Limb Amputation: Can My Pet Survive?


Veterinarians talk with pet families about many very difficult topics: failing kidneys, life-threatening injuries from automobile accidents, and the need for emergency surgery. But as an oncologist, one of the most difficult conversations is about limb amputation. This topic has been on my mind lately because of two challenging patients with somewhat unusual causes of amputation.

The Patients
The two patients on my mind are a dog and a cat, hardly unusual, but the cause for amputation was. One of the most common reasons for amputation in a dog is a bone tumor, osteosarcoma. This dog had a non-healing wound on her toe, which turned out to be a melanoma that spread up her leg, causing swelling and pain. While amputation was not expected to cure the tumor, we thought it would dramatically improve her quality of life and reduce her need for bandage changes and hospital visits. My feline patient was already undergoing treatment for lymphoma when his leg fractured. Although the fracture could have been repaired, he would have been confined to a crate for healing, and lymphoma chemotherapy would have increased the risk of infection in the healing bone. Amputation gave him his best shot at recovery.

The Cause
Veterinarians recommend amputation for a variety of reasons and in a variety of patients. Tumors are probably the most common cause for amputation, but there are others. Cats warming themselves in a car engine or dogs tangling with a motor vehicle may require amputation due to an irreparable fracture. A common reason for amputation in a bird or pocket pet is a severe infection, spread to the bone. Damage to the blood supply or the nerves of a leg is another cause of amputation. Oddly, some pets may look like they have undergone an amputation, but actually suffer from a birth defect resulting in missing limbs. The right owner, veterinarian and a 3-D printer can give these pets a full and fully mobile life.

The Difficulty
The tough part about recommending an amputation is not the cause underlying the need for this drastic procedure. When a tumor needs removal, veterinarians know amputation removes the source of pain and prolongs survival. We humans are the problem. We worry about our pet’s loss of mobility, their changed appearance and in some cases, the cost of surgery. Talk with your veterinarian, because sometimes amputation can be the most cost effective treatment.

The Outcome
The ability of pets to compensate following amputation is stunning. In a survey of American pet owners following the amputation of their pet’s leg, nearly three-quarters saw no change in their pet’s recreational activities. Using MRI and gait analysis in dogs undergoing hind limb amputation, researchers in Germany
demonstrated that within 10 days of amputation, dogs experienced a rapid return to full mobility. No bone or muscle injury resulting from the absence of a leg was detected when dogs were evaluated 4 months following amputation. Pet families are resilient too when it comes to amputation in their favorite fur baby. In the Germany study and the American survey, pet families reported they would make the same amputation decision all over again if another pet required an amputation.

I couldn’t find much data on cat amputation, but given their light frame and lithe bodies, perhaps all information a cat owner needs before amputation is contained in this video of a cat who lost both front legs and now walks like a T-Rex.

So the answer to my initial question is a resounding yes, your pet can survive AND thrive after a limb amputation. To learn more about amputation from the viewpoint of pet families, visit the Tripawds website.

5 thoughts on “Limb Amputation: Can My Pet Survive?”

  1. I actually had an appointment with you for my cat Bella on August 8th that, as the family caregiver, I was unable to keep. We are all torn as to whether to amputate her front left leg due to a nerve sheath tumor in her paw. I had all her records forwarded to you & was wishing I could get a second opinion either by email or over the phone. We live in eastern Long Island & the trip will cause me to have to leave my mother for most of the day. I so value the opinion of The Animal Medical Center & have brought several pets there for about 50 years. Of course as a kid it was much easier because my grandfather & my aunt worked there & there was no charge!

  2. Now the most common disease seen in the animals like cats and dogs is limb amputation, so the owners of the pets get worried and always in fear that they lost their pets in a moment. But your blog gives the clear description about the limb amputation, after reading your blog the pet owners feel relaxed and helps them to protect their pets from these diseases. The limb amputation generally causes due to bone tumor, osteosarcoma. When the pets have a blockage or narrowing of the arteries supplying in their legs, then the circulation to their legs are reduced and block their moves. After a veterinary consult,your pet can survive after a limb amputation.

  3. I have a 3 yr old large cat (14 lbs) whose bite wound in his front paw (as a kitten) would never heal and eventually developed into cancer. We amputated the front right leg 6 months ago but they left the scapula, saying recent evidence showed the cat could balance better. The state vet lab did pathology on the leg and said the cancer was confined to the paw, no evidence that it had spread into the bone marrow or up the leg. We also did a chest xray as a baseline and everything was clear. Everything seemed fine, and he was moving around well and seemed happy. But I’ve noticed in the last month that he isn’t moving around the house as much, preferring to stay on one level instead of using the stairs to move from section to section with the family during the day. I also noticed that he seems to be loosing muscle around the spinal column, making the vertebrae very prominent. Is this muscle loss common in cats with amputated fore limbs or should we be checking again for cancer??

    1. I am sorry your cat is so sick. Usually, cats with amputations are very mobile and maintain good body condition. I am concerned there is something medically wrong with your cat and would suggest a full evaluation by your veterinarian, including evaluation for cancer. All the best to you and your cat!

      1. Thanks for your reply. I have taken him to my vet who sent him to an internal medicine specialist the same day. He had started labored breathing which proved to be fluid around his lungs and heart. They drained it (100cc) but found very little in the fluid, a few cells the might be lympocytes, but they weren’t sure. A sample has been sent to a cytology lab. Draining the fluid did make him feel better. He had lost 1.5 pounds in 2 weeks, a lot for a 13 pound cat, but he is still eating and drinking. They said there were any number of things it could be, cancer, heart, leaky lymph node, etc. If it’s cancer, it went from a clear chest xray to one filled with fluid in less than 2 months. It doesn’t seem like a very hopeful prognosis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *