LIMB AMPUTATION IN DOGS AND CATS
Patients for limb amputation at YVC are admitted to the hospital on the day of surgery, or sometimes the day before. All patients stay overnight at least one night following surgery; a small percentage of patients will stay with us for multiple days. We will be sure that pets are up and steady on their feet and have at least a small amount of mobility before going home.
At home, dogs are restricted to leash walks for two weeks following surgery. We have found that it is best to keep cats confined to a comfortable room with food, litter and water for one to two weeks after amputation. Once it is obvious that they are moving comfortably they can be allowed access to the rest of the home.
DIAGNOSTIC TESTS ARE ESSENTIAL BEFORE AMPUTATION
In general, we want to be sure that the pet is healthy enough to tolerate this major surgical procedure. In particular, we want to know if the pet has any orthopedic problems affecting their remaining limbs. Patients with arthritis or other problems affecting the remaining limbs can still do very well following an amputation, but knowing if these problems are present allows us to create the best treatment plan for each pet. Examination, blood tests and x-rays are out most-used screening tests.
When the reason for the amputation is to remove a limb that has cancerous tissue in it, we must use blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound exams, and sometimes other tests to be as sure as reasonably possible that metastasis and other complications of cancer are not present.
RISKS AND COMPLICATIONS: GENERAL
During and immediately after the surgery there is the rare risk of severe, even fatal, bleeding or shock.
Most amputation incisions appear bruised at first. Within a few days to a few weeks of surgery there are are small risks of seroma (a pocket of body tissue fluid with blood under the incision), bleeding under the incision, infection of the incision site, and dehiscence (opening of part of the incision). These complications are minor and usually managed easily.
RISKS AND COMPLICATIONS: MOBILITY - WEEKS 1 TO 4 AFTER SURGERY
Most dogs and cats are walking reasonably well within one to four weeks after surgery. There is considerable unpredictable variation from pet to pet in how much care is necessary during this time frame. Dog owners should be prepared to provide assistance to their pet during this part of the recovery; in particular, they should consider the possibility that they will have to help their dog to its feet, and help it walk, and this is obviously more challenging with larger dogs. Cat owners should be prepared to provide their pet with comfortable confinement and medication for this part of the recovery.
During this initial part of the recovery it is harder for pets with a front leg amputation to get their balance and learn a new gait, but it does not take longer for this to happen than it does for rear leg amputation.
All pets receive pain control medications after surgery; most pets can be tapered off of medication by one month post-operatively, but some need medications indefinitely.
RISKS, COMPLICATIONS AND EXPECTATIONS: MOBILITY - 4 WEEKS AND LONGER AFTER SURGERY
Mobility is ultimately good to excellent for most dogs and excellent for most cats.
Studies have shown that the weight of the patient does not affect their recovery. This has been our experience for the most part, with the exception being medium to large dogs that are very overweight; a very small percentage of these pets ultimately do no better than poor to fair mobility. In over 30 years of practice, we have encountered two dogs - both obese dogs of large stature - who were euthanized because they failed to achieve even a modest level of mobility after amputation.
Pre-existing mild-to-moderate arthritis in one or more of the remaining limbs does not affect recovery.
Dogs that have had amputations have been more thoroughly studied than cats. Among the findings of various dog amputation studies:
~ 73% of owners reported no change and 20% reported a slight decrease in their dog’s athletic activities
~ 61% reported no change and 38% reported slight decrease in their dog’s stamina during exercise
~ Of the dogs that swam before amputation 41% did not return to swimming; it did not matter if the front or back leg was amputated.
~ Behavior changes were reported in 9% to 32% of canine amputees; changes included increased aggression towards other dogs, increased anxiety, decreased dominance, and lack of interest in other dogs.
Yarmouth Veterinary Center