Tails a Waggin' Online...Caring for Your Three-Legged Dog
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"Caring for Your Three-Legged Dog"

As many of our followers may know by now, in February 2011 we decided to rescue a beautiful little Border Collie cross to join the Tails a Waggin' gang. When the Oops-a-Dazy Rescue found her she had a severe spiral fracture to her right hind leg which sadly resulted in a full amputation. As a new tripod (or as we affectionately spell it, "tripawd") owner I was very lucky because by the time I adopted Miss Roxy she had already had a month to adapt to her new disability, however, I still had lots to learn. So, after a year of living with a tripawd and much research I decided to share the experiences I have had while caring for a three-legged dog.

The loss of a leg can be due to many reasons including cancer, injury, or a congenital deformity. Many dogs are able to cope with their disability fairly quickly and seem to get around almost as well as dogs that have all four legs, however, your dog will have to relearn where its body is in space and how to balance.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when living with a tripawd:

The most common health issue with tripawds is that they may develop arthritis earlier than other dogs. Because they are missing a leg, more stress is placed on their other legs, and there is more wear and tear on the remaining joints. That is why it is especially important to keep them slim, so that they do not have to deal with additional joint stresses from excess weight.

Core conditioning is highly recommended. FitPAWS offer an assortment of canine conditioning equipment such as the Peanut and the Paw Pods to help strengthen your tripawd's core muscles.

Swimming is also an excellent source of exercise, it to will help strengthen their core muscle, as well as, the remaining leg muscles. It's always a good idea to invest in a canine life jacket like the Ruffwear Float Coat, even for dogs that have all of their legs, and for the three-legged dog it will provide added buoyancy and help combat fatigue. Just remember to keep all exercise to a more moderate level and allow your tripawd to move at their own pace because you don't want them to overdue it.

Animal Chiropractic Care is also something that is highly recommended for tripawds. Dogs are amazing creatures because when they are injured they will contort their bodies in strange ways just so they can get around and usually without any complaints, however, over time these changes in their body structure can cause adverse effects to the rest of their health. Because tripawds are missing a limb their bodies will compensate in many different ways than dogs with four legs...so getting them adjusted on a regular basis will help keep their spine moving freely and their structure square which will help keep the three remaining legs strong and healthy. Staggering chiropractic with acupuncture has also proven to be very beneficial, so make sure you research all your holistic options when thinking about your tripawds long term health.

Make sure there are not too many slippery surfaces in your home. Tripawds have less balance, and can easily slip especially when running or playing. If there are hard, slippery floors around your home, such as hardwood, tile, or linoleum, then it may be time to go shopping for some area rugs! These will also provide a nice, soft surface for your dog to lay down on.

Jumping in and out of a vehicle can also be difficult for a tripawd because the additional impact on the remaining legs can lead to injury and arthritis. To solve this problem, lift them in and out of your vehicle to keep injuries to a minimum. There are now special harnesses available like the Ruffwear Web Master Harness (great for front leg amputees) or the EZYDOG Convert Harness (great for rear leg amputees) that allow the owner to use a built in handle to assist in supporting and lifting your tripawd. Also available are ramps like the Otto Step for easy access in and out of vehicles.

At feeding time, try raising your tripawd's food dish to allow them easier access. This helps to take stress off of their neck, back and legs by having them bend over too far to reach their food. Adding supplements like Pet-Tek Re-Gen Max and Nupro Joint & Immunity to your tripawd's food will help promote healthy bones and joints and keep inflammation under control.

Bedtime can pose similar problems. Try raising your tripawd's bed to allow them easier access so they won't have to flop down on a hard floor. Another good tip is to always have a couple of extra beds or blankets lying around in their favorite lounging spots, this will help reduce stress on the remaining legs and keep them from chafing if they are prone to lying on that side.

Proper foot care is very important for your tripawd because they can develop cracked foot pads from supporting more weight on each of the other legs.

Also make sure to keep your tripawd's nails short, and trim the fur on the bottom of their feet and between their pads, this will allow them to walk comfortably, and without slipping. For outdoor terrain you may want to consider purchasing footwear for your tripawd. We recommend Ruffwear Grip Tex all-terrain paw wear, they are easy to put on and fit well.

Tripawds are going to have difficulty getting to certain parts of their body, depending on which limb is missing. In Roxy's case because she is missing her right hind leg, she can't scratch her neck or shoulder area on the right side of her body, so I will step in when I see that she is in need of a helping hand. Sometimes you may see them scratch because they might have some debris stuck to their fur after a walk, so it is a good idea to keep your tripawd well brushed and free of organic materials that may poke at their skin and cause them to itch.

An Elbow Hygroma is a fluid-filled swelling around the dog's elbow. Elbow Hygroma occurs when the elbow bone causes trauma to the soft tissue around it. This usually happens in younger dogs who are also constantly lying down, or falling down on a hard surface. It may also happen when a dog leans, or consistently places too much weight on one elbow.

As a dog matures, a callus will form to protect the elbow and prevent this condition. Dog beds may help with this problem, but some dogs prefer to sleep on cooler, hard surfaces. Young tripawds are especially susceptible to elbow hygroma because their elbow calluses have yet to form, and their activity level is high. In more serious cases, where there is an enormous amount of swelling and/or infection, surgery may be needed.

Using alternative methods like Chiropractic Care may help prevent this condition from developing because it will help keep your tripawd structurally sound.

I have often wondered if Roxy has phantom limb pain like those reported in human amputees, so I decided to do some online research and this is what I found:

About 80% of human amputees report having pain and/or sensations in their missing limb. Sensations are often described as burning, aching, tingling, or feeling the missing limb is "crushed" or somehow sitting at an uncomfortable position. There are many theories as to why this occurs, but the bottom line is the pain is real. The most current theory is that the brain has an idea of what the body looks like, a "map" that it refers to. After amputation, the map in the brain is still a whole body, as it takes time for the brain to re-map to the new body configuration. Because the brain is expecting input from the missing limb and not getting any, it sends sort of a panic signal that is interpreted as pain.

One way that we might be able to help the brain re-map itself is to increase circulation and provide gentle stimulus. Check with your tripawd's health care professional, of course, and I wouldn't use these techniques until the incision is healed.

Some things you could try are:
pawtack bulletWrap the stump in a soft, warm fabric (like a towel)
pawtack bulletGentle massage (such as the TTouch)
pawtack bulletWarm soaks or heating pads
pawtack bulletMild exercise - just to increase circulation and provide mental entertainment
pawtack bulletWrap in a snug, but not confining bandage (like a tensor bandage, vet wrap or a tube top would even work)

Most dogs with a disabilities learn to adapt rather quickly and although we naturally want to protect them from as many things as possible, it is also important to let a dog be a dog. It's alright to provide assistance when needed, but try to allow the dog to attempt to do things for themselves. With love and encouragement, they may surprise everyone and become a great ball fetcher, frisbee playing buddy or even an agility superstar.

When I was making the decision to adopt my tripawd, Miss Roxy, I found this great website, Tripawds.com that was (and has been since) a great place to go to ask questions about owning and caring for a tripawd...make sure you check them out.



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