All About Amputations

all about amputations



Hello CHS Supporters!

We hope you have all enjoyed learning a little more about Xena the pitbull puppy! We’ve had a few questions come in about limb amputations and how we decide what care to provide at Calgary Humane Society, so today we are hosting a bit of a Q&A! 

How do you decide what medical care an animal needs?

Calgary Humane Society’s Animal Health team employs four full time licensed veterinarians and 5 full time registered animal health technologists. Decisions on medical care for CHS animals looks much the same as it would at your own vet. We run diagnostics (x-rays, blood work, urine tests etc.) and the veterinarian looking after the animal will make a choice about what treatment is the best course of action. If needed, our veterinarians will consult each other or outside specialists for our more unique cases.

If an animal does need care beyond what Calgary Humane Society can provide, we will make arrangements to have the animal transported to a specialty clinic that can provide that treatment. For example, an animal that is not medically stable enough to stay in shelter overnight (our shelter clinic is not staffed overnight) will go to an emergency clinic where they can be carefully watched. Animals requiring specialized eye surgery will see a veterinary ophthalmologist. Specialty care can be expensive, but many generous donors have contributed to a special fund that helps to pay for that care. General donations to CHS are what help us do all of the medical care in shelter.

So how do the vets decide to do an amputation instead of repairing a broken bone?

For us it’s all about prognosis, both immediate and in the future. Our veterinarians look at how complex the break is and where the break occurred and make an educated decision about what treatment would be most likely to give the animal a long, healthy and pain-free life. In some cases, a repair might be impossible or the odds that the repair would fail are much higher than the odds that it would work. In those cases, amputation is often the best way to ensure an animal is able to recover quickly. Animals typically rebound much faster than humans from amputations – it is not uncommon to see an animal up and walking around on three legs right after surgery!

In other cases, we may have to look at amputation because a previous problem has healed in a way that is causing pain or movement problems for the animal. If you remember Charlie from the Cocktails for Critters event a few years ago (he was our spokesdog for that event), he came in with a leg that he could not bend or move properly because of a previous break that had healed incorrectly. Charlie did fantastic after his surgery and he is moving much better now that he doesn’t have to worry about his incorrectly healed leg.

What kind of follow-up care do animals need after amputations?

Great question! Usually they will need a few weeks to heal from the surgery and during that time our vets will provide medication for pain control and check the surgery site for infection regularly. Sometimes physiotherapy is needed to help the animal learn to get around and build up muscle strength in the remaining legs. In almost all cases the animal will go to a foster home so we can get a picture of what this animal’s life will look like in a home and our staff can provide further medical or behaviour support if needed. Once all of that care is done, the final thing CHS staffers will do is find the animal a new home! We will make sure the new family understands the medical and behavioural needs of the animal before adoption.

Is arthritis a problem for animals that have had amputations?

Arthritis often becomes a problem for many older animals, but sometimes an amputation can put additional stress on joints as the animal ages. Typically this risk of arthritis is outweighed by the benefits of the amputation. Arthritis is something that can usually be managed by the adoptive family through regular veterinary check-ups, keeping the animal at an appropriate weight and providing low-impact exercise to keep joints in good shape.

If I was thinking of adopting an animal like Xena, what should I do to keep her as happy and healthy as possible?

Regular medical care, keeping her weight under control and regular low-impact exercise will all be important for Xena as she grows (and really these things are important for any animal, regardless of medical history). Providing care to an animal that has had an amputation usually looks a lot like providing care to any other animal, though your regular vet may want to do a few extra tests to check on joint health each year. In some cases you may need to make some changes to your home – like putting carpets down on smooth or shiny floors (three legs = less grip!). If you notice your pet is having specific concerns (like being unable to climb stairs) then that would be an important conversation to have with your vet about how to modify your home to accommodate the animal’s mobility.

What does the future hold for Xena?

Well if her time at the shelter is any indication her future holds a LOT of affection, treats and squeaky toys as well as the occasional snuggle on the couch or sneaky bite of someone’s lunch. This little girl has won a place in the hearts of all of our staff and volunteers already, so we’re sure her future family will be just as smitten.


Click here to donate and read more about Xena’s story. Thank you for your generosity! Please share so we can continue to help Xena and other animals like her.