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You might expect a dog with three legs, often called a tripod or tripawd dog, to have a lot of special needs. However, your dog likely doesn’t agree with your assessment that he’s disabled!
Generally speaking, dogs do incredibly well on three legs and don’t have ongoing health issues. Unlike humans, they don’t have any stigma associated with losing a limb, so they go about figuring out the physical aspects of navigating on three limbs.
Once they adapt to it, which generally happens pretty quickly, they are usually “off to the races,” so to speak. Here’s what you should know about tripod dogs and some effective ways to help them adjust.
How Does a Dog Become a Tripod?
Dogs can have three legs for a number of reasons. It could be due to a congenital deformity, where they are born with a malformed or unusable fourth leg that may require amputation.
Dogs can also lose a leg due to trauma, like a severe break that can’t be fixed or due to a car accident. Or, a dog can lose a leg due to some types of cancer, where either a mass cannot be safely and fully removed, or they have cancer in the bone of a paw or leg, necessitating amputation.
Some dogs become amputees at a young age and others when they are older. Though it can sometimes be more difficult for older dogs physically, dogs of all ages usually adjust well to this change.
How to Care for a Dog Following Amputation
Amputation is a big decision and one you’ll discuss with your vet. If it’s recommended, they have weighed the options and determined amputation offers your dog the best chance for a high-quality life.
As traumatic as the surgery may feel to you, it’s likely your dog will feel better than before the surgery in just a few days. Amputation can enable your dog to live a long and healthy life without pain.
Following an amputation, your dog’s activity will be restricted for a period of time to allow them to heal. Be sure to give any pain medications and antibiotics as prescribed by your vet, and follow their guidance for care closely.
Consult your vet before discontinuing any medications or initiating activity with your dog.
It may be helpful while your dog is healing to keep them in a carpeted area or to add small area rugs for traction as they get acclimated to life on three legs. And they may need some help getting around at first.
Consider gating off a section of your house to limit their ability to move around, especially around stairs. Your dog will need to re-learn how to navigate them on three legs, so be especially careful until you’re sure they can do it unaided.
Tripod Dog Care
Your main objective in keeping your dog healthy, as a tripawd or not, is maintaining their general wellness. There are three things you can do to help your dog to stay happy and healthy. These are important for all dogs and especially important for a tripod dog.
Tripods, like any other dog, need exercise to keep their joints in good working shape and to prevent injury. It’s especially important to exercise dogs with three legs. Strong muscles help support the remaining limbs.
But make sure to monitor the level of exercise and let your dog set the pace. Pay special attention to your dog’s body language. Tripods can sometimes need a little more rest given the extra work the remaining legs are taking to support his body.
2. Weight Management
Maintaining a healthy weight is also important for tripod dogs. More weight provides more strain on the joints, so it’s essential to keep your dog at a healthy weight.
Not only does excess body fat cause inflammation, putting them at risk for conditions like osteoarthritis, but the added weight can cause strain to the remaining three legs. It’s often beneficial to keep tripod dogs on the thin side, so talk with your vet about the ideal weight target for your dog.
The only real physical concern for a tripawd dog is the risk of osteoarthritis as it can impact the effectiveness of their remaining limbs and cause an increase in pain. Your dog may be at increased risk due to the alterations in its posture from the missing limb.
Owners can try to proactively delay the onset of osteoarthritis by offering supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM to support joint health along with a fish oil supplement with omega-3 fatty acids.
Tools that Can Help Tripods
Though owners aren’t really required to get any special equipment for tripod dogs, it can sometimes come in handy. Some beneficial things to consider are no-slip booties or socks if you have hard floors in the house. Here’s a second bootie option as well.
You might also consider installing carpets or runners for traction and padding. For dogs with difficulty jumping, a ramp or even steps may help them get to their favorite spots.
Getting up from a seated or prone position can sometimes be a challenge for dogs learning to walk on three legs as well. A support sling or harness can be really helpful.
My favorite tool that I recommend is the Help’Em Up Harness. It’s the best for all-day wear and uses support under the pelvic bone to lift the back end so it doesn’t put pressure on any of the organs. Some alternatives that you can get on Amazon are this one and this one.
This book on helping your dog with mobility challenges is one I recommend.
How Physical Rehab Can Help a Three-Legged Dog
Physical rehab isn’t required for tri-legged dogs, but it can be beneficial. First, rehab can be really helpful for dogs post-surgery to adapt to their new situation.
A rehab vet is specially trained to work with dogs after surgery to help them heal effectively and regain mobility. This includes a thorough evaluation, an exercise plan, therapeutic treatments like cold laser therapy, and others, as well as pain management.
Physical rehab can also help you determine the most effective exercise regime to help your dog maintain a good level of fitness. A physical rehab vet can help you determine the right amount of exercise and the best method(s) for your dog. This is helpful following surgery and as your dog ages.
A rehab vet can also help you determine a healthy weight for your dog to ensure they aren’t carrying any more than they should on their joints.
Seeing a specialist like a rehab vet, even for an appointment or two, is really helpful for a three-legged dog. They can detect even subtle gait or posture problems and prescribe strengthening exercises for your dog.
Caring for a Three-Legged Dog
Though caring for a tripod dog isn’t all that different from a dog with four legs, you can certainly give them an advantage when healing from amputation surgery or as they age. Consider supplements, regular exercise, healthy weight maintenance, and adapting your house to make mobility a little easier.