September 30, 2020 Responsible Pet Ownership

Should You Amputate Your Pet’s Limb? Remove Your Pet’s Eye? Managing Emotional Decisions

A happy, three-legged dog in a park

Should You Amputate Your Pet’s Limb? Remove Your Pet’s Eye? Managing Emotional Decisions

A note from the mom of Griffin the Tripawd (pictured here): Griffin was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in March 2020 and had his right forelimb amputated on April 2, 2020. Dr. Spector was amazing throughout the surgery process and stayed in touch for weeks afterwards to answer all of my questions. Griffin is now in the capable hands of Dr. Camps, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Perez for his chemotherapy treatments. While the pandemic has made things a bit scarier because I cannot accompany Griffin to his appointments, all of the staff at AMC has been so gracious with their time over the phone and answering emails quickly. Griffin is living a joyful tripawd life, reminding me every day to live in the moment. There is no place I would trust more with Griffin than AMC – thank you!

My job as veterinarian is to offer the best care possible to my patients. Doing so means making decisions based on science and not emotion. In other words, I need to prescribe with my head and not my heart. Prescribing with my head is usually easy, but it can be difficult when the discussion involves an emotional procedure like an amputation or enucleation. Although pets often recover from these procedures better than humans do, they are still radical procedures that veterinarians do not take lightly.

Amputations are emotional for pet owners and veterinarians alike

I’m not alone in my emotional reaction to amputation. Two of the most popular blog posts on the Animal Medical Center’s website discuss tail amputations and limb amputation. In my assessment, the popularity of these two blogs stems from the emotional reaction pet families have to a veterinarian’s recommendation for amputation. I suspect the readers of these two blog posts were anxiously searching for an alternative to the recommended limb or tail amputation.

Pets often tolerate limb amputation better than people

Limb amputation in a dog or cat is very different when compared to amputation in a human. First, a three-legged pet will still have good mobility (see the book Three Legs and a Spare if you don’t believe me), as opposed to a human who will require a new method of getting around, such as a wheelchair, crutches or a prothesis. In addition, the psychological impact of a limb amputation in people can be tremendous, while I have not observed the same for “tripawd” pets.

Eye removal is emotional too

Enucleation, the medical term for removal of an eye, is a common ophthalmology procedure when the eye is no longer visual or when pain from the eye problem cannot be controlled. Like amputation, it’s another procedure that evokes a great deal of emotion from pet families and, recently, from me. One of my foster kittens had bad eyes, but based on his behavior – jumping on tails and only occasionally running into stationary objects (see the black cat at 7:20 to see this behavior) — I was convinced he could see. The rescue group recommended enucleation of both eyes, a decision that kept me up all night. Thanks to my insistence and the input of AMC’s board certified ophthalmologist, only one eye was removed and he is now a thriving adult cat. But this incident gave me a taste of my own medicine and valuable insight into what a pet owner goes through when an amputation or enucleation is recommended.

Don’t like your veterinarian’s recommendation? Say something!

If, like me, your veterinarian’s recommendation keeps you up all night, then open up a discussion about your feelings and your fears for your pet. Maybe there’s an alternative method of treatment. Maybe you just need a reassuring conversation to allay your fears. Ask your veterinarian if you could talk with another pet family whose pet had the same procedure to supplement the medical information provided by your veterinarian. Like the Tripawds website for three-legged animals, there are numerous resources for families with a blind pet.

Caring for a Blind Pet | The Humane Society

Living with a Blind Dog | American Kennel Club

What to Do When Your Dog Goes Blind | Embrace Pet Insurance

Tags: enucleation, limb amputation, tail amputation,