Amputation is Preferable to Continued Pain

April 19, 2007 (published) | March 11, 2019 (revised)

Dear Friend:

I've decided to sit down and put pen to paper on behalf of your veterinarian and indeed, all veterinarians in small animal practice. If you've found your way to this article, it's very likely that your veterinarian has advised you to consider amputation of one of your pet's limbs.

There may be many reasons for such a recommendation including irreparable trauma, cancer, or even severe arthritic pain. Amputation is obviously a drastic step and one that you need to carefully consider, sometimes even to the point of soliciting a second opinion. Your veterinarian and I urge you to take whatever steps you feel are necessary in carefully considering such a decision.

The reason for this friendly letter is that those of us in the veterinary profession see too many owners who reject the option of amputation out of hand. While contemplating amputation in a pet can be a very emotional situation, very many owners see continued pain or even euthanasia as better options than amputation and this has us veterinarians scratching our heads!

First, let me assure you, as your veterinarian probably already has, that animal amputees do extremely well. In fact, most are just as mobile after surgery as they ever were. Every veterinarian has stories of animal amputees who resume their jobs as herding or hunting dogs or accompany their owners jogging every morning! We've all seen cat amputees where casual observers of the animals don't even realize that the cat is missing a limb! There are even stories of double-amputee animals who function well on two legs! In light of this knowledge, it's very hard for us veterinarians to understand how a client would prefer suffering or death for their pet to an amputation.

Does this mean that everything is sweetness and light after an amputation? There's no doubt that amputees have to recover from the surgery and may take a few days to learn to balance on their three legs although a great many have already had little use of the affected limb. There is also no doubt that a few patients, specifically very obese or giant breed dogs and animals with severe restrictions to the functioning of their other limbs, may have greater difficulty in adapting after amputation.

If you're like most clients, despite the eloquence of my prose, you remain unconvinced. If so, there are a couple of things you can do so you can make an informed decision. Your veterinarian can likely provide you with the names and phone numbers of other clients who have gone through an amputation with their pets and would be happy to chat with you. You might also discuss with your veterinarian the option of a trial amputation! All that involves is bandaging the affected limb up against the body for a couple of days to see how your pet will function.

Still not convinced? Here is a website that might be of interest from Cassie's Club, the Place for Three-Legged Dogs and the People who Love them.

I hope this gives you a little more information upon which to base your decision. The key is that whatever you decide, you owe it to your pet to make an informed decision.

Yours truly,

Dr. Greg Harasen and your veterinarian!

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