3-Legged Animals With a Spare

So I’ve already established that I like to remove bits of animals. If it ain’t workin’ for ‘em, get rid of it! That is often my motto.

Today’s animal bit I like to remove? LIMBS. Considering I have two 3-legged cats, this is probably not a surprise.

Tristan’s amputation was actually the first amputation I ever assisted in, as well as the first surgery I ever scrubbed in for. So maybe that’s why I have a soft spot for amputee animals, and enjoy the surgery.

Another reason I enjoy the surgery? It’s one of the most forgiving surgeries. Like with enucleation, it’s kind of hard to mess up removing something – did you separate the leg from the body? SUCCESS! With enucleation you need to be careful you don’t leave behind any tear ducts. In this regard limb amputation is even easier – it’s pretty darn obvious if you’ve left behind part of the leg you don’t want to. (okay, it’s maybe a bit more than that. . . did you separate the leg from the body and keep the animal from bleeding to death? Is the stump you’re leaving behind going to be awkward or painful? Do you have enough skin left behind to close the hole? All very important… but pretty straightforward to attend to in an amputation, true story.)

Some people are hesitant to put their animal through amputation. One of my professors was known to say that dogs and cats are four legged animals with a spare, and I’ve often found it to be true. I’m not saying every dog could get by with only three legs (a bulldog would probably find it difficult to balance his disproportionate body on only three legs…), but people should be open to the possibility. When my clients are considering it for a cat, it helps that I have one cat missing a forelimb and one cat missing a hindlimb and can personally assure them of how well 3 legged cats get on.

So why do we remove limbs? Well, let’s revisit some amputations I’ve assisted in or performed myself…

-Severe injury, as in Tristan’s case. Limb was beyond saving, so take it off!

-Broken leg, where fixing it doesn’t make sense – my first dog amputation had Horner’s syndrome, and didn’t use the leg at all, so when it got broke there was no point in trying to fix it .

-Degloving injury – this is when the skin is torn clean off. Pretty gruesome. Had a pregnant cat come in with the skin gone from the bottom third of her leg. She was better off without.

-Mystery injury – this is what Patrick was. We have no idea what was going on with his leg, and in trying to support it and give him a chance to keep it, we made it worse.  So as an iddy biddy kitten, he couldn’t go on with that leg. Off it came!

-Financial reasons – goes along with severe injury and degloving injury. Sometimes there is a chance you can save the leg, but only with once or even twice daily bandage change for weeks, which ultimately will be much more costly than amputation, and may not be successful and end in amputation anyway.  So sometimes people decide they can’t afford the risk of trying to fix it, failing and amputating in the end.

-Cancer – the big bad. Bone cancer is a big reason for considering limb amputation. This is kind of a salvage procedure – remove the painful, cancer ridden limb, to improve comfort for the animal’s remaining days. You try to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread beyond that limb before you go to surgery, though it’s sometimes an imperfect science.

Those are the reasons I’ve removed limbs. I’ve done more hind limbs than forelimbs, but I think I like forelimbs best. Tends to be a messy surgery, at least when I do it. I like making messes. But the animals look best kind when I’m done!

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About dottiemaggie

A veterinarian living and working in St John's, Newfoundland. I love my job, and I love my home. Professionally I am passionate about critical care and client education. Away from work I am passionate about enjoying life, spending time with friends, enjoying hobbies of all sorts, and exploring this wonderful province I call home.
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12 Responses to 3-Legged Animals With a Spare

  1. Susan says:

    Amputation with enthusiasm, let’s go!

  2. JaniceP says:

    I hope it’s not a decision that I’ll ever have to make, but if one of my animals does have to lose a leg, your stories will make the decision easier.

  3. Kate says:

    This is so interesting!! First of all, I really thought maybe you fell off the edge of the world…so I’m glad you’re back!!

    I had a crush on a boy named Tristan in high school. He shared my markers.

    So interesting “3-legged animals with a spare.” As soon as I started reading I thought of this Oprah show I saw a long time ago…have you seen this? Amazing…triumph of the spirit!

    I think that, as an animal lover where my animals are part of my family, I would react very badly to the news that one of their legs would have to amputated for any reason…just as I would react badly to the news of one of Finn’s limbs needing to be amputated. So thanks for this super interesting piece because now I have a new way of looking at it. And I still hope all my animals keep all their limbs…if for some reason an amputation is required, I won’t take it so hard…it’s not like amputating a limb from a human.

    I also think it is SO interesting that amputation is an easy surgery (I’m sure this is relative). I never would have thought about it in this way! Thanks for sharing.

    Now I’m going to go look up what enoculation is! 🙂

    • dottiemaggie says:

      I had heard of/seen videos of Lucky before 🙂 Animals can really be amazingly inspiring 🙂

      Definitely keeping all 4 limbs is the prefered way to be, but they certainly don’t look in the mirror and wonder after what’s missing if 3 legged is their lot in life!

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  6. linlah says:

    Um, my boy had a hamster when he was ten and I will always remember the look on the Vet’s face when I said “Yes, let’s spend $150 on a $5 hamster to amputate that rear leg that got caught in the exercise wheel and broke.”

    18 years later I’d make the same call, cause that hamster lived forever after surgery.

    His name was Racer, may he rest in peace.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      that’s awesome 🙂 We are generally surprised when people are willing to pay for surgery on ‘pocket pets’, because they so often are deemed “not worth it” – by the owners, not by us. I’d save ’em all if I could.

      We did do an amputation on a baby chinchilla while I was working in Ottawa! And I helped with a tail amputation on an iguana once. So it hasn’t been allll cats and dogs 🙂

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