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Keeping Your Three-Legged Dog Healthy

• Protect remaining limbs
• Put a sock/pad on the “elbow” of the remaining leg (to prevent calluses and pressure sores)
• Keep the dog’s weight down
• Take care of the dog’s skin and pads
• Exercise the dog regularly (walking is good; swimming is best)
• Assist or monitor the dog on stairs
• Monitor the dog’s activity level and don’t let him or her overdo it
• Give glucosamine, fish oils and other anti-inflammatory supplements
• Maintain a good diet and good overall health
• For front leg amputations, use a car seat harness with wide chest bands
• Invest in a “wheelchair,” if necessary, to help with mobility

How Many Tripods Are There?

It would be impossible to determine how many tripod dogs there are in the United States, says Sally Wortman, hospital administrator of Pets Unlimited, a major veterinary hospital and shelter in the San Francisco Bay area, though she estimates they do two to three amputations per month. Pets Unlimited treats approximately 50,000 animals per year. “We take in animals from other shelters, animals that don’t have many other opportunities,” says Wortman.

One of those animals was Wortman’s Clover, a one-and-a-half-year-old Pointer/Border Collie mix who arrived at the shelter with a badly broken right front leg that had to be amputated. “She was up and running the day after surgery,” says Wortman. “She’s a very athletic dog. She keeps up with the Greyhounds at the park. She’s inspiring to everyone who sees her.” Wortman says that she has noticed that people’s acceptance of three-legged dogs is growing. “Before, perhaps, people would have thought it was sad that she was missing a limb. But that has changed. I was recently at the dog park and met a couple whose baby had a paralyzed right arm. They said to me, ‘I wish we could get a three-legged dog so our child could grow up to think it was okay to be missing a limb.’”

“We always try to save the limb first,” says Thomas Mason, director of veterinary services at Pets Unlimited, “though sometimes this is much more expensive and requires more rehabilitation.” An amputation typically costs $1,200, while it may cost up to $3,000 to try to salvage the limb.

Before doing an amputation, a vet must decide if the dog is a good candidate. “We assess the animal’s overall physical condition. If the dog has arthritis in the other legs, for instance, he wouldn’t be such a good candidate. Amputation causes wear and tear on the other joints.” Many times, says Mason, a vet will end up taking off a dog’s entire leg, even if the trauma or the cancer is low down on the “ankle” joint. “Because of the way dogs walk, you end up with a lot of problems if you leave some of the limb. It would just get in the way. Most of the time, amputation is more cosmetically acceptable.”

Martin Kaufmann would like to see a change to this type of practice. Kaufmann, of OrthoPets.com, makes prosthetics and orthotics for both “two-legged and four-legged animals and any variation in the middle.” His goal is “to get the animal world up to speed with what we’re doing with humans.” He began his practice with animals four years ago, after a cousin’s Schnauzer suffered a stroke and lost the function in its right front leg. Kaufmann began studying animal anatomy books and learned that the muscle and bone terminology in dogs is almost exactly what it is in humans. Now, 30 percent of his practice is making artificial limbs and braces for animals, mostly dogs. “When three-legged dogs are brought to me, when they are amputated way up at the joint, there aren’t many options,” he says. Too often he sees animals who had cancer in the “wrist” joint.

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