How to Care for a Three Legged Dog

How to Care for a Three-Legged Dog

Dogs can come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes that includes a missing limb. Whether you are facing the decision to amputate an existing pet, or considering adopting a new three-legged best friend, it is worth thinking about how their care needs may differ from their four-legged brothers and sisters. Amputee dogs, or ‘tripawds’ as owners affectionately call them, are cute and lovable additions to the family, so read on to find out how best to take care of them!

Is My Three Legged Dog at a Disadvantage?

It is very understandable that you might shy away from a tripod dog. Psychologically, a missing limb on your dog may make people feel uncomfortable or sad. But, it is so important to overcome these assumptions to see the happy, healthy dog in front of you. Generally, humans have a bigger issue with amputee dogs than the dogs themselves do.

There are many concerns that you could have. Will a three-legged dog be able to play and exercise? Do tripawd dogs struggle to make friends? What about tripod dogs and stairs? But, don’t worry, a three-legged dog is not at as much of a disadvantage as you think. While you may need to factor in some additional care, particularly preventative care to relieve additional stress to their joints, your dog can still play, make friends and live happy, active lives.

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The Decision to Amputate

Even if you know that your dog can still live a great life, making the decision to amputate one of your dog’s limbs will always be extremely difficult. Usually, it comes down to amputation or putting them down – a very sad decision to make.

It is important to understand that vets do not make the suggestion of amputation lightly. It is only offered when it is truly the best, and often only, course of action remaining. Examples of this include:

  • Cancer in the limb
  • A limb that is damaged beyond repair
  • A limb that is causing a considerable amount of pain
  • Expensive operations to repair a limb that the owner cannot afford

Remember, it is all about assessing their quality of life. An amputee dog will have a much higher quality of life than a dog that is suffering with a painful or damaged limb, regardless of why the limb cannot be repaired.

We would always urge you to consider amputation over putting an otherwise healthy dog down as even older dogs have been shown to be able to adapt well. Ultimately, however, you know your dog best. There are many factors to consider, such as existing problems with arthritis, their age, and your lifestyle. If you are conflicted, your vet may be able to make a recommendation after listening to your concerns.

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For most dogs, amputation does little to affect their quality of life. Unlike humans, dogs will not feel self conscious about their appearance and, most often, they are just extremely happy that the cause of their pain has been removed. Dogs adapt to their new number of legs surprisingly quickly, even when old or very large, and recovery is not necessarily as difficult as you are imagining.

The recovery period for a tripod dog is usually around one to two months. Older dogs may take a little longer. The beginning of this process may feel very disheartening, but it is important to stay positive and encouraging to help motivate your dog. As always, your vet will offer you advice about how best to support their recovery, but it may come down to two stages:

  • Physical Recovery

The first few days of recovery may simply involve your dog lying on their side while their wound heals. They may need help to move around, and must do so carefully while they have stitches. You must follow your vet’s prescribed pain killer routine very carefully and keep them comfortable. You can do this with blankets piled on carpets and other soft furnishings.

They should heal quite quickly, and you will notice quite a big change from day to day. To help them, provide them with plenty of food and water, but don’t be surprised if they do not eat or drink that much. Don’t stop your dog when they want to attempt moving around, but support them when they need it. The most important thing is not to force movement as the priority must be on letting the wound heal. Do not let them run before their stitches are out.

  • Adapting

While most dogs will naturally start to move around before this, a sign that your dog should start practicing three legged dog walking and other activities is when their stitches come out and painkiller prescription ends. Plenty of dogs adapt before this stage, and it is important to support their attempts to adapt as soon as they begin.

You can support them by keeping them on carpet, rather than slippery wood floors, and by supervising them. You may even wish to keep them in a very comfortable crate when you are not in the room, so as to ensure they will not overexert themselves without you.

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Potential Complications

Amputation surgery is nothing to worry about, but there are risks with all surgeries. There are three potential complications with amputation surgeries that you should look out for while your dog is in recovery. These are:

  • Seroma – the accumulation of fluid that needs to be drained by a vet
  • Blood clots – which can cause serious damage, so must be dealt with as quickly as possible
  • Phantom limb pain – which should disappear with time

You will want to keep in close contact with your vet as your dog heals. They will be able to offer you advice about symptoms of potential problems, when your dog should walk again, and other issues that may arise. While the month or two of recovery may seem very challenging, remember that once your dog is fit and healthy, their quality of life will be just as it was before.


You will not have to worry about recovery if you are considering tripawd adoption. Making this decision may seem difficult because it is very common to fear that your new dog will not be able to fit in or keep up with your lifestyle and that they may be particularly demanding pets.

The truth is that tripod dog rescue is a rewarding experience, and you will often find a bouncy, happy dog, just as able to run and play as any other dog you have ever adopted. Following a successful recovery, a rescued three legged dog is usually just as able as a four legged dog. If anything, they may appear more energetic as many three legged dogs find running more comfortable than walking.

While you could focus on the sadness of losing a paw, there is a lot of added benefits to having a three legged friend. You can choose to be inspired by them, and it becomes a nice little ice-breaker story at the dog park. You can have great fun with a tripawd rescue – just think of the fun tripod dog names you can come up with! My favorite three legged dog names include Hat Trick, Pogo, Skippy, and Lefty or Righty, depending on which paw remains.

Tripod Dog Accessories

Once you have a tripod dog, there are some care needs that are a little different from your other dogs. Primarily, this involves caring for the joints of their remaining legs. The additional weight can wear out the joints much faster. Luckily, this care is not too demanding, and mostly just involves investing in some tripod dog gear, and possibly some dog joint supplements.

A lot depends on whether your dog has had a front or back leg removed. The front legs tend to support more weight, and so the removal of a front leg will put considerably more pressure on the remaining front leg. You can support this front leg using a brace or a tripod dog harness. The exact needs of your dog may depend on their size, weight and age, but there are plenty of tripawd harnesses and braces to suit any dog’s needs.

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You may also consider a prosthetic. Generally, tripod dogs do not need prosthetics because they are so great at adapting, but if you want to explore it as a potential source of extra support for your dog, you should discuss it with your vet before the procedure. This is because prosthetics can only be used if there is still a remaining stump.

This means that some causes of amputation, such as cancer, will not allow for a prosthetic, because the whole leg must be removed, but it also means it may not be an option if you adopt a dog that has already had its whole leg removed. If your dog does have a stump, you can buy a prosthetic for around $200 to $600. It is a good idea to get advice from your vet about how to find the best tripod prosthetic.

Three Legged Dog

Tripod Dog Exercise

Last, but certainly not least, the daily care of a three legged dog must include plenty of exercise. This may seem obvious because all dogs need exercise, but tripod dogs need exercise even more than usual to keep their joints strong. Great tips for exercising a tripod dog include:

  • Taking many short walks, rather than one long walk
  • Let them set the pace – remember that running is often more comfortable for them than walking
  • Try swimming as it allows for exercise while the water supports their weight
  • Don’t be overprotective – they need to exercise, so let them
  • But, as always, watch out for fatigue and weight-gain


  1. Nancy Kerns, Taking Care of Three Legged Dogs, Whole Dog Journal
  2. Dr. Patty Khuly, DVM, Tripod, Sit! Stay!: Why Amputees Make Great Pets, PetMD

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