Why It’s Better To Hop on Three Legs Than Limp on Four

Patty Khuly
Dr Patty Khuly with MambruAuthor Patty Khuly and her
tripawd cat, Mambrú

There’s nothing worse than losing a limb ... or is there?

As someone who’s lived with two three-leggers, this issue hits uncomfortably closer to home than most. That’s because most pets turn to "tripawd"-ism as a result of unfortunate circumstances that require a limb’s amputation.

Consider the primary causes for amputation:

  1. When a limb is so damaged that to repair it is impossible.
  2. When the cost of repairing a limb is unaffordable (according to the owner’s personal financial standards).
  3. When to repair the limb would result in more pain and stress for the pet than would life as an amputee.
  4. When cancer afflicts a limb, in which case its removal is either an exercise in pain-relief, cancer treatment, or both.

But amputation isn’t all doom and gloom. Indeed, it usually offers pets a new lease on life. Which is why I’ve always spoken out in favor of three-legged dogs and cats as wonderful, loving pets, whose lives can be full and whole in spite of their limbs’ limitations.

As long as they’re otherwise healthy, these pets can still run, jump, and play like others. Their gait may be more of a lope than a level walk or trot and they may never win an agility contest, but these pets are nonetheless capable of leading otherwise normal lives.

Still, it’s not easy to deal with the concept of amputation. Indeed, facing the need for such a seemingly drastic measure is the hardest part of the process for most owners. Not to say that amputation is ever something veterinarians undertake lightly, but its inevitability is often medically unquestionable, which makes it a less bitter pill for us to swallow.

Nonetheless, amputating a limb is never a fun process. It’s distasteful, even for those of us well-accustomed to the procedure. But the result –– often an energetic, surprisingly pain-free pet within 24 hours or less –– is well worth the inevitable psychological barriers.

Getting past those barriers is no mean feat, though. Which can be frustrating for veterinarians whose experience informs them that amputation is far less traumatic than owners expect.

That’s when I turn to Tripawds.com.

Started by a husband and wife team after their dog’s leg was amputated, Tripawds.com caters to everything the three-legged pet owner needs to excel in caring for their special-needs dogs and cats (though it does admittedly harbor a distinctly canine bent).

From forums and product recommendations to medical information and moral support, this site has it all. It has more useful tips and uplifting tidbits related to its one corner of the pet world like I’ve rarely seen for any one specific pet problem. And sometimes, seeing a pet that resembles their own enjoying a happy, pain-free life –– albeit online –– is all it takes to get pet owners of prospective amputees to accept the inevitable less stressfully.

Not that it’s all puppy dogs and kitten whiskers. But as one of my clients once said after we’d discussed an unbearably traumatic life experience she’d suffered, “When you step in dog s---, don’t get upset or angry. Look down first and check to see if it goes with your outfit.”

I know her comment sounds all wrong in all sorts of ways, but when the alternatives are worse and the inevitable is staring you in the face … why not consider what seems like an extreme approach.

And given that I’ve lived with two happy “tripawds,” I can personally vouch for the fact that three-leggers can be blissfully happy pets. Because it’s often true that hopping on three legs is a whole lot better than limping on four.

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