3 Legged Dog Care, Tripod Dog Care

A tripod dog is a dog with three legs. The loss of a leg can be due to many reasons including cancer, leg trauma (car accident), or congenital deformities (born with a deformity).

I am privileged to share my life with a three legged Siberian Husky, called Shania. She had a congenital deformity called radial head luxation, i.e., the bones on her left front leg were misaligned, and she was unable to put weight on it. This condition is rare, especially for a Siberian Husky, and the cause for it is unclear.

We speculate that it may have been from birth trauma, since she was a c-section puppy. We had hoped to correct the problem with orthopedic surgery, but unfortunately, there was too much cartilage damage in the joint, and the surgeon recommended amputation.

It was a shock when she came home with three legs, and a BIG bandage around her torso. However, Shania recovered quickly from the surgery and is now a happy, bouncy, and somewhat spoiled member of the family.

Here are some things to look out for when living with a three legged dog -

1. Keep a tripod dog slim.

The most common health issue with three legged dogs is that they may develop arthritis earlier than other dogs. Because they are missing a leg, more stress is placed on their remaining joints, and there is more wear and tear. Therefore, it is very important to keep them slim, so that they do not have to deal with additional joint stresses from excess weight.

Feed a three legged dog a healthy and balanced diet, but do not overfeed her.

2. Keep our dog’s foot-pads clean and healthy.

Proper foot care is very important for a three legged dog.

They may develop cracked foot-pads because of the additional weight placed upon each paw. I now apply DermaPaw cream to Shania’s footpads to help keep them protected.

Previously I was using Tuf-Foot by Bonaseptic, but I find that the DermaPaw cream brings better results, is easier to apply, and stays on for much longer than Tuf-Foot. However, Shania will often try to lick the cream up, so I apply it right before she takes a nap (e.g. when we come home from our walk), and I supervise until she settles down.

I also keep Shania’s nails short, and trim the fur at the bottom of her feet. This allows her to walk comfortably, and without slipping.

3. Watch out for Elbow Hygroma.

An Elbow Hygroma is a fluid-filled swelling around the dog’s elbow. It occurs, when the elbow bone causes trauma to the soft tissue around it. This usually happens in younger dogs who are constantly lying down, or falling down on a hard surface. It may also happen when a dog leans, or consistently places too much weight on one elbow.

As a dog matures, a callus will form to protect the elbow and prevent this condition. Dog beds may help, but some dogs prefer to sleep on cooler, hard surfaces.

Young three legged dogs are especially susceptible to elbow hygroma, because their elbow calluses have yet to form, and their activity level is high. Shania developed this condition when she was less than a year old. However, the swelling was small, and our vet advised us to let it heal on its own. In more serious cases, where there is an enormous amount of swelling and/or infection, surgery may be needed.

We now have a cool bed for Shania in her crate. It helps to keep her cool during the summer, and provides her with a nice soft surface to lie on. Remember to regularly clean and air out the water bed, so that mold does not accumulate on its wet undersides.

For outside the house, we use the Coolaroo outdoor dog bed. It is durable, provides a soft surface, and is elevated from the floor. The elevation allows free air-flow during hot days, and prevents water from accumulating during rainy days.

4. Manage slippery surfaces

Make sure that there are not too many slippery surfaces in the house.

Three legged dogs have less balance, and can easily slip on hard surfaces like wood, tile, linoleum, or marble. This is especially true when they are running or playing.

If there are many hard, slippery floors in the house, it may be time to go rug shopping! Rugs also provide a nice, soft surface for a dog to rest on.

I get natural hand-knotted rugs, that can stand more wear and tear from the dogs. Consider getting a light, earth-tone colored rug, that can hide dirt and dog hair more easily.

In addition, I check the backyard, and make sure there are no deep holes. Shania can trip on uneven surfaces and hurt herself. I also clear away large piles of sticks and leaves. Larger sticks may sometimes catch on a dog’s nails and cause damage.

It helps to get raised water bowls, so that our tripod dog can drink without having to bend down too much.

5. Let a 3 legged dog be a dog

When we share our life with a tripod dog, we naturally want to protect her from as many things as possible. It is important, though, to let a dog be a dog.

If a three legged dog is kept from doing all the things that dogs love to do, she will have lived an unfulfilled life.

A life lived in fear is a life half lived” ~ [Spanish proverb]

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  1. jennifer says

    I have a 9 year black lab and he has osteosarcoma and my doctor recommends amputation. They say he will have to do some cemo as well and that he will be around for another 3 to 6 months after the amputation…….not sure what to do…i know there are a lot of tri pods out there and i have no problem with amputation in general. My question is …is it worth it to put my dog through such a major major surgury for living such a short time after the surgury….i feel it will take him three monts to get adjusted to only three legs plus deal with the cancer……just wanted to get some different opinions and comments…..thanks

  2. Lisa says

    We have a shorkie poo named Zoey who fell down our stairs and sustained multiple inuries to her right front leg and left hind leg. We just found our that they have to amputate her front leg due to the fractures being too complicated and unable to fix. I feel heartbroken for her as she is an energetic, fun loving 5 month old pup. I appreciate all of the feedback I am reading on how to manage her at home. I feel hopeful she will adjust well. I appreciate any other feedback on how to manage the healing process. THanks!

  3. Ashley Pawlowski says

    About 3 years ago i rescued Kota at the time they told me she was probably 3 years old. My Kota was born with 3 legs the 4th back right leg is missing the foot and only has one toe nail that growing inward and curls. I have recently had to have surgery to remove 1 great mass (which came open) off of her front leg and another small one that was on her rear end for extra precautions. Just now she has started to whine and yell seeming to be in pain from her front leg. She let’s me bend it at all the joint but at the top I think I’m feeling another knot but I’m not sure. And the muscle seems to be spasming at the top of her leg. Can someone tell me what is going on with my baby girls leg please???

  4. Donut's Mama says

    Our 8 month old German Shorthair, Donut, got hit by a car yesterday when no one was home. After lengthy discussions with the vet and logical thinking, we are going to have to amputate her back left leg. I’m still sick about it, I know she’ll be happy to be running about again and she’ll recover. I’ve known her since birth-her mother was our first German SH. I’m worried about something happening to remaining limbs. We live in a rural area and we’ve typically let the dogs out during the day and haven’t had problems. Now I’m worried that after Donut’s recovery, that we’ll have to kennel her more often. Her breed is very high energy. I just needed a safe place for some encouraging words…thanks.

  5. Laurie says

    Our 6month old lab mix was in an accident and his hip and right hind leg had 4breaks ,vet recommended we amputate his leg at hip,we r concerned he will become aggressive now due he aggressive with vet and my husband, any one have advice.we have small kids, we are keeping buster from kids during healing. Any have advice or gone thru this all advice aprecatated.

    • shibashake says

      When my dog is in pain or not feeling well, he feels more vulnerable. As a result, he may use aggression to protect himself, especially from people he does not know well (fear aggression or defensive aggression).

      When animals and people are afraid of something, they prefer to get away from that thing. This is called the flight response. But if escaping isn’t an option, most animals will switch to a fight response. They try to defend themselves from the scary thing. So a dog can be afraid of a person or another animal but still attack if she thinks this is her only recourse.

      However, when there are kids involved, I would always get help from a good professional trainer who can observe my dog within his regular environment and routine, help me properly identify the source of his behavior, and help me come up with a good, safe, and effective plan for retraining.

      The tripawds.com site is also a good place to get input and information on 3 legged dogs.

  6. nicole says

    I am looking at adopting a tripod dog and he is missing his hind leg. My previous dog had a deteriorating spine and so she had massive trouble getting up with her back legs. Do you think that with only one leg this would be a problem? Do you know if there is mechanisms to help them get up?

    • shibashake says

      Shania is missing a front leg, so my observations will be based on that. She takes slightly longer to get up and also to do a controlled down. When she does an uncontrolled down (on softer surfaces), then she can do it super quick.

      When Shania was recovering from her amputation, I put a RuffWear harness on her and used that to help her get up and give her support when she needs it. However, Shania doesn’t really like wearing the harness so we stopped using it after she got her leg strength back. This article has more on our experiences with the Ruffwear harness.

      The key thing with Shania is to keep her from getting too excited (e.g. during play, greetings, etc.), and then accidentally spraining something. Since she only has three legs, if she sprains something it becomes really difficult for her to move around and do stuff. Therefore, keeping her three legs strong and healthy, primarily by managing her activity and environment, is the most important thing for us.

  7. Penny says

    I am going to a shelter tomorrow to adopt a Blue Heeler who only has 3 legs. Her previous owners ran over her with a gator & just left her. Some good people found her & took her to the shelter where the vet amputated her leg.
    I think she’ll do fine but my husband is skeptical. This article was a help. Thank you for posting.

  8. triny the shorthair says

    hi… i’m getting a new german shorthaired pointer puppy in a couple of weeks named tripod, triny for short, and i was hoping you could give me some tips for when i first get her?

    • shibashake says

      Congratulations on your upcoming puppy!

      How old is Triny? When was Triny’s surgery? Would she be recovering in your care or would she already be recovered when you get her?

      I talk about my experiences with Shania here. I write about what happened right after her surgery, and then also about things to look out for afterwards.

      The tripawds.com site is also a good source of information, and there are many tripawd dog owners who visit the forums there to share information and give each other support.

      Please give Triny a big hug from me when you get her! :D

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