Amputation involves the surgical removal of a body part that is diseased or damaged beyond salvage. In dogs, the parts more commonly amputated are a limb, toe(s), or the tail. It should be remembered the docking the tail of newborn pups is an act of amputation. The aim of amputation is as a salvage procedure to prevent pain or suffering by removing a damaged body part or to prevent the spread of certain aggressive forms of cancer. Whilst amputation may seem a radical option to us, dogs do not seem to experience the same mental sense of loss as humans, and the vast majority adapt extremely well to the loss of a limb.

Amputation procedure in dogs. This is a surgical procedure that requires full general anesthesia. First the patient should be thoroughly assessed to check there are no other treatment options and that amputation is the most humane treatment. From start to final suture removal, a typical timeline is 10 – 14 days. In the majority of cases where amputation is necessary, the dog hasn’t been using the limb for some time. This means once the anesthetic and discomfort of surgery has worn off, the majority of dogs adjust remarkably well.

Efficacy of amputation in dogs. Key to successful surgery is selecting those cases in which amputation is the best option. In these cases, the majority do very well afterwards and readily adapt to life without the missing body part. Obviously, amputation is irreversible so it is not undertaken lightly. Also, using effective pain relief prior to surgery is important to reduce the risk of ‘phantom limb pain’ afterwards. This is a condition in which the dog experiences ongoing stimulation of the nerve roots, despite the limb’s removal.

Cost of amputation in dogs. The average cost of limb amputation is $700-$1000. Prices may vary depending on whether a debilitated patient needs intravenous fluids during the anesthetic and special nursing care. Cost of pain relief for the recovery period ranges from $12 to $40, whilst a typical antibiotic course is $17 to $40 depending on the size of the dog and antibiotic selected. 

Dog amputation considerations animals do not experience the same psychological hang-ups about amputation that people do. After a short period of adaptation, most dogs do very well indeed. During the recovery period, it is essential to maintain good hygiene of the pet’s bedding and surroundings so that the wound does not become infected. If surgery was performed to prevent cancer spreading, then follow-up radiographs or imaging of the chest or liver may be advisable three months later.
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