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Whilst amputation of a leg may seem like a drastic procedure for a dog, it is a common occurrence in veterinary practice. Limb amputation might seem scary, but it can be crucial for improving your dog’s quality of life or helping prevent the spread of diseases like bone cancer, severe arthritis or tendon injuries.

At Animal Trust, our team will help guide pets and pet parents through the limb amputation surgery procedure, from preparation right through to aftercare and appropriate pain relief.

Why might a dog leg amputation be needed?

Limb amputation for dogs is considered a ‘salvage procedure’. This means that an amputation procedure is only considered when other options have failed or are not appropriate for a particular case. Some of the reasons this might happen can include animal welfare (pain), financial restraints or the severity of a disease. 

In some cases, partial limb amputations may be considered, to remove the painful or diseased tissue whilst salvaging enough of the affected limb to attach a prosthesis. This is a highly specialised area of orthopaedic surgery with an extensive pain relief strategy, which would require a referral to a specialist hospital.

There are several reasons for limb amputation to be considered for our canine patients:

Bone or soft tissue leg cancer

These diseases will cause serious pain and can spread elsewhere in the body unless the animal’s leg is removed. Amputating the affected limb early enough can potentially be used as a cancer cure if the disease hasn’t spread elsewhere.

Severe trauma to the leg

This can include many different conditions and injuries. Some common traumas that can lead to limb amputation can include severe skin injuries, ligament damage, tendon injuries, bone fractures or the loss of the pads/toes which support the entire leg. These kinds of limb trauma are most commonly seen in animals involved in road traffic accidents. 

Severe infection in the leg

A serious infection can be an extremely painful condition affecting your dog. It is not only distressing and unbearable for the dog, but can also easily spread to other parts of the body.

Paralysis of the limb

Paralysis can lead to trauma of the limb and difficulty walking which can impact quality of life. There can be lots of causes for paralysis, so our team will provide a full assessment before discussing having the leg amputated.

Severe limb deformity

As well as impacting quality of life, deformities can be debilitating for the animal. 

Dog leg amputation at Animal Trust

If your dog has a condition which means that he or she may require leg amputation, you can book a free consultation at any of our Animal Trust clinics to see one of our veterinary surgeons to discuss the options available. We understand that this is a distressing time for both pets and pet parents, so we’ll make sure you fully understand all the options available, as well as all ongoing pain medication and pain management required.

If it is decided that your dog should undergo pet limb amputation, they will be scheduled for an operation slot with one of our experienced surgeons. This type of surgery is generally available at your local clinic, although you may be offered an appointment at a different Animal Trust clinic if this means your pet can be seen sooner. 

On the day of the surgery, your dog will be admitted between 8am and 8:30am for pre-surgical assessment and preparation. This will include a pre-anaesthetic blood test, a health check and a weigh-in. The leg to be amputated will be confirmed on the consent form and marked.

Your pet will receive a combination of sedative and pain medications, chosen depending on their age and general health. This is known as ‘multimodal anaesthesia’ which is designed to maximise pain relief whilst ensuring that anaesthetic is as safe as possible. This will often include a premedication containing sedatives, calming medication and strong pain relief (opioids), followed by anaesthesia, paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication and local anaesthetic nerve blocks as appropriate. 

How long does a leg amputation surgery take?

Once your dog is under anaesthetic, the surgical area will be clipped and scrubbed to create an aseptic surgery site. The surgical wound will extend along the border of the amputation site. The location of this will depend on the reason for amputation. Usually, this is just above the elbow for front limb amputations and above the knee in the back leg, but can be up to the shoulder or hip. 

How long limb amputation surgery can take varies, depending on the size of the patient (for example surgery times for very short-legged breeds and very broad-chested breeds may differ). Similarly, depending on the level of limb amputation required, the operation can take longer. The total time the patient will be under general anaesthesia can range from two hours for a routine small patient up to four hours for a complex larger patient.

At Animal Trust, our fixed vet prices policy is designed to be affordable and transparent, so there are no unexpected costs involved with the surgery. A complete estimate will be given to you at your consultation with the veterinary surgeon. 

Amputation recovery for dogs

Once a dog has undergone amputation, naturally there’s lots of care and pain management involved during the recovery period.

The post-operative surgical wound may appear large and have either skin stitches or absorbable suturing. There may be some bruising, which is normal. Sometimes there is a dressing over the wound. Generally, dogs cope and don’t have any psychological issues with amputation, but you may find it upsetting to see them for the first time following amputation. Dogs adapt, however, so you should too!

Your vet will prescribe strong painkillers for the first week or two following their surgery to stop pain developing. Using cool compresses over the wound and bruising can give additional pain relief if your dog will tolerate it. This will be discussed with the veterinary nurse at your discharge appointment. 

How long for a dog to recover from leg amputation surgery?

Most dogs will be up and about after 24 hours. After a few days, the bruising around the amputated limb will start to fade. The stitches or sutures usually come out one to two weeks after surgery, at which time most dogs are back to normal activity. 

As with any surgery, there is a small risk of wound complications such as swelling and infection around the surgical wound. Following post-operative care advice is really important for helping your dog recover well. This will generally involve advice from your vet regarding rest, administering a strong pain killer, avoiding off-lead exercise, preventing licking and total wound care to reduce the risk of complications. 

Your dog will need time to adjust to the loss of a limb. The recovery period and how long this takes will depend on their size, weight, age and how painful or chronic the condition was before amputation.

How to care for a dog with an amputated leg

Some dogs are so relieved to be free of their painful leg that they recover remarkably quickly, even with only three legs! If this is the case, you may have to prevent more active dogs from over-exercising in the first couple of weeks. 

Some dogs may struggle more, for example, if they have other conditions which affect their mobility or fitness. Using a sling or harness to support your dog when walking and learning to deal with obstacles such as steps in the early days will help them to gain strength and confidence, and manage weight distribution.

It’s important to try to avoid slippery floors and other hazards. If an amputee dog falls or slips they could damage the area around the surgical site and lose confidence in moving about. Use mats or rugs to cover the floors and provide grip where possible. 

Dogs generally cope very well with the loss of a limb, although it will put abnormal strain on the remaining three legs. The front legs normally take 60% of a dog’s body weight, and the hind legs account for 40%. Dogs that have undergone front leg amputation therefore sometimes struggle more in the early stages when learning to balance. 

Over time, this abnormal strain can lead to arthritis of the remaining limb bones or other mobility issues. To help your dog in the long- term, it is important to keep them slim and healthy to avoid excess strain on the remaining legs and avoid high-impact exercise. In addition, to maintain muscle strength and encourage effective use of the other legs, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy can be extremely helpful. 

Phantom pain is a possible side effect of amputation. Phantom limb pain is when the dog licks or scratches around the area where the amputated limb used to be. There can also be some muscle twitching or other behaviour changes. As with lots of post-surgery recovery, time is the best way to heal this issue. However, if you’re concerned or if your dog is experiencing phantom leg pain long after the surgery, book an appointment with your Animal Trust vet.

To arrange a dog amputation consultation or affordable treatment plan for your pet, get in touch with your local Animal Trust vet surgery to find out more.

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