Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hops in the Right Direction: Discomfort and Pain Management

It's kind of a dramatic change.  Just looking at your dog, for a while all you will probably see is the leg that isn't there, the way she walks, her hesitancy as she gets used to her new body.  Your biggest concern is, of course, is my dog comfortable?  Is she in pain?  What does the future hold in store?

First, take a deep breath.  That leg was removed so your dog wouldn't be in pain.  There are steps you can take to ease your mind and keep your dog pain-free, however.

Phantom Limb Pain:  Let's face it.  This is terrifying.  What if your dog is crying in pain for a leg that isn't there?  Sometimes your dog may lick the floor or her body where her leg would have been.  Happily, phantom pain is really rare with dogs.  If she does experience it, it's almost unheard of for the sensations to last longer than a couple of months. 

She may not want you to touch the area.  If she's aggressively protective of the area, leave it alone.  As I said, the pain doesn't last.  If she is okay with you touching her there, you can help her relax.  Massage the remaining leg opposite the amputation site.  Then, and I know this is going to feel silly, massage the missing leg.  Your dog, like people, has a mental map in her head of her body:  Where it is, what space it occupies, what it feels and does.  It can take some time to remap her body--her brain may be telling her a leg is there even if it is gone.  Massaging can help the leg that is now only in her brain to relax and get some relief.

Again, don't panic!  It's uncommon for a dog to experience any phantom pain at all.  Mostly, they are just glad that the source of the pain is gone.  (Prada had no pain, though she was ticklish for a week or two.  She still loves to have that shoulder massaged, though.)

Muscle Adjustment:  She's walking differently.  Her gait is different; her weight distribution has changed.  Her muscles, as well as her body, need to adjust to these changes.  Again, I recommend massage.  There are some helpful videos online that will give you tips.  They are a good place to start, but I really recommend getting in touch with an animal massage therapist and asking for a one-on-one lesson.  (There are more of these people than you think.)  It might be a bit of an investment, though probably not as much as you think, but it's still less expensive than regularly bringing your dog to get a professional massage, and of course touch helps strengthen your bond with your dog so much.  Regular massages will ease the sore muscles and relieve some of the tension that is now on the remaining joints, so this can have really long-term benefits.

The remaining leg will start to center eventually.  That's a very good thing; it will make it easier for her to retain her balance. 

Arthritis:  It's probably in her future.  Then again, there's a good chance it's in yours too, but somehow that doesn't seem as worrisome.  Weight management is really key here.  Her joints are already slightly more stressed than on the average dog--do you really want her to have to haul around extra pounds, too?  Feed her high-quality kibble (the cheap stuff is like eating McDonald's every day, every meal.  Tasty, but not exactly good for you.), and give her plenty of exercise to keep those joints supple.

Become Your Vet's Best Friend:  Obviously, you will want to keep your vet in the loop.  Keep an open dialogue with him.  Bounce ideas off him.  Ask for help when you need it.  Your vet can prescribe mild painkillers if that's necessary, or a supplement for joint health, or he can recommend a great food line.  Maybe he knows of a good massage therapist in the area. 

Whatever is in store for you and your dog, there are resources to help you deal.  I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again:  you have a lot more dealing to do than your dog does.  Your dog doesn't even notice she's different.
What do you mean, I only have three legs?

Today's post it brought to you by Noodles, a spunky schnauzer/poodle fella in Yorkville, Illinois, who enjoys picking on his foster family's rottweiler.  He enjoys long walks down the street and would really like a tasty dinner for two.


  1. I am impressed with how much you know about dogs, and how committed you are to helping yours. I've said it before, Prada is lucky to have you.

    True: I saw a dog on TV that had only two legs, one front and hind, on the same side of his body. Amazingly, even he had little trouble running around.

  2. I think I need to send a picture of him that shows his missing leg.He does not let that stop him and is very full of energy,but does snuggle down for lots of lap time.My sister also has a 3-legged dog who is also blind in one eye.Maybe you might want a pic of her also,although she is not up for adoption like Noodles.

  3. Brian--thanks! I'm a total research geek, and between my mom and family friends, I know a lot of vets and vet techs. I have insider information. It's pretty amazing, though, how much dogs can deal with things, and so happily. A friend sent me this link about a dog that's a parapalegic; it's awesome.

  4. Karen: That would be fantastic! I'd love pictures of both dogs! You've got my email address, so no problem there. I get really frustrated by how people so quickly dismiss the idea of adopting a dog with "special needs," when really the dog is just special, and not really any more needy.