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Pets come into world ‘with three legs and a spare’

Sun., Sept. 4, 2005

Bandit, a black and white, short-haired cat, headed out for a night of fun.

He evaded his humans, dashing out the door and playing hide and seek.

With their voices receding in the distance, he headed off to have the time of his life. And the time of his life he had, although probably not as he intended.

We don’t know the specifics of the accident that befell him that night, although it likely involved a vehicle and it was a miracle he wasn’t killed.

But when Bandit dragged himself home the next day, he was more dead than alive. Fortunately his person, Annika Laurea-Wood, found him and got him to an emergency veterinarian. Bandit would live, but the damage was so extensive to his left hind leg, that he would have to live without that leg from now on.

The limb was not repairable and needed to be amputated.

Many pet owners face the choice that Laurea-Wood did: a live pet who is missing a leg or euthanasia of their pet. And some pet owners may initially feel that adapting to life as an amputee will be so difficult for their pet that they don’t want to put their beloved pet through it and consider choosing the euthanasia option.

While it is important to consider our pet’s feelings, it is also important to realize when they are different from humans. Loss of a limb is a lot more difficult for people, because our limbs are very specialized. We use only two of them for locomotion and the other two have our highly specialized hands.

Plus, appearance is important to us, while not nearly so for our pets. It turns out that, provided the other legs are sound, pets do just fine on three legs.

Besides a nonrepairable injury to the leg, amputation might be recommended for the removal of a tumor that might increase the possibilities of survival, if the leg is painful, or if it has become nonfunctional and is just dead weight for the pet.

“Often the limb is not salvageable and the animal is uncomfortable,” said Dr. James Lincoln, DVM, associate professor of small animal orthopedic surgery at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“If they were packing the limb, carrying it but not using it, it adds weight and discomfort. It is remarkable, when we remove the painful limb, how they become content and happy again.

“As soon as they figure out their center of balance and adjust their gait to it, they are off and gone on it.”

There are some things you can do to help your pet adjust.

Slippery floors and steep stairs are a problem, and it is important that food and water are within easy reach. They need a safe resting place where they can feel secure.

The three remaining legs need to build up strength.

Watch your other pets closely when they are together; they may react to your pet’s new way of moving and think he is a stranger. Don’t let your amputee get overweight, as that stresses the remaining legs.

“There are simple things you can do,” says Laurea-Wood, “like lowering the edge of the litter box for an amputee cat.”

When they are adjusting to their new balance, respect the struggle but don’t baby the pet, either. If you carry them everywhere, they won’t be able to build strength or develop new balance.

“I found a terrier mix dog in a snowbank after being hit by a snowplow,” said J. Veronika Kiklevich, DVM, now of San Antonio. “I was able to pin and plate her left hind leg, but there really wasn’t any way to save her right leg.

“Annie became my dog for the next 15 years. She never knew that she had three legs. She ran like the wind after anything and everything!

“I used to ‘lend’ Annie to people that were debating about whether to have their pet’s leg amputated, so that they could see just how well a dog does on three legs,” Kiklevich continued. “After spending an afternoon or evening with Annie, virtually everyone who was agonizing about this decision came back to me saying that they had no idea how well dogs did with three legs, and yes, they certainly would choose amputation over euthanasia.

“I am not kidding when I tell clients that dogs and cats are sent to us with three legs and a spare. … Annie was living proof!”

“Bandit is doing just fine now,” said Laurea-Wood. “He is getting around and even jumping on the furniture. Honestly, this was harder for me that it was for him.”

Our pets need our love and consideration, but not our pity, if they lose a limb. Respect their struggle but give them a chance for a happy, healthy, full life, and chances are your three-legged pet will run to greet the opportunity.


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