that requires general anesthesia no matter what is getting amputated. After the anesthetic, the dog will have all fur shaved from the surgical area and the area around it,  have it scrubbed with disinfectant, and then draped. The veterinary surgeon and team will then make skin excision, dissect away the muscle, transect bones, and then repair the dissected tissue and close the skin. Limp stumps are usually left undressed while toe and tail amputations are usually dressed.

    What Happens Post-Amputation Surgery?

    Another issue that these dogs and their owners face once the sutures are removed is a lack of veterinarian help. These creatures are supposed to survive on their own, making the best of their new living conditions. Prosthetics and rehabilitation are rarely mentioned as career options. Pain relief beyond 5 days of NSAIDs is seldom provided in the post-operative period. Even with a prosthesis, many dogs will experience discomfort for several months while they learn how to utilize the device appropriately.

    Once your pet is home, you can help him or her heal by providing proper post-operative care. The most essential thing is to keep the surgical site clean and dry. If the incision becomes dirty, clean it carefully with a soft cloth and warm water. Bathing and swimming should be avoided until the sutures are removed, which is generally 10 to 14 days following surgery.

    Just as with any other surgery, some pets may, unfortunately, lick or scratch the sutures, usually when they are alone or overnight. It is critical to avoid this habit since it might lead to infection, poor wound healing, or another trip to the veterinarian to replace sutures. You can use a t-shirt, or an Elizabethan Collar to keep your pet from aggravating the incision.

    dog post amputation surgery wearing a cone
    Photo Credit: Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

    If the owner notices any discharge from the surgery site, such as blood or pus, they should call the clinic. Other warning symptoms include swelling, severe bruising, or the wound opening up.

    To continuously help your dog post-amputation is to keep them from walking on slippery, slick surfaces like hardwood floors as well as going up and down the stairs. Carpet and grass provide the best footing for dogs who are getting used to walking on three legs. If they must go down the stairs like if you can’t carry them and you like in a walk-up apartment, you can assist them by wrapping a towel under their abdomen/chest or backend depending on which limb was amputated. You can also get a specialized sling.  

    Another thing you can do to aid your pet at home is to keep him or her from walking on slick surfaces or going up and down the stairs. During the first adjustment period, carpets and grass give the finest footing. If avoiding stairs isn’t an option, you can carry your pet or aid support his or her weight by tucking a cloth under the chest or abdomen. Slippery flooring and stairs should not be an issue as your pet gains strength and grows more accustomed to moving around on three legs.

    Dog owners of amputated dogs should also be aware of their emotions and how their dog is feeling on an emotional level. The attitude and activity level of your pet are important indicators of how well he or she is recuperating. Any abrupt changes in attitude, conduct, or appetite should be taken seriously. Nobody knows your pet better than you, so if you suspect something is wrong, contact your physician.

    How Much Does Amputation for Dogs Cost?

    Amputation of a limb costs $700-$1000 on average. Prices may differ depending on whether the dog needs IV fluids and extra nursing care during the anesthesia. The cost of pain treatment during the recuperation period runs between $12 and $40, while a normal antibiotic course costs between $17 and $40, depending on the size of the dog and the antibiotic used.

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