We have often questioned the myth that dogs who lose a leg due to an amputation can get along just fine. Dogs carry up to 70% of their body weight on their front legs, and 30% of their body weight on their rear legs. A three-legged dog is forced to hop, which puts tremendous impact on all the joints, including the spine which has to stretch and contract with each hop. We owned a three-legged cat for several years, and over time, his spine curled to one side, and when he overdid it, he was immobilized for days.
We often celebrate tripawds for their ability to accept their disability and seemingly rise above it. Surely it is “better to hop on 3, than limp on 4” – as long as that hopping is painfree and not causing injury. Young dogs, especially seem to get around just fine on three legs. But even young dogs can injure their remaining legs and spines by over-compensating for their missing limbs. We built a rear wheel cart for Tres, a one year old Great Dane who lost a rear leg due to a birth accident because we could see his remaining rear leg pronating out at the hip, and the knee was shaking. The owner hopes that taking Tres on daily walks in his wheels, she’ll maintain good muscle mass to support her hip and knee so that when she’s at home, she’ll move in comfort and ease out of her cart.
Overcompensating for missing limbs does increase wear and tear on the remaining joints, and this was obvious when we first watched this great video of Katie, a 13 year old border collie living in Chicago, who lost a front leg. Despite her obvious joy in being supported in a front wheel cart, we could see the arthritis in her hips at the end of her walk. However, her owner, was grateful for the extra years of quality life that her front wheel cart gave her. Kate was quite the celebrity in Lincoln Park strolling in her front wheel cart.
Even tripawds with compromised strength in their remaining limbs can be helped by a set of wheels. Mia, who lost her forelimb and injured her pelvis in a car accident in her youth, came to us at the age of 8. Her special variable axle front wheel cart with tip wheels and a soft yoke made movement and exercise possible again for her.
Lily, a giant mastiff who lost a rear leg due to an infected knee following ACL surgery, felt so much after ridding herself of a painful nonfunctional rear leg. Here she is at her fitting, looking relaxed and happy to have a little help to keep herself going.