Harlequin Haven Great Dane Rescue

Harlequin Haven
Great Dane Rescue

11567 St. Rt. 774
Bethel, Ohio 45106

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Amputation of a limb

Limb amputation is a surgical procedure commonly performed in dogs and cats to remove a diseased or injured limb, either front or rear.  Amputation may be a life saving procedure for animals that only minimally impacts their comfort and quality of life.

Owners should have a clear understanding of why the surgery is being performed and what can be expected afterwards. Pets function exceptionally well on three legs and are able to run, walk, and play without pain or discomfort. Pets do not suffer the psychological distress of losing a limb the same way a human does, so it may be difficult for owners to understand how their pet will feel or act.  Vets have found amputations do not seem to slow animals down or even bother them very much.  Since dogs and cats are four-legged animals, they can get along really well on three legs.  Most animals will tolerate an amputation extremely well and have a really good quality of life afterwards.  The primary purpose of the limb is in movement. Because pets do not need to perform fine motor skills they easily adapt to having only three legs.

Most animals that have had amputations have probably already learned to walk on three legs and owners may not realize this.  Often, the pet may be relieved to have the painful leg removed and may feel even better after the amputation, than it did before surgery.

Another aspect to consider is the long term effect of an amputation.  An early amputation may be more beneficial for your pet than for it to go through multiple painful surgeries to save the leg.

Prior to general anesthesia your vet may run blood work to check for other health problems. Chest X-rays are often taken when tumors are present to determine if there is evidence that the tumor has spread to the lungs.

If cancer is suspected, x-rays are taken of the limb and typically a biopsy will be obtained to confirm the diagnosis prior to amputation. In certain parts of the country some fungal bone lesions can mimic cancer on x-rays and therefore a bone biopsy is necessary before such a radical surgical procedure is performed.

Pain medications are important both before, during and after amputation, your veterinarian will try to ensure your pet�s comfort throughout the procedure. Pain medication is usually given for a week or so after the surgery.

The majority of dogs are up and around the day following the amputation. Some assistance may be necessary to help larger dogs outside, particularly if they are overweight or were not lame before surgery. 

In addition, after bringing your pet home, you can help your pet adapt more quickly by providing quality food, lots of rest and comfortable bedding.  Make sure you supervise your pet especially when you first get home because it can slip and fall. 

You may be concerned about how your dog will look or move around after an amputation. If possible, have your veterinarian put you in contact with other pet owners who have had the same concerns, but had the surgery performed nonetheless. Such owners can assure you that dogs typically do extremely well on three legs. It may also be helpful to see pictures of what front leg amputations and hind leg amputations look like after surgery.  

These pictures are very graphic do not open if you have a weak stomach. 
Click here >> to view pictures of a Great Dane with a front leg amputation
Click here >> to view pictures of a Great Dane with a rear leg amputation

After surgery there will be an incision that needs to be assessed daily for swelling, redness or discharge. Contact your veterinarian if you have questions or concerns. Stitches or staples need to be removed in 10-14 days. Do not allow your pet to lick or chew at the surgical site. An Elizabethan collar may be necessary to prevent this from occurring.

Reasons for Limb Amputation

One of the most common reasons for a limb amputation in dogs is treatment of osteosarcoma, which is the most frequently diagnosed canine bone tumor. This tumor tends to occur in large and giant breed dogs. It may occur in young dogs (12 to 18 months of age), but is more common in older animals. The most common locations are just above the carpus (wrist), the proximal humerus (just below the shoulder joint), and around the bones of the knee joint. Amputation is an excellent way to control the local disease, which is the actual tumor on the limb. Unfortunately this is a malignant tumor and it has almost always spread elsewhere by the time an amputation is performed.

Soft tissue sarcomas are another type of tumor that can develop on the limbs. These tumors are malignant, but tend to be slow to spread to other parts of the body. They are locally aggressive (that is, they damage and invade the structures at their location). If they occur on a limb it is often difficult to get rid of the tumor in its entirety while maintaining muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments and bone needed for normal limb function. Thus, amputation may be the surgical procedure of choice.

In addition to surgery, radiation therapy or combinations of radiation and chemotherapy may be appropriate for certain limb tumors. Treatment options can be discussed with your veterinarian or with a surgical or oncological specialist.

Severe trauma. Amputation may be recommended when there are multiple fractures and extensive trauma to the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the limbs. Nerve damage or a severely broken limb can also result in amputation. As in humans, even when money is not an issue, amputation may be the treatment of choice for limb trauma where nerve supply or blood supply is severely damaged or bone and soft tissue injury is beyond what can be repaired by modern surgical techniques. Damage to the nerves that supply the limb, for example following trauma that results in pelvic fractures, may be irreversible, resulting in a non-functional limb that drags. This may result in abrasions of the paw through failure of the animal to pick up the leg properly. Amputation may be indicated in such cases.

There is little that you can do to prevent your pet from developing a tumor that might necessitate amputation. However, if trauma is the cause, steps can be taken to avoid it from occurring in the first place. Ensuring that your dog remains on a leash and providing adequate fencing will reduce the chance of your pet getting hit by a car.

Even though pets adapt amazingly well to an amputation, sometimes situations can be difficult due to owner expectations. Pets that were used for performance, hunting, or other higher levels of activity may have some athletic limitations after an amputation. However, the impact of amputation on the life of a house pet is usually minimal.

These pictures are very graphic do not open if you have a weak stomach.
>>Click here to view pictures of a hind leg being amputated. 

All images and text on this site Copyright © 1998-2024 Harlequin Haven Great Dane Rescue, Inc. unless otherwise credited. Use of any image or text without written permission is expressly forbidden. All rights reserved.

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