Coping without a limb

Animals are much more resilient than what we may think. They also think totally differently to humans – they live in the moment and don’t overthink a situation. Animals would much rather be pain-free than to suffer daily with all their limbs intact. Many pet owners who have had to have their pet’s leg amputated, report that the animals adjusted much more quickly than they anticipated.

Cindy’s story

When Cindy’s owner, Annmari Coetzee, first noticed her dog limping, she thought that Cindy had stepped on something sharp. She took Cindy to her vet but, after a series of consultations and medical treatments, the vet referred Annmari to the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital. Dr Bruce Nevill admitted Cindy for x-rays, a blood smear and a radiograph. She had inflammation on her left carpus (ankle), and the conclusion was that it was a bad sprain to the ankle, and that they should do some physio and laser treatment.

“But Cindy’s condition seemed to worsen, and she started to wither away right before our eyes. Within a few months, Cindy had lost 2kg and she wasn’t putting pressure on her leg at all – she was overcompensating with her other legs and, in fact, with her entire body,” says Annmari.

They tried more treatments, but, a year after the first indication of an injury, Cindy’s muscles started to waste away even more. Her personality had completely changed and she was like a ‘vegetable’ that slept all day. Annmari refused to give up on Cindy, and one morning she and her husband realised that amputation was the only solution to Cindy’s problem.

“When I arrived to collect her after the surgery, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Cindy was sitting upright, bright-eyed, and she started wagging her tail in excitement when she saw me. She got out of the cage on her own and started marching down the passage,” says Annmari. There was obviously a road to recovery, but Cindy was soon her normal, playful self. Her body quickly adjusted and aligned. “Choosing to have her leg amputated was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. But, seeing the newfound joy Cindy is experiencing, has also made it the best, most rewarding one,” says Annmari.

 

Biscuit’s story

Biscuit is a two-year-old domestic cat who jumped from a single-storey balcony and sustained an injury to his hind leg. He couldn’t stand on the leg and his owners took him to their vet, Dr Morné de Wet. “We took x-rays and the only injury I detected was mild joint effusion (also known as fluid on the knee). I subscribed a course of anti-inflammatory and pain medication and told the owners that the cat should rest,” says Dr de Wet.

After about 10 days of treatment, Biscuit was still suffering, and Dr de Wet did more tests. He discovered that Biscuit had cancer: “Biscuit probably already had bone cancer in his leg before the injury, but the early stages of cancer are often not evident and can go unnoticed. The only option was to amputate his leg – it takes away the pain associated with bone cancer and prevents any possible spread.”

After the surgery, Biscuit was back to his old self, running, jumping and climbing all over the place. “He was able to balance on his remaining back leg within 24 hours, and within five days, he was back to bugging his brothers and sisters,” says Dr de Wet.

Post-surgery treatment tips

Obviously, amputation isn’t the solution to all medical problems. Every case is unique and there might be other treatment options. But if amputation is the way forward, there are a few things you can do to make life easier for your pet after surgery:

  1. If possible, be home with your pet for a few days after this major surgery. You need to ensure that he is comfortable and help him where necessary.
  2. Don’t carry your pet around, unless your vet advises it. He has to learn how to balance on three legs.
  3. Follow your vet’s post-operative instructions carefully and ensure he gets his medication timely.
  4. Be very patient with your pet and don’t rush him into recovery.
  5. If your vet recommends physiotherapy, be sure to take your dog for each treatment session.
  6. Make sure that your pet doesn’t gain weight after the operation. Gaining weight will place extra pressure on the remaining limbs.
  7. Should your pet now struggle to reach areas where he normally accessed easily, consider installing ramps.
  8. Don’t worry – your pet will most probably cope much better without his limb than you think.

Happy life

Many pet owners who have been stuck with this decision realised afterwards that it was the best option for their pets. If you have to make this difficult decision, speak to your vet and ask him for a few references. By speaking to other owners you might get some tips on how to cope emotionally, and what to keep in mind before making the big decision.

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