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Ask the Vet- Tripods by Kristel Weaver, DVM, MPVM
March 8, 2013

Learning that your dog or cat needs an amputation brings up a lot of questions.  I’ll discuss common concerns about living with a pet that has undergone an amputation and share my own experiences on life with a tripod, my favorite term for a three-legged dog or cat.

Why would a dog or cat have a leg amputated?

The most common reasons for a dog or cat to need an amputation are trauma, cancer or a congenital defect.   Trauma injuries can result from being hit by a car, falling out a window or getting attacked by another animal.  A dog attacked my cat and caused severe trauma to his back left leg.  After trying unsuccessfully to get his injuries to heal, I amputated his leg and he has been happy ever since.  When a dog is diagnosed with a bone tumor or a cat has a vaccine-associated sarcoma on one of their legs, we recommend an amputation to remove the cancer. Congenital defects or neonatal injuries can lead to malformed limbs that are painful and can’t be used normally.  If a leg is constantly painful and cannot be fixed, amputation may be the best option.

Are dogs and cats embarrassed when they lose a leg?

Not at all!  Tripods seem to have no comprehension that they are different from their friends and don’t show any signs of being ashamed or embarrassed.  They are as happy, silly and playful as they were previously.  There is no emotional aspect for them to lose a limb.  As an owner of a tripod, you will probably get extra attention and questions about your dog or cat’s condition.

Can a tripod still live a normal life?

Yes!  Dogs and cats with only three limbs can live completely normal lives.  They can still exercise and play, go for walks, cuddle, nap and eat regular food.  They can still bark at the mailman or hide from the vacuum cleaner.  Pets with a back leg amputation will not be able to jump as high as a four-legged friend.  The exception is obese, geriatric or severely arthritic dogs and cats.  These animals will have a hard time walking around after an amputation may not be good candidates for the surgery.

What can I do to make life easier for my tripod?

  • Keep your tripod thin!  Extra weight puts more strain on the remaining legs.
  • Raise the food and water bowls for dogs with front leg amputations, this helps so they don’t have to bend down on their one front leg.
  • Arrange the house so the floors have traction.  Use rugs, runners, yoga mats or whatever helps prevent your dog from slipping as they zip around. Hardwood or tile surfaces can lead to spills.

If your dog or cat needs an amputation I recommend you talk to other pet owners with tripods and visit their pets to see how happy they are.  My three-legged cat has no idea he is missing anything and still sprints around the house, jumps on the bed, runs upstairs and rules over the dogs.

Check out these cool videos of Schwartz the three-legged cat and Nuchal the three-legged dog running and playing!

Click here to see Scwartz in action and here for the escapades of Nuchal.

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM).  She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007.  She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email


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