“The vets tend to think of it as a useless limb and amputate way up at the top. That makes it almost impossible to build a prosthesis. We need at least one joint in order for the animal to be able to operate” with a prosthetic limb. Kaufmann explains that since this is a new field and he is one of only a few people doing this type of prosthetic work, not many vets know of this option. But he is trying to spread the word. “For limb preservation, it’s important to salvage as much of the limb as possible, or as many joints as possible.” If the limb has already been amputated at the top, he recommends having the dog use a cart to maintain the weight distribution on the leg that’s left. “Compounding forces on the remaining leg can cause arthritis from overuse. If the animal loses the remaining leg, what does it have left?”
Whether a dog loses a leg due to trauma or disease, most often he or she will bounce back and learn to adjust. As Sheila Wells points out, dogs don’t have the same stigma that we would have about losing a limb. “Some don’t ever notice their leg is missing,” she says. “Usually a leg that has been taken off has been painful for a long time and the dog is already used to not using that leg. When they get it removed, their whole demeanor changes because they can run around without being in pain. There’s no reason a three-legged dog has to be disabled.”
HELPING YOUR THREE-LEGGED DOG
Depending on age, breed and general condition, most dogs will adjust to losing a leg and regain their pre-surgery activity level. As hydrotherapist Sheila Wells says, by the time a leg has been amputated, “it has been painful for a long time and the dog has been compensating for a long time.” You can help with the recovery and adjustment process—see the following resources to find out how.
Animal Wellness and Rehabilitation Center
Bellevue, WA 98004
Tejinder Sodhi, DVM, CVC, offers holistic and naturopathic consultations for almost all disease conditions. Treatment options include acupuncture and chiropractic care for animals, physical therapy, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, herbs, nutrition and diet consultations. Dr. Sodhi is available for phone consultations; there is a charge for this service, but he will also answer one question free via email (see the website for details). Animal Wellness Center will make referrals to holistic veterinarians in your area.
David Levine’s Homepage
This national referral site offers links and general information about rehabilitation and physical therapy for animals. The website includes news on upcoming conferences, books, veterinary links and a map showing the location of animal physical therapists throughout the United States.
Handicapped Pets provides products, services and support for elderly, disabled and handicapped pets. Their website features links to veterinarians and rehabilitation centers; articles pertaining to pet disability; a discussion board to support people who are caring for handicapped pets; and full descriptions of products available by mail order, such as carrying slings, wheeled carts, stay-dry beds, healthy food supplements and more.
Swim therapy and massage promote rehabilitation, and Wellsprings provides both to its canine clients. Licensed massage practitioner Sheila Wells works to build the dog’s confidence, increase range of motion, keep weight down and increase circulation to the injured area. The Wellsprings website is a fount of information. Wells is available for phone consultations and will provide referrals to those outside the Seattle area.
Mobility Aids Doggon’ Wheels
Doggon’ Wheels is a small company that makes custom wheelchairs for disabled pets. Their website includes a detailed description of their products, ordering information and testimonials from people who have used their products.
Eddie’s Wheels for Pets
Eddie’s features custom-made carts that are designed and built to your dog’s measurements and specific needs. In addition to the basic rear-wheel cart, they design and build carts for front-leg disability, counterbalanced carts for those with weak forelimbs and carts for amputees. Check out their charming website to see photos of some of their clients, including a dog with a ski wheelchair.
K-9 Carts has been designing and building pet wheelchairs for 40 years. Their website includes a photo gallery, links to related organizations and tips on nursing care, as well as descriptions of their carts, harnesses, boots, therapeutic beds and other products for the handicapped pet.
Martin Kaufmann makes custom-fitted orthotic and prosthetic devices for dogs and other animals. By distributing the dog’s weight more evenly, a prosthetic device can help protect the three-legged dog’s remaining limbs from arthritis and other conditions. The website includes photos as well as FAQs and links to other sites.
Dana Standish lives in Seattle; her previous articles for The Bark include "Sleeping with Dogs" (Spring 2004) and "Three Legs to Stand On" (July 2006).