Leg Amputation Surgery

Learning that your pet needs surgery can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you are unsure of what the procedure entails. At Anicira, we work with pet parents to ensure you are well-informed before your pet’s surgery. Our veterinary team provides compassionate care before, during, and after surgery to ensure your pet is safe and comfortable.

When is leg amputation surgery recommended?

Leg amputation can reduce pain and improve the quality of life for a pet who may be experiencing:

  • Severe trauma
  • Severe infection
  • Non-healing fracture
  • Severe arthritis
  • Cancer in the limb

Will it impact my pet’s quality of life to have three legs?

Leg amputation surgery can improve the quality of life for many pets who are in pain and are unable to use the affected leg. Most pets will live happier and healthier lives after receiving a leg amputation. While there may be some adjustments to your pet’s lifestyle, many 3-legged pets are very active.

Pre-Surgical Instructions

Admission Time – Bring your pet to Anicira at 7 am.
Pre-surgical exam – Your pet must be in good health and show no signs of sickness such as coughing, sneezing, or diarrhea.
Medical records – Please bring proof of rabies vaccination if you have not already provided this. If your cat or dog has not been previously vaccinated or lacks proof of vaccination, we will administer a rabies vaccine on the day of surgery. If you have not already sent your medical records, please bring all relevant medical records.

Feeding Instructions
Adult Dogs over 1 year Withhold food for all adult dogs after midnight the evening before surgery. Please ensure water is available at all times.
Adult Cats under 1 year Adult cats can have food without restriction of amount up until 6am the morning of surgery. Please ensure water is available at all times.
Puppies and Kittens under 1 year Feed a small meal (¼ of their typical breakfast) to all puppies and kittens on the morning of surgery. Please ensure water is available at all times.

Leg Amputation Surgery

Leg amputation surgery removes a pet’s damaged or diseased leg.

Before surgery, our veterinary team will perform a thorough pre-surgical examination to ensure your pet is a good candidate for anesthesia. It is strongly recommended that your pet receives pre-anesthetic blood work to ensure that no health concerns go undetected.

Your pet will be under general anesthesia. The surgical team will prepare the surgical site by shaving and then cleaning the area to remove bacteria and decrease risk of potential infection.

The veterinarian will then perform the leg amputation surgery. During a front limb amputation, the surgeon will remove the entire limb (including the shoulder blade) by making an incision on the side of the chest. During a rear limb amputation, the surgeon makes an incision around the thigh. The femur (thigh bone) may be fully removed or a portion may remain.

Caring for Your Pet After Leg Amputation Surgery

Anesthesia may take 24 to 48 hours to wear off.

  • Your pet may be groggy or whiny during this time.
  • Keep your pet confined in a secure, quiet, and comfortable space. We recommend a crate or a small room.
  • Isolate them from other pets and children while recovering.
  • It’s very important during this time that there is good footing where your pet is recovering. If you have tile or wood floors, you can use carpets or yoga mats to improve traction for your pet.

Make sure your pet wears their Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar / Cone)

  • Your pet’s surgical site will take 10 to 14 days to heal. During this period, they should wear an e-collar at all times.
  • Allowing your pet to lick their incision can lead to infection or dehiscence (opening of the incision).

Offer food & water after surgery

  • When your pet returns home, offer them food and water
  • Anesthesia may cause nausea so your pet may not be interested in food
  • If vomiting occurs, wait 12 hours before offering more food.
  • Resume regular feeding the day after surgery. Your pet’s appetite should be back to normal within 24 hours.
  • If your pet refuses to eat, you may try offering a bland diet such as white rice and lean protein (for example, boiled chicken breast) while they regain a normal appetite.
  • Please do not feed your pet junk food, table scraps, or milk.

Give all medications as directed

  • Your pet will be sent home with oral pain medication. Please follow the instructions on the label.
  • If possible, please give the pain medication with food. If your pet has no appetite, please ensure they still take the pain medication.
  • OTC pain relievers such as Tylenol and Advil are toxic to pets. Please do not give these to your pet.

Check surgical incision daily for the first week

  • Your pet’s surgical site will be healing for 10-14 days.
  • What you see on the day of surgery is what we consider normal
  • Monitor for increased redness, swelling, discharge or pulling apart of the incision.

Other shaved areas

  • Your pet may have shaved areas on one or more legs from where an IV catheter was placed as well as under the tail for monitoring equipment during anesthesia.
  • These areas may be irritated or bruised. If your pet is excessively licking, please use a taste deterrent spray or e-collar to prevent self-trauma.
  • If your pet went home with a brightly colored wrap on their leg, this should be removed 30 minutes after returning home.

Limit your pet’s activity and keep them clean, dry, and warm for 10 days after surgery.

  • Ensure your pet is supervised around all potential hazards (including stairs)
  • Pets should be kept indoors so they can stay clean, dry, and warm.
  • Dogs should be walked outside on a leash to urinate and defecate. No off-leash activity during the entire recovery period.
  • No running, jumping, playing, swimming, or other strenuous activity.
  • Do not bathe your pet or have it groomed during the recovery period.

Avoid strenuous activities for four weeks

  • Rest is important for recovery!
  • Pets may participate in short walks before then

Learning to Walk on Three Legs

For the first few days after surgery, your pet may require assistance as they learn to balance with a new center of gravity. For front-limb amputees, use a sling under the armpits. For rear limb amputees, use a sling under the hips. As your pet progresses, you can allow them to bear more weight until they are comfortable walking on three legs. Please be patient, and don’t let your pet do too much too fast.

After the Recovery Period

Assist your pet when necessary

Your pet may have difficulty with traction on slick surfaces such as hardwood and tile floors. Provide carpeting when possible and assist otherwise.
If your pet has difficulty with certain activities, such as jumping on the couch or getting in a car, help them.

Keep Your Pet a Healthy Weight

Amputating a leg increases pressure on the joints of other limbs.
Make sure your pet maintains a healthy weight after surgery to decrease unnecessary pressure on their joints.

How long will it take for my pet to adjust after their leg is amputated?

The time it takes for your pet to adjust to life with three limbs depends on a number of factors, including: age, weight, breed, and which limb was amputated. Some pets adjust within a matter of days, while others may take several weeks. Many pets feel and move better after a painful limb is removed and, after recovery, there are no limitations on their lifestyle.

Rare, but serious surgical complications

Complications from a leg amputation are rare. If your pet experiences these issues after surgery, please contact Anicira.

  • Hemorrhaging
  • Infection of surgical site
  • Fluid build-up
  • Dehiscence of the surgical site – both sides of the surgical site should be touching.
  • Watch for any gapping.
  • Discharge at the surgical site
  • Nerve damage

Please contact Anicira, your primary care veterinarian, or an emergency clinic if any of the following occur:

  • Pale gums
  • Severe pain, depression, or weakness
  • Vomiting or Diarrhea
  • Labored breathing
  • Decreased appetite for more than 24 hours
  • Lethargy lasting more than 24 hours