What to Expect if Your Dog Has an Amputation Surgery

Dog leg amputation

While the idea of a dog losing a limb can be devastating for pet parents, what many are not aware of is dogs typically adjust pretty well after an amputation procedure, and they often continue to live a normal and happy life. The first few weeks after the surgery can be critical for the dog’s journey to adjusting to a new way of moving around, and pet parents must have enough knowledge to guide them through this re-learning process. Here are some of the things you need to know after your pet’s limb amputation surgery.

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Reasons for Limb Amputation Surgery in Dogs

Hearing that your dog may need amputation surgery can be a very difficult experience. Agreeing to a surgical procedure like this can be emotional and difficult for a pet parent. But in some situations, limb amputation can be the best way to relieve your dog’s suffering, like when tissue damage is too extensive to heal properly or in cases of irreparable fractures or bone cancer.

One of the most common reasons why limb amputation is recommended is in cases of bone cancer, such as osteosarcoma. Cancers that involve the bone are often aggressive and very painful. Unfortunately, because of the very minimal blood supply going to and from the bone, treatments like chemotherapy are often ineffective.

Extensive leg injuries like complicated fractures that cannot be repaired usually require amputation to help manage the pain and prevent serious complications. Severe tissue damage to the limb such as in cases of necrotizing infections can be controlled and treated by removing the affected limb. Aggressive tumors growing on the skin of the limb may also require amputation surgery procedures as a treatment to prevent the spread of the tumor.

Pain Management After Limb Amputation

One of the main concerns surrounding amputation surgeries is how to manage pain after the procedure. Pet owners are rightfully concerned about the pain that their dog may experience after a leg is surgically removed. It’s important to have a good plan with your veterinarian to manage this pain and make your pet comfortable as they recover from the procedure.

During the procedure itself, pre-anesthetic medications and analgesics are given to the dog to help manage pain before and during the surgery. This typically includes pre-operative analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications and a constant rate infusion of intravenous pain medication. The analgesia (pain management) that these medications provide usually lasts for up to a few hours after the surgery and will start to wear off as the dog recovers from the anesthesia.

From there, your vet will start your dog on other pain management medications to continue to control the pain as the wound heals and the dog recovers from the surgery. Post-operative pain medication includes oral analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and sometimes analgesic patches that can manage pain for several days. Your vet will discuss in detail the pain medications that you need to give at home to make sure that your dog is pain-free and comfortable while the surgical wound heals and your pet recovers.

Wound Care After Amputation Surgery

Another important aspect of caring for your dog after an amputation surgery is wound management. For the dog to fully recover from the surgery, the surgical wound has to heal completely without any serious complications. The most common complications associated with surgical wound healing are infections and suture dehiscence (wound opening).

Your vet will most likely prescribe your dog post-operative oral antibiotics to prevent infection of the surgical wound as it heals. Along with it, your vet may also instruct you to keep the wound clean using topical antiseptic wound cleaners. If the wound becomes infected, it will get inflamed, and swelling increases the risks of the suture failing and the incision opening up.

Oral NSAIDs will not only manage the pain associated with the surgery, but they will also help control inflammation to make sure there’s minimal risk for the incision to open up. Depending on which limb was amputated, your dog may be able to reach the surgical wound and lick or chew on it. Your vet will likely put your dog on an Elizabethan collar (plastic cone) to prevent self-inflicted injuries that may lead to the wound opening up.

Minor bruising and swelling around the wound may happen. This is common after the surgery and usually goes away on its own. However, if the bruise starts to spread or the swelling becomes uncontrollable, you may need to bring your dog back to your vet for a reassessment.

Restricting Your Dog’s Activity After Amputation Surgery

The part of the body involved in amputation surgery procedures is very mobile. Restricting physical activity will help ensure that the wound fully heals. While the end goal is to help your dog be able to adjust to moving around with only three legs, resting and restricting movement immediately after the procedure is important to reduce complications during wound healing.

Too much movement, especially around the surgical wound, increases the risks of the sutures opening up or the wound becoming inflamed. You must limit your dog’s activity as much as possible during the initial healing process (usually 10-14 days) to prevent any serious complications.

Helping Your Dog Adjust to Having Three Legs

Once the wound completely heals and the suture has been removed, the next part of the recovery process is to help your dog adjust to having one less leg to work with. Thankfully, this process is often not too difficult as dogs can adjust well to limb amputation.

You may need to support your dog initially during short walks and bathroom breaks, either by manually holding them or through the use of slings. Eventually, your dog will be able to adapt and support himself or herself with the remaining legs without the need for any support. Dogs with amputated back legs tend to adjust faster than those with front-leg amputations, but you’d be surprised how quickly they adjust to moving around with only 3 legs or less.

Read more:

Nothing to bark about! Causes of Limping in Dogs (and what you should do!)

How to Stop Your Pet from Licking Their Wounds

What to Expect When Your Pet Has a Wound

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