Pet Talk: Amputating a pet's limb

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For many pet owners, the thought of their furry friend losing a limb can be scary or sad. However, pets with certain conditions, such as bone cancer, can benefit from amputating a limb. In fact, in some situations, amputation can actually improve a pet’s quality of life.

Dr. Jacqueline Davidson, clinical professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained how animal amputees can still live normally.

“Amputation can definitely improve a pet’s quality of life, particularly when the pet is in pain that cannot be controlled with medication,” Davidson said. “Most pets do so well with three legs that they can return to their previous level of function within several weeks after the surgery.”

Some of the most common reasons for amputation include cancer in the leg and severe trauma that damages the limb so much that it is not possible to treat it. In other cases, the limb can be saved, but the cost of treatment is too expensive for clients. Other reasons for amputation may be nerve damage to a leg or a severe infection that is not treatable with antibiotics.

No matter the reason, amputation is a major surgery that requires anesthesia and recovery time. How quickly the pet recovers after surgery depends on the reason for the amputation.

“If the pet was already lame because of pain from the cancer or trauma, then the pet may be almost immediately more comfortable after surgery,” Davidson said. “In situations where the pet was still using the leg, it may require several weeks to develop strength in the other legs. Regardless, almost every pet will be up and walking as soon as they awaken from the anesthesia.”

In other cases, such as when only the lower part of the leg needs to be removed, pets can be fitted with a prosthetic leg. Davidson explained that most pets will use the prosthetic leg within minutes, but there is a “break-in” period during which the pet gets accustomed to the prosthetic by gradually increasing daily wear time.

“Some pets have personalities that are not well-suited for a prosthesis, or they function just as well without one,” Davidson said. “Although prostheses can be beneficial for some pets, they require additional expense and dedication on the client’s part.”

Missing a limb doesn’t mean missing out on any fun; amputees can live a normal, happy life.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk.

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