Tripawds: Better to Hop on Three Legs Than Limp on Four

When canine pet guardians are faced with the difficult decision of amputation for their beloved dog, they are often unaware that dogs can live happy, fulfilling lives on three legs. This article was written to promote the website, an online community for three legged dogs and their humans. It resulted in publication in numerous print and web-based publications, including  K9 Perspective Magazine.

Jerry: Adjusting to Life on Three Legs

Jerry loves to play in Lake Ontario
Jerry is just one example of what a tripawd dog can achieve and is at his happiest playing in the lake and sniffing out interesting smells on the lake shores.

If your vet has just suggested amputation for your best friend, you’re probably scared and wondering if your dog will still be able to lead a happy and fulfilled life. The answer is a definite “Yes!” Three-legged canines can do just about everything their quadruped counterparts can do. Plus, their gracefulness in how they do it serves as a constant reminder to we humans that no matter what kind of challenges we face in our daily lives, if we behave more like dogs and live in the moment, we can overcome anything!

If you decide to proceed with amputation, there are some simple things that you can do to help your furry friend’s transition into the tripawd lifestyle.

Emotional support: be a pack leader
Before, during and after surgery, you must be a strong pack leader and put aside any feelings of sadness or pity towards your dog. Your dog picks up on every emotion you have, so being positive will help him make the transition faster. While it’s difficult to watch your dog’s first steps on three legs, remember that soon he will re-learn how to run, go to the bathroom, and play on three legs.

Keep in mind that dogs don’t feel sorry for themselves when they lose a leg, they’re just glad to be out of pain and want to get on with the business of playing. It’s we humans that have a harder time with amputation. Our dogs live in the moment, so be sure to take their lead! Keep in mind that with any invasive procedure, there are pre-surgery and post-surgery risks, and things may go wrong. But most will come through it with flying colors.

All dogs have a different recovery timeline, but generally we’ve seen Tripawd dogs who’ve visited our Jerry’s site take anywhere from three to six weeks for a healthy recovery. Be patient. Jerry’s experience was that he did not completely recover overnight. He was slow getting around and it was a couple of months before he really got going again. Even today, one year later, he is slower and his walks are much shorter, but he’s healthy, and that’s all that matters.

Physical support: simple changes for safety
Three-legged dogs can keep up with their quadruped counterparts! Sure, there are things that he might find too challenging, like going on 12 mile hikes, but much of what you and your dog used to enjoy together will remain the same. It can take time, but your lives together will be just as fulfilling and fun if you’re patient and creative.

Try a harness. If you’re able to get one before surgery, a harness is a great way to help your dog maneuver when he or she comes home from the hospital. Later on it will come in handy when she needs to navigate stairs, get into cars and leap over obstacles while hiking. The best one we’ve found for Tripawds is the RuffWear Web Master harness. It has a handle on top, which makes it easy to pull your dog up from a down position. The material is non-binding, breathable and durable. Front leg amputees may find that the harness moves around a little, but an occasional adjustment is a small inconvenience compared to the help that it provides. For dogs with additional ailments like hip dysplasia or arthritis, we have found that the AST Pet Support Suit is the best option.

Easy changes around the home
If possible, slip proof your home before your dog returns from surgery. Gather up all of the throw rugs, carpet runners or floor mats that you can, and place them on slippery floor areas where your dog likes to spend time. If you didn’t have time to do this before surgery, keep your dog in a confined area until you can.

Block access to any stairs, until your dog becomes more confident on three legs. Amputee dogs tend to forget that they only have three legs, and navigating downstairs is tricky for most. Once Jerry did a face plant going down our hardwood stairs, we decided that he would no longer descend them without assistance.

Put your dog’s food and water bowls up on risers. Even a milkcrate will do. Tripawd dogs find it tricky to stoop all the way down to the floor.

Exercise and fitness
And speaking of food … the key to making it easier for your dog to get around on three legs, is to keep his weight down, especially if your dog is a front-leg amputee; that’s where 60percent of a dog’s weight is carried. Once your tripawd recovers from surgery, don’t hesitate to get back into the routine of daily walks. Just consider the following to make the most of your time together:

  • Take shorter more frequest walks. Start with just a few minutes at first, one block at a time.
  • It’s easier for tripawds to hop along at a quicker pace than it is to walk slowly.
  • Watch for signs of exertion and stop to rest as needed.
  • Always carry water and a portable bowl with you
  • Remember: dogs carry 60 percent of their weight on the front leg, so don’t throw balls and frisbees up high. This is especially important to consider when exercising front-legged tripawds.

These are just a few changes that we’ve found to be helpful with Jerry’s transition into a three legged world. For more tips, resources, videos and success stories of other three-legged wonders, please visit Jerry’s Tripawds website at: Good luck with your new three-legged wonder dog!

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