This is the full transcript for Episode 010 – “Dog Amputations And Physical Therapy – Three Legs And A Spare.”
Click here to go listen or read highlights from the episode instead. It’s way better to listen. 😉
It’s time for Dog Lovers Unleashed with your host canine physical therapist Julie McKinney Miller. Each week, Julie and her expert guests will unleash for you a variety of interesting and educational topics related to the health, wellness, and the joy of dogs. Now listen in and have some fun while fetching your dog’s best life.
Julie McKinney Miller 0:35
Hi there, it’s Julie, welcome to this episode of Dog Lovers Unleashed. Today we’re doing something different. This is the first time I am doing a solo episode, which just means that I’m not interviewing another expert. I’m just talking to you about something that I have some expertise in, which is dog amputations.
And so as a canine physical therapist for the last 19 years, I have spent a lot of time with dogs with disabilities. And, of course, I’ve worked with all sorts of dogs who have had paralysis as well as orthopedic injuries and surgeries and working through the recovery with them. Amputations are another situation which calls for physical therapy. A lot of times what happens is dogs will get a diagnosis of osteosarcoma in a leg. And the treatment recommendation will just be to amputate if they do not believe that the cancer has spread outside of that leg.
And it’s also a topic that I have personal experience with and it touches very, very close to my heart. And so I want to share my personal story with you when I was faced with a very difficult decision of whether or not to have an amputation done on my golden retriever’s leg. And I also want to share with you the experience and what I have learned since then, so that I can arm you with lots of information.
So this episode really is for any dog lover, because I think it will be really interesting and informative for everybody. Now, this episode is particularly for you, if you are in that place of trying to decide if amputation is the correct approach to go for you. If you just found out that your vet is recommending an amputation of the leg or tail, then this episode is definitely for you. It’s also really, really good to listen, if you have a dog with three legs, who’s already had an amputation. There will be tips and interesting tidbits in here that will help you too.
And also for those of you out there who think that this doesn’t pertain to you… You never know when cancer might sneak up in a leg and suddenly you’re faced with this dreadful moment of “oh my gosh, I might need to amputate my dog’s leg.” And so to be armed with this information ahead of time, I think is really beneficial. So all of you super awesome, dedicated dog parents out there, have a listen. And I hope it helps save the lives of many, many dogs.
Julie McKinney Miller 4:02
So when an amputation of a limb on your dog is recommended by your veterinarian. And ideally, I would get a second opinion by a board, certified orthopedic surgeon or if it’s cancer, you’re dealing with a second opinion by an oncologist. I really want you to listen to this episode and take it into consideration. If you’re in that decision point where you’re trying to decide what is the best approach for my dog, and you’re struggling with some of the emotions that can surface around the idea of having an amputation performed, then definitely listen to this episode learned from my experience and my mistake, frankly.
So I’m going to jump ahead a bit here and then go back in time. So first of all, when I started working at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine as their physical therapist, I got to sit in on a lot of specialist appointments, and also just kind of shadow around the different departments of the specialty hospitals. So you know, oncology and neurology, I spent a ton of time with neurology and orthopedics, I observed a lot of surgeries there, and soft tissue surgery and even in the ER and ICU. And, of course, there was nutrition and dermatology and, and even ophthalmology, all sorts of specialties. So early on in my time at tough, so this was probably 2001 or 2002, I was fortunate enough to be sitting in on this appointment or a specialist recommended an amputation. And I forget the details of what was going on with the dog, but what really stands out and I wish so much that I could give this vet credit for saying these exact eight words, but I don’t remember which vet it was. But I remember he said with so much compassion, but also just in a way that made me feel like it was such a no brainer. He said, “Dogs come with 3 legs and a spare!”
And it was like he was imparting this wisdom to the clients. The husband and wife were both sitting there. And I remember, it was like this holy cow moment for me. Those eight words hit me like a ton of bricks but in a really, really good way. It was like my former belief with all this emotional baggage and this idea that it would be this horrible thing, just like got swept away.
Julie McKinney Miller 6:38
And I thought, “Oh my gosh, three legs and a spare!” Oh, wow. I mean, you know, we’re so used to walking on two legs. And we imagine losing a leg is so significant to us. And then there’s all the emotional and psychological baggage that we would carry along with that. And I started thinking, “Oh my gosh, it’s so true. They run around on four legs, they have the benefit of, you know, if they lose one, it’s not as big of a deal. And they can function really well on three.”
And I know some of you probably out there have seen these amazing videos that tend to go viral of dogs just on two legs that get around which are just, it’s just phenomenal. And now they’re even like getting into prosthetics and things which is really cool too. But talking really simply here about having one leg amputated. And dogs doing really well on three legs is what this episode is all about. And my hope and really, really deep rooted goal with this episode is to save the lives of dogs.
And so let me jump back. So I’m going tell you a personal story about my experience completely as a dog mom, a young dog mom. This was before I was in the veterinary world of canine physical therapy.
Julie McKinney Miller 8:17
So back in 1995, I got my second golden retriever named Megan. And in 1997, right after I moved out to Rhode Island, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her back right leg. Now, two years old, this sweet little thing was, and I was beside myself. And I was not yet in physical therapy school. So I was like what I consider most dog parents, although I was young and didn’t have a whole lot of life experience at that point being only 24 years old.
However, I had two golden retrievers, my first, Nugget, who was a year older than Megan, and Megan. And I got this news from my local veterinarian that she had osteosarcoma. And obviously, you can imagine it was completely devastating. And I’m super attached to my dogs. And I was just so upset and didn’t know what to do. And I trusted my vet blindly. And I had really two treatment options. She said they didn’t see evidence of cancer elsewhere. But it could be microscopic and have spread to other areas and just not be seeing it yet. Or it could just be confined to the legs. So amputation is an option. So her vet suggested amputation of that limb.
Now Megan had started limping. And it was clear she was in a lot of pain. It came on pretty quickly. And so I got her in right away, and we got the diagnosis quickly. And by then the tumor had grown to be a significant enough size and that it was probably compressing some nerves and creating some nerve pain. And she just was not comfortable. So I was faced with amputating Megan’s leg, or she could take some pain medication and see how she did on it. And being young and not knowing what I know, now I thought, “Well, let’s start with the pain medication”. And, you know, she didn’t give me a very long life expectancy. And so I had this mentality of, “Well, let’s keep her comfortable. And maybe we can avoid the pain and cost of surgery. Because she’s going to die anyway, then what’s the point?”
Julie McKinney Miller 11:10
And that was it like that was the extent of the care. And the treatment options that I received, it was either she can amputate the leg, or we take her home. And we basically do nothing except for pain meds. So buying some time and thinking about it, we went the payment approach. And it became really apparent to me and I hate having to admit this.
But I didn’t…I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea of this beautiful golden retriever with only three legs. I put my human emotion on top of her and projected it out as if she would care.
As if she might not do well as if she might not like it.
If I’m being completely open, I worried that people would look at us and laugh. And worried people would look at her and think something was wrong with her.
I spent a good while imagining her with three legs. And it sounds now so dumb… really, really stupid of me, knowing what I know, now. But, back then, I just didn’t want a dog with three legs. And it’s such a shift that I’ve gone through because I would love to have a dog with three legs right now. I might just adopt one. I’m sure there’s a rescue group out there that has a dog with three legs and it might be hard to adopt out. And I wonder if it’s because people also share these views.
It’s really hard to admit all of these feelings that I felt. I want to at least say again, okay, I was 24. And this was only my second dog. And I’d only had dogs for three years by that point. And so it was all very new and different. I never had a dog growing up. My parents are allergic and I always dreamed of having Golden Retrievers and and they’re just so beautiful. And I really couldn’t get past this emotional crap and these stigmas that I felt were attached to having a dog with three legs.
So Megan ended up on really, really strong pain meds. And the only way she was not whimpering or an obvious pain was to be so doped up that she was just basically sleeping all the time. And it got to be really devastating. And at that point, we opted for euthanasia. I hope nobody out there is cursing me right now.
This is so hard to talk about. I didn’t know better. I just didn’t. And I do now. So I feel so much regret. I can’t help but think that if we had acted quickly, and we had known to see an oncologist in or even just had her leg amputated, maybe it hadn’t spread. Maybe it was confined to that leg. And she could have lived, who knows another 10 years.
Julie McKinney Miller 15:34
I don’t know. And but I do regret my choice. And I’m ashamed. Even though I was young, and I didn’t know better, I’m still ashamed that I put my own worries of being judged ahead of her health.
And I will never, ever do that again. And this is why I’m doing this episode… because you can tell with my crying that it hits so close to home.
And, so if you project forward now, and now I’m in physical therapy school, and I’m learning all about medical stuff, and even amputations in humans. And then I start canine physical therapy. And once I’m out of school, I start working at Tufts vet school. And I’m in this room and I hear “three legs and a spare.” Like, my gosh, let me tell you, I hear dogs come with three legs and a spare. And it was so “Well duh, obviously, we’re in luck, because dogs come with three legs and a spare.”
And I don’t know if you can kind of put yourself in my place and experience the shift that took place inside of me, but it was like I felt hit over the head with clarity that I should have had long before. I wish so much I knew who this vet was something that I could thank the vet. But interestingly enough, what I came to discover, now that I’ve been in canine physical therapy for 19 or so years, I have heard so many veterinarians say this phrase. So it wasn’t like this one that coined the term and it was only he who used it. But yeah, I mean, like, it’s just a common thing in the world. We say it all the time. Well, dogs come with three legs and a spare in that great. So you know, it sucks that we have to have an amputation for this dog, but great that they come with three legs and a spare because this dog will do just fine.
And in that moment, when I heard it, it was like my whole world shifted. And I finally saw things clearly and, I remember looking down at the dog parents in that moment. And I swear they had the exact same feeling wash over them. I never talked to them about it. Bu I could just see all of this relief. And this burden and the heaviness just kind of swooped away. I mean, it truly was a magical moment, the way the vet described it and said these eight words was just truly magical. So it’s the title of this episode. And it’s what I want to share with the world is that dogs come with three legs and a spare. So if anything ever happens to one of the legs to where it is not functional, or cancer is in that leg, and potentially just in that leg, and you can save your dog’s life, hurry up and get the amputation.
They do great. They do so so well. And I’m going to share with you the story of Shira, who I’ve worked with – it was two years ago that she had the amputation. And she’s this Great Dane and who’s doing so awesome. And she’s so happy and she has a great, great life. So I think through Shira, you will see… it is totally worth checking out the video, by the way. I will link to it in the show notes, You will see just how well dogs do on three legs. Because if a Great Dane with all their gigantic-ness (how heavy they are) can handle it, then every breed can handle it. She is just a superstar. But you know, honestly, every single dog that I’ve worked with, that has had an amputation has done this well.
And so I just want to encourage everybody out there to learn from my inexperience and immaturity and lack of knowledge early on. And then my experience and the transformation that I went through and having a completely different perspective now. I mean, now, when I see a dog with three legs, I smile, and I think that’s cool. And I know I’m in the physical therapy world. But I might see a dog out of the park with three legs. And I think, “That’s like the coolest dog.” That’s just so awesome. And honestly, I think the same of the people. It’s like you get brownie points for that.
And the dog does not carry the emotional garbage that we do around it. It’s not like they think “oh my gosh, this totally sucks. I’ve got to figure out how to walk without a leg.” They just bounce around and do their thing. And they’re happy and they don’t care.
If we could learn how to live from dogs, in so many ways, we’d be better off. I say this all the time that I think dogs are my greatest teachers on how to live life. And it’s so true. And this is just yet another example.
Interestingly enough, I was watching a TV show last night, it’s an older show that I’m watching on Netflix. And there was a guy who had some spinal cord damage and his legs are barely functioning and he’s just getting out of bed and starting to work with physical therapy, and he’s throwing a frickin tantrum. As we all met might do, right? I mean, imagine not having the ability to use your legs for a sec. I mean, if we aren’t in that place, it’s so hard to even imagine. I don’t think truly we can imagine. We humans just carry so much stress ass into the situation. And you know, I watched this guy and I was thinking, you know, I was going to be recording this today I was watching this guy struggling with the physical therapy. And then he yelled at the physical therapist, to put him down, he was being partially held up by these by a huge sling called a Hoyer lift. And totally yelling at the physical therapist and the nurse and being so mean and ugly to his family who were watching. And I turned to my husband, I said, “A dog wouldn’t do that!”
And it’s so true. You know, it’s like dogs get up and they look at the leg, where it used to be, you know, the incisions say, of course, it’s covered with a bandage when they’re in the hospital. But they look at it. And it’s like, okay, let’s carry on. And off they go.
You know, it’s so different looking back, now that I am immersed in the veterinary world because prior to all my experience working at the veterinary specialty hospitals, I didn’t know everything I know now. I mean, obviously that sounds crazy. Like, of course I didn’t. But you know, I’m just sitting here reflecting on it. Like Holy cow. What you learn from the inside is amazing. And I want to share that with the dog world and all the dog lovers and people who consider themselves dog parents out there because I was lucky enough to to eventually get this experience.
And so I know a lot about veterinary medicine from like how it works on the inside, and I look back and I’m horrified that I was not referred, especially when the tufts of at school was only about 40 minutes from this vet’s office. I’m horrified. And I’m dumbfounded that this vet did not send us to tufts or Angell Memorial in Boston, either one would have been fine to see a board certified oncologist… because there could have been other treatments. And I had absolutely no idea. I didn’t even know that was a thing or a possibility. And so I had blind, complete trust in my vet.
And I see that so much in people still today. It’s like whatever their vet says, they believe that’s just like the absolute truth and the best route. And I want to encourage dog parents out there to be their own dogs best advocate and to really take back some of the power and put your dogs care back in your own hands. Use your primary care veterinarian, as a mentor, as somebody who can do basic things for your dog, you know basic medical procedures such as spaying and neutering and if you do the vaccines, those kinds of things… bloodwork to test stuff. But when something significant comes up that falls under an area of specialty, please seek a specialist opinion.
Now that I know what I know, it’s actually far better to have a board certified soft tissue surgeon do the amputation at a specialty hospital where only one person is looking after the anesthesia. And the surgeon is looking after the surgery with assistance and the whole nine yards. I want people to know that there’s an increased risk of problems and anesthesia is not something to be messed around with. And so to have one vet and a vet tech handling everything that is involved with a surgery isn’t the safest thing to do. So with any surgery, I recommend going to a specialty hospital where you will have somebody that is sitting there only doing the anesthesia, and somebody that is an expert at their type of surgery doing the surgery.
Just to alleviate fears for anybody who’s facing this decision right now, I have been in canine physical therapy for 19 years, and worked with several dogs who have had amputations. I treated many of them starting day one post op. And they do extremely well.
Now I have since discovered that there’s a whole other world out there that if you don’t get your dog up right away, and start walking them and helping them learn how to adjust to three legs instead of four and they aren’t on proper pain management right from the get go, things can be pretty rough the first month. But I want to point out that in the grand scheme of your dog’s life, it’s a very short amount of time.
Dogs handle pain and adversity so much better than we do. They do not carry that emotional baggage that we do, they’re not going to worry what they look like. They’re not going to worry about what their doggie friends might think because they only have three legs. They’re not going to feel sorry for themselves, they’re not going to complain about the struggle, you know, there can be some post surgical pain. So let’s keep it real. Dogs can also experience the phantom pain that you may have heard of when people have amputations that can happen. But the dogs get through it. And they do really, really well.
Julie McKinney Miller 28:08
As I mentioned earlier, I recently talked with the mom of a dog. She’s a Great Dane named Shira. Now Sharon is her mom. And she lives here in Knoxville, Tennessee where I am. And I worked with them about two and a half years ago. She had been through an amputation and she did not have the proper post care. And that, unfortunately, it came to my attention when talking with her. I spoke with her last night. And I recorded our conversation. I had asked her ahead of time if I could interview her and ask her a few questions about her experience. And about how Shira is doing now two and a half years later.
What she shared had a big, big impact on me, as you’ll see. So much more came out of our conversation than I was expecting. And I feel like it’s really important information to share. Because I learned some things that I didn’t know… so much so that I decided to redo part of this episode and have a “take two.”
Sharon had some amazing, really helpful things that I think will help a lot of people out there. So I’ve decided that my interview with Sharon will be part two of a two part series on this really important topic. Sharon talks in great detail about her experience. And it really shined a light for me on how important it is to either have a physical therapist right there in the hospital where your dog gets an amputation. Or at least make sure that the vet techs that work in that hospital will get your dog up on day one, day two, they usually stay two or three days post surgery, and get them up standing and sling walking them with just a little bit of assistance to go outside. Because if you do this, the dogs will very quickly learn how to adjust their body and accommodate because the center of mass will have shifted a little bit from taking a limb off, whether it’s the front leg or a back leg.
And the center of mass changes a little bit. And that can throw off balance and coordination. And the dogs just need a little bit of time up on their three feet, walking around with the aid of somebody who’s going to be patient and kind to just kind of guide them and help them figure it out. I promise you – if this is done in the proper way, it doesn’t take long. The dogs that I worked with starting in the hospital, I got them up the day after surgery. And they literally would just kind of look at the where the limb used to be where the bandage was, and they didn’t make much of it. Their pain level… You know, I was in a high level specialty hospital, one of the best hospitals in the world at Tufts University. So this was very, very much high quality veterinary care. But this is what we should all strive for – what all veterinary specialty hospitals should strive for. They had the pain medication very well controlled. The surgeries were performed by a board certified soft tissue surgeon who was an expert in amputations. And so it made such a difference for these dogs because Sharon was telling me last night (she never shared this with me two and a half years ago when we when we first started working together). She found me when she was sort of in this desperate state for help, and she didn’t know what to do. And it was about a month post surgery. I think she said four weeks post surgeries when I I came into the picture and she found me.
Julie McKinney Miller 32:20
What I learned from her last night was shocking, because my experience with amputations is that they all do extremely well and they walk right out of the hospital. And sure, there may be some level of phantom pain that they experience early on. But it’s very treatable with you know, the veterinarian can recommend a good pain medication that helps with that. And it’s short term. And they do really, really well.
If you would like to see Shira in action now, two and a half years after her surgery, the current videos of her – every time I even think of them, never mind, watch them, I just end up with a huge smile on my face. She’s adorable. She is 110 pounds, and she has lost her front leg.
It’s harder to lose a front leg than a back leg because they bear 60% of the weight through the forelimbs and 40% through the hindlimbs. And so when they lose a forelimb, they have now 30% of that weight to redistribute. So let’s pretend there’s a dog, that’s 100 pounds, that’s easy math for us. Now 30 pounds minus the weight of that leg, but let’s just negate that. So 30 pounds of dog weight – it has to be redistributed to the three other legs for weight bearing!
That’s a significant strain to put on the other three legs. And so we have to be thinking, not just about getting up and moving for balance and coordination purposes, but also so those other three legs don’t get weak.
Everybody knows what happens when somebody lies in a hospital bed and doesn’t move for a few days or a week – you get so so weak and you lose a lot of muscle quickly. Well, the same happens with dogs. So it is completely unacceptable for a dog to have an amputation and then to lie there and not get up.
They need to be getting up the day after surgery and go for a short little sling walk out into the area where the hospital has grass. And they should really do that three to four times a day and be encouraged to go to the bathroom outside. We need to treat these dogs like they’re normal dogs. Yes, they’ve just had a major surgery. But we have to keep those legs good and strong. It is absolutely essential.
And as you’ll hear, when we talk with Sharon later, Shira didn’t get that. So she ended up with really weak legs. And when it came time for her to use them, it was so difficult and she got really sore in her other front leg. And so it It wasn’t until I came into the picture, and I started addressing what needed to happen with the other three legs that Shira started turning the corner and doing exceptionally well. And I say that sucks for everyone that doesn’t get that level of care right from the get go. Her family was so upset and struggled for three to four weeks.
So here’s the thing and why I’ve decided to re-record this episode, because yesterday, what I told you is that dogs do awesome, that in my experience, they get up. I’ve worked with them one day post op, and I would go into the ICU and I would help get them up. And I would sling walk them outside. And I would help them figure out their balance and coordination because the center of mass does shift a little little bit when you lose a leg as a dog. And so the balance is just a little bit off. And you have to figure that out. Now, they get it really really quickly in my experience. And so yesterday I was saying that dogs do amazingly well. And you know, in my experience, they do and they have! What I didn’t realize and Sharon really, really really shined a light on it for me last night, when I spoke with her was that she hadn’t told me just how hard her first month was, after Shira had her amputation.
What I realized is that it stemmed from not getting her up right away, and not dealing with these things that can become complicating factors. And so it dawned on me from talking to her just how important it is to do physical therapy, right from the get go or at minimum, make sure there’s a vet tech at the hospital where your dog is getting the surgery, that will get them out.
They shouldn’t just be lying there for a few days. They need to get up and go for a short little sling walk for just a few minutes three to four times a day. And do that while they’re at the hospital. It’s also great to stand them and do some weight shifts and kind of let them feel what that feels like. We need to get those legs working early. Because we cannot afford for those three legs to get weak. We all know when you’re in the hospital, how quickly lying in a hospital bed can weaken people’s legs. And it’s the same in dogs. And so think about it when you’ve got 30% or 20% of your weight to redistribute now to one less leg, right?
So now, instead of the four legs, we’ve got three legs, but all the same body weight minus the weight of that leg. And that is a tremendous amount of weight to redistribute through three legs. They do really, really well on it. But I guess I was minimizing in my talk yesterday that I recorded just how important the physical therapy was. For me, it seems like a no brainer, you just get the dog up early. And I thought that that was common practice. And Sharon hadn’t shared with me when I came into the picture about four weeks post op, just how difficult those four weeks had been, and how they had had no post surgical care. And they also hadn’t properly treated the pain.
And what was really disturbing is that… you know, there’s this specialty hospital here in Knoxville that, well, I’ll just say it, it absolutely sucks. And nobody should take their dogs there. And that’s where this dog had an amputation. And, and they didn’t care and she would call and say her dog was in pain. And they wouldn’t even return her calls. Like they didn’t care. They took her money. That’s all they wanted. And it’s really unfortunate because they did not control the dog’s pain well, and they left the client in a place where she said she felt really powerless. And you’ll hear me talk with her. So you’ll hear in her own words how this experience was for her. And I thought well, “Okay, it was this hospital here in Knoxville that many of us know is awful. And a lot of tragedies happen there. And I’m just going to chalk it up to that.”
But then I hear that she actually got in touch with Tripawds, which is this incredible nonprofit organization, tripawds with a PAW. And you can literally go there, tripawds will pop right up on Google, if you Google it, and she got in touch with them. And they were so supportive and helpful, she was able to get on the phone with people who had been through it, and really get the help and support that she needed. And so I’m so grateful to that organization and just want to tip my hat off to you. Thank you so much for doing the work that you do and for helping my client in this situation. I want to also call out to you, and anybody listening that’s in the veterinary world, that we need to really start educating the public and the vets that do amputations about how important it is to add physical therapy. It’s really simple physical therapy that can be taught to vet techs or vet assistants, It’s just some basic, getting the dog up, getting them moving, help them learn a little bit of balance, but most importantly, it’s just by standing and walking early, you’re not going to let those muscles get weaker.
Because think about it – if the legs get weaker, and you’re demanding more of them, because now there’s all that extra weight to carry, you can imagine how sore those legs would become. And I do remember when I went into work with Shira, she had a lot of muscle spasms. And so I did a lot of massage with her and she had some tight muscles that had developed and so I had to stretch them out. And so I did several sessions with her. But the most important piece of it is that I taught her mom how to do these things. And so every day her mom would do these things. And I believe I went there twice a week for a little while, so that I could give her some some extra good massage and stretching and kind of see her progress and continue to advance the home program for her mom to carry out every day.
Shira did really well. Within a couple weeks, she was feeling so much better and, and moving all around and we practiced getting her in and out of the car. And so quickly, we turned things around and Shira is now doing so amazingly well.
I was really disheartened because it turns out, even though Tripawds was really, really great for her and she got a lot of support and other people described phantom pain. And she’s like, “Yes, yes, this is what I’ve been talking about and trying to get through to the vet’s office!”
Nobody really was advocating for Shira other than her mom. Her case was not being monitored by a veterinarian, really Sharon felt like she was just like totally on her own. And this is how a lot of people feel these days. And I think it’s important, and it’s one of my big messages I want to share with the world that you have to take back control over your dog’s health care, just like we have had to do in the human world. You can get lost in the system. And the same is true in the vet world. We cannot trust our primary care veterinarian to know… I mean, they don’t know everything, we have to use the specialists and with the array of, you know, being referred somewhere else and someone else doing a surgery, and then you don’t know who’s caring for them at that point…who’s overseeing? There’s really no case manager. So we have to be our own dogs, case managers. And we have to advocate for them. And we have to know, what is the proper care? What is the proper quality of care? And how do we ensure that we get this for our dogs? And that isn’t easy.
I’ve often wondered recently, “Why are there so many support groups for dogs with like every diagnosis on Facebook?” And it’s beginning to be clear… this is why and so many dog parents are sharing with other dog parents their experiences and helping them through things and they get ideas. And it’s it’s kind of unfortunate, but I’m hearing it more and more – “Yeah, I found out inside of you know, whatever group that this is what might be going on with my dog. And so I ran it by my vet. And sure enough, we tested for it. And yeah, that’s what was going on.” But the vet couldn’t figure it out on his or her own accord.
And so I’m a little bit frustrated with the way the veterinary world is set up right now. And I don’t know the fix, I’m just kind of sharing a frustration. But the fix for now is to just keep advocating for your dog, to not trust one vet solely and to seek a second opinion and to seek the opinion and treatment from a specialist when needed. And when you know something’s wrong, don’t take no for an answer. Just keep pushing and do what you need to do for your dog.
Now, what was disheartening about Sharon’s story, which you’ll you’ll hear later is that when she got support from Tripawds and got on the phone with some people who had been through it…that was really help full and it felt good to hear it helped her make the decision to move forward with the amputation and also helped her after when she was struggling and trying to figure out why why Shira was in pain and not getting any calls back from her vet. It helped her a great deal. But she said honestly, in her experience of looking for support and looking for answers online, what she ran into is that pretty much across the board, everybody was talking about how hard the first month is.
And so I painted a picture yesterday when I recorded this that dogs do so well. And you know, they walk right out of the hospital on day two or three and, and then you know, before you know it after the staples are removed, they’re just trucking right along. And they do so well. Yes, they may have some phantom pain, but that’s controlled well with a certain medication. And they really can do everything they need to do as a dog to play, to have fun, to do all of their, what we call in physical therapy, their activities of daily living. So like going out and going to the bathroom or climbing stairs or, you know, going on rugged terrain, or running up a hill or, you know, whatever, even digging, I mean, whatever these things are… catching a ball, retrieving, playing frisbee, you name it, your dog can do it.
And, I I felt like (after I spoke with Sharon last night), my recording from yesterday was not accurate anymore. And so what it was accurate for is that the dogs that I treated one day post op, and that left the hospital walking did extremely well. (And they did not run into all this problem where their other legs got weaker and then were extremely sore and refusing to stand and walk) because they had early simple physical therapy. I mean, really, we could say as little as standing and walking for a few minutes four times a day, and doing some simple weight shifts could be enough and getting them to go outside to go to the bathroom while you get them up. And that is enough and and it just keeps them going.
And Sharon painted this completely different pictures. So my experience with amputations is where there was a physical therapist, me, working with the dogs and then teaching their parents modifications to make at home which are very simple. In fact, if anybody would like a resource on it, I am going to create specifically for the listeners of this episode, a resource for you, there’s going to be two, what are the most important things to do from day one, and then all the way through the course of your dog’s life. And that’s for forelimb amputation. And then I’m going to create another one. If your dog has a hindlimb amputation, everything you need to do from day one, and then forward to have the best possible outcome from a physical therapy point of view.
So we’re looking at keeping the legs strong, keeping them flexible, minimizing arthritis… if there’s any muscle spasms that develop, knowing the massage techniques to help work that out. Ideally, learning the massage techniques up front anyway to help alleviate any soreness and prevent that from getting any worse.
I think I feel a need to summarize things a bit. So I feel like we have two camps. We’ve got those dogs who have amputations and it is at a really great specialty hospital and they’re getting the proper care right from the get go. And the pain management is right on – it’s being controlled really well. And so the dogs comfortable, and they get up, they get used to moving around, they figure out their new balance and they’re off to the races and these dogs do super duper well.
Unfortunately, there seems to be this whole other camp of people and their dogs have amputations and then the first month can be pretty rough. And we’re going to talk about that a bit later on and hear from Sharon about her dog Shira and what she went through. And I think that by and large, this is avoidable if we line up our ducks in a row ahead of surgery and make sure that we get a really good surgeon to do it, have the post op supportive care in place both in the hospital and as you go home, work with a physical therapist and know what you need to do.
Now, let me share with you now so if any of you are about to have your dog get an amputation, or if you have a three legged dog right now, this may be of help to you, I’m going to give you a little golden nugget if your dog has had a forelimb amputation or is about to and then I’m also going to give one for hindlimbs. Now, I’ve decided this is so important and this is an area that I can help so much with and have greater reach if I just create a PDF for a forelimb amputation and a PDF for a hindlimb amputation. And I’m going to put those right on the show notes. There will be a link you can click on.
I’m going to create these documents and have them available so that you can know what needs to happen from day one post op all the way through for the rest of life. So you can know what you need to have done in the hospital. And what you need to do right when you get your dog. So from day one forward for the rest of life, I want to give you a guide on really simple things you can do that will help you so much with your dog.
So again, whether you’re going through it right now and your dog is about to have surgery or just had surgery or even if your dog had surgery three years ago, it doesn’t matter, I think this resource will be really helpful for you. So I’m going to create two, one for forelimb amputation, one for hindlimb amputation. And again, they will be right in the show notes. So you simply go to www.DogLoversUnleashed.com/010 and they’ll be right on that page. If you go to the homepage at DogLoversUnleashed.com, simply search “amputation” and it’ll pop right up and take you to this episode. So that’s another way to access it too. But it again, it’s www.DogLoversUnleashed.com/010.
Now, here’s the golden nuggets. My number one recommendation, if you have a dog who has a forelimb amputation, is that it… Are you ready for this? It is really, really simple. Raise up their food bowl to the level, which their head is if they’re looking straight forward. So they do not have to bend down over the one remaining leg. That’s it. So elevated food bowls, that’s it, very simple, totally doable will take a ton of stress off that front leg.
Alright. If your dog has had a back leg amputation, my number one recommendation, my golden nugget for you is a no brainer. For me, I thought about it like, “What would it be? And I was like, “Oh, of course!” So, here’s what it is – your dog now has one less leg in the back to support the weight. So what your dog will do is shift the forelimbs back just a little bit from their normal stance. And so what happens is the dogs can get really sore and tight in the tricep muscles. So I have a stretch that I call “shy dog.” It stretches the triceps and some other musculature along the back of the forelimb. And what you’re going to do is just bring the leg forward so they’ll be lying on their side. I don’t want you to do this standing, we don’t need to put more stress through the other two legs by lifting one leg off the ground. Please don’t do that.
When they’re relaxed, when they’re lying down, you’re just going to take the leg and press it all the way forward as if they’ve taken a huge step forward. So I call it “shy dog” because if they’re lying on their side, then the leg should go right about to the point where it kind of covers their face. Now a lot of times these will be tight. So it may not go that far. If not, and you start feeling your dog pull back and it’s like they don’t like it, just go to the point right before that resistance… before they start really fighting you and hold it there for 30 to 60 seconds. It also feels good at the same time to do some gentle long rubbing type massage. So, do long strokes, up and down the length of that muscle. So that is what I would do, then when later in the day or some other time that day, when they’re on the other side, I would just do the other leg. So once a day.
Now if they’re tight… I might do this stretch two or three times a day if they were really tight and sore. But if we’re talking about prevention, this is why it’s so important to start early. And start from day one and we can prevent so many complications (like they can get sore). And so just massaging them and keeping those muscles kind of loosened up and supple, will help them feel so much better and prevent a lot of soreness and tightness that can develop. That is my golden nugget if your dog has a hindlimb amputation.
I have so many more tips and pointers, and really truly a roadmap of what to do starting from day one. So again, I am going to create those documents just as soon as I can. As soon as they are ready, they will be on the website. One more time, that’s www.DogLoversUnleashed.com/010.
I’m also going to go ahead and put them on my www.CanineRehabHub.com site because I think they could be found there by people specifically looking for rehab advice. And so either place when they’re ready, you will find them there.
Now if you want a notification when they’re ready, simply subscribe to my mailing list. If you go to www.DogLoversUnleashed.com, it’s right at the top of the page. There’s a sign up, and I only send out one email a week, I hate getting bombarded with lots of emails, it’s just one email per week letting you know what has just been put out in the current week. And then what’s coming in the next week. That’s it. But if there are any special bonuses or resources like this, then I will go ahead and mention it in that email. So it can’t hurt to get on the mailing list. And then that way, you’ll be aware and it’ll actually come to your attention, “Hey, the amputation resources are out!” And then you can just click right in the email, I’ll put the link taking you directly to the website so you can get it.
And I hope that’s really, really helpful for a lot of people out there.
I want to reiterate, if you’re a dog parent out there who has had their dog’s amputation done several years ago, that’s okay, it’s never too late to start, it’s never too late to add in a little something extra to help them feel their absolute best. Remember, that’s what this podcast is all about – fetching your dog’s best life. That’s what I’m committed to. And anything that I can do to help dog parents make their dogs lives better and their own is something that I care deeply about. And so that is my goal with these resources. So definitely check them out.
Now, next week is the interview with Sharon all about Shira. So you’ll definitely want to hear that. So stay tuned, and I will catch you then.
Well, dog lovers out there, it’s been a blast. I love doing these interviews and sharing this great information with you. If you haven’t yet signed up for the exclusive mailing list for the show, hop on over to the homepage at DogLoversUnleashed.com and it’s right there at the top of the homepage. You just simply pop in your email and it’s only one email per week, I promise you I will not bombard you with emails because I’m very sensitive about that. So you will get one email per week which talks about the topic of the episode and what’s upcoming so you can get excited and mark your calendars about particular episodes of interest for you. And if you feel inspired, please share these episodes on social media and pass them along – it would be so appreciated because we can spread the word and create an amazing rippling effect and we can help millions of dogs and their people. Join in the fun and I will catch you next time. Until then… Here’s to fetching your dog’s best life.