When your best friend needs an amputation, it can be an emotionally challenging decision to make as a family. When you have no choice and the amputation needs to be performed suddenly, it can be even more difficult to deal with. But there is hope.
The difference between a fore and hindlimb amputation
Dog’s carry their weight on four limbs, making it much easier for them to adjust to amputation than it is for us as two-legged people. However, all four limbs are not the same. Dogs carry 60% of their weight on their forelimbs and 40% of their weight on their hindlimbs.
The limbs also have different functions, the hindlimbs are important for forward propulsion, while the forelimbs are important for changing directions, slowing down and balancing.
Together, these points mean that dogs generally cope and adjust more easily to a hindlimb amputation and take a little more time and require a little more help when it comes to a forelimb amputation.
The adjustment period
Once your dog has had an amputation, they will need to learn how to balance, how to walk, how to change speed and direction, and generally how to function in the best possible way. In the beginning, they may struggle with the simplest tasks, but with some help, they can quickly adjust and learn to live life to the fullest again.
In the words of Hydrotherapist Angela Griffiths, “your dog doesn’t know how it looks, it doesn’t have any of those disability issues that we have in people, it doesn’t have to worry about earning a living and paying the mortgage, it just wants to be a dog and get on with life, and what we have to do is make sure they are supported and pain-free, for however long they are going to be with us.”
Your biggest concern
A dog with only three legs will be placing excess weight on the remaining legs as well as drastically changing the way it moves from the way it’s body was designed to move. These factors together mean that your dog will be at a greater risk to injure one of the remaining legs, as well as to develop arthritis in the remaining legs.
The images below show some of the ways in which dogs might change their gait or movement in response to a forelimb amputation, which can predispose them to injury or the development of arthritis.
How hydrotherapy can support your amputee
And this is where hydrotherapy and rehabilitation come into play.
In the first days and weeks after your dog has had an amputation, a qualified rehab therapist will be able to help your dog as well as you to adjust to new movement patterns and new ways of getting through life.
At that point, your hydrotherapist will be able to help your dog through swimming to strengthen the muscles of the remaining limbs, improve his fitness and body condition, and improve his overall capacity to function and cope with life.
Not only will he get fitter and stronger, but your dog is going to be having a whole host of fun in the process!!
I have already explained that your dog’s movement patterns are going to change which will predispose him to injury in the remaining limbs, and I have also explained that your dog will be carrying a whole lot more weight on the remaining limbs than they were designed to carry.
This means that your dog is at a much higher risk for developing arthritis than he was before the surgery, and according to the data that we have, your dog was already at a high risk – 20% of dogs over one year, and 80% of geriatric dogs have arthritis, and we expect that this is a reflection of an UNDER diagnosis of this condition rather than an overestimation.
The benefits of hydrotherapy will exactly target these areas – in a buoyant environment, your dog will be improving the health of each of his joints without putting any stress on them.
Your dog will also be getting fitter and stronger in a supported environment, where his altered movement patterns will have the least negative effect on the rest of his body.
During swimming, your dog will be building movement patterns that will be beneficial for him in his day-to-day life, while he will be reducing the movement patterns that are harmful to him in his day-to-day life.
And the trump card is that your trained and registered hydrotherapist will be able to recognise any signs that your dog may not be doing as well as he should be, and will be able to refer you back to your veterinarian to make sure that your dog has the highest quality of life he can possibly have during every phase of the rest of his life.
The years ahead
Hopefully, your three-legged friend will have many many superb years ahead of him, years of pain-free play. Years where he will be a part of your family and your life journey.
Your family may have lost one leg, but you have gained a whole new team of hydrotherapists and rehab therapists that you will shortly call friends, family and indispensable support.