3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)

3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)
Image from Cassie's Three Legged Dog Club

Image from Cassie’s Three Legged Dog Club

Animals are amazing, most of us know that I think.  Whether it be the unconditional love they give, the ability to brighten up any day, or making awesome videos to entertain us on the internet, the world is a better place with animals but especially our pets.  You know what else is incredible about them?  Their ability to adapt to life’s changes (unfortunately not 100% of the time); specifically I want to talk about amputees – or more affectionately known as tripods.

Severe distal humerus fracture

Severe distal humerus fracture

Pets may only have 3 legs (or even 2!) for just a few reasons; some are even born that way.  Whether it be cancer, irreparable injury, or congenital (from birth) as the cause, they have a remarkable capacity to adapt to their new lives.  Sadly, many animals are euthanized rather than undergo a limb-sparing surgery.  For many people, the thought of a pet losing a leg or being “disabled” is more than they can bear.  Certainly, not every patient is a candidate to undergo such a procedure but for those that are, the emotional aspect should not dismiss the idea.  Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

To finish on a good note, we’ll look at the cons first.  The immediate post-op period does take some adjustment and there is a difference between front legs and back legs in terms of recovery and ultimate mobility.  In my opinion, losing a front leg may be easier especially in terms of using the bathroom (much harder to balance without a second back leg!) but in time, most animals will learn how to move around wonderfully.  Additionally, missing a leg will put added stress on the opposite side which can potentially lead to some joint problems or make arthritis seem worse – hence, it is important to keep these patients at a healthy weight.  Your pet may also experience a phenomenon known as phantom pain, which will make them feel as though the limb is still part of the body.  Lastly, things may seem cosmetically unattractive to you….let me assure you, Rover won’t care what his surgery site looks like.  He’ll just be happy for treats, belly rubs, your assistance in learning to walk again, and being alive.broken leg puppy

So why should you adopt a tripod or consider having an amputation surgery done on your pet if one is recommended?  One main reason: the procedure is done as a way to eliminate pain (after the recovery period) from conditions such as nerve damage, non-reparable fractures, or bone tumors.  A pain free life is a good life!  That’s really THE reason to elect for that surgery.  Sometimes cost for a fracture repair may be too much or the prognosis for recovery will be poor and amputation will be brought up.  Aside from relieving pain, this may be done to preserve the bond you have with your pet; rather than euthanizing them, you can still let them live out their natural lives by your side.  There’s so many intangible benefits as well!!  They won’t hold a grudge against you for making this decision because you’re removing the pain.  If they are 3-legged and awaiting adoption in a shelter, they will love you just as much as any pet with four legs.  And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can help them set up their own social media accounts to share their story & to help advocate for other tripods!

my own tripod Louie

my own tripod Louie

Three legged pets often have an interesting story and are natural survivors.  Losing a leg is not a death sentence; it’s a second chance at a renewed life.  I’ve seen this with my own cat.  Louie is a laid back, happy, fluffy speed demon who outruns our other cats and adores my wife who actually performed the amputation.  He’s also an excellent mouser.  So if your veterinarian brings up amputation as an option in treating your pet, don’t rush to a decision without considering all angles.  For more information, including a broad support network, visit tripawds.com

Disclaimer:  Blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect those of my current or any former employers.  I was not compensated by Tripawds.com for this post but I do enjoy their community!

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  1. Great post!! My tripod cat Alex couldn’t care less about his missing hind legs, and nor do his (spayed!) kitty girlfriends. He is still devastatingly handsome and does all the things any four-legged cat would do… apart from jumping up on the counter! 🙂

  2. Aww thank you so much doc, it’s truly the biggest compliment we can receive when we are recommended by a veterinarian. Thank you for taking time to write this fantastic and insightful article about life on three legs, we agree with every bit. 🙂

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      August 24, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      No problem at all! I have my own tripod I need to get him to write a post for Tri-pawd Tuesday 🙂 I refer clients to you when we discuss amputation as the work you do really helps to break down the stigma that people worry about if their pet becomes 3-legged. Keep up the great work!

  3. My cat Tux (who died last year) lost a leg to cancer – hemangiosarcoma.
    Luckily, I’d already known a couple people who had tripod kitties (Natalie above, being one of them), so it wasn’t hard for me to make the decision.
    I will admit though, when they brought him out after post-op recovery so I could take him home, and I first saw him – I felt horrible. I thought.. “OMG what did I do to you – I drop you off and you wake up missing pieces!!! I am a horrible cat mother”
    Looking back though, he was so hopped up on pain meds, he probably didn’t care. And he adapted to life on three paws so quickly. They day after his surgery, he mostly slept. But two days after, he was already jumping on the couch to sit in my lap (I’d made him steps to make it easier and he completely ignored them.). By day three, he was already heading up the stairs and jumping on the bed (which is very high) for an afternoon nap.)
    I had to invest in a few throw rugs, because our slippery tile floors were harder for him to negotiate, but other than not being able to cover his litter deposits, and no longer being able to scratch the furniture) he was back to his usual saucy self in a week.
    The surgery gave us three more years with him before the cancer spread and he was ready to go. It was worth every penny and I’m so thankful I had a vet willing to do it.

    • Dr. Ryan Llera

      May 9, 2017 at 9:42 am

      Hi Valerie and thank you for sharing your story of Tux. I think it was his picture I saw on the Facebook post last week and he was a handsome boy. I’m glad you made the decision and had those few extra years with him. We love our own tripod kitty and your comment reaffirms why I wrote this. I hope other pet owners will take your story to heart when making these decisions for their pets. Granted, there are some circumstances in which surgery may not be feasible medically so each patient needs to be evaluated separately. Many people are afraid of having the surgery done but it if removes the pain, the cats & dogs adapt and generally are much happier than their previous injured state.

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