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. Brianne McGill says

    Thank you for your encouraging article. You are a very brave person, to go through all that trauma and make those honourable decisions to save your dogs life.

    I just brought home, my brand new 3 legged, 11 yr old Chihuahua. Last month she was diagnosed with stage 2 sarcoma in her right front leg from biopsies taken, with no indication of metastasis. The oncologists were somewhat baffled because her leg was just swollen, no mass, and otherwise a very healthy, pain free, happy energetic dog. I could not believe it when they said the cancer was too indistinctive to treat, and an amputation was the only sure cure to save her life. Well I didn’t hesitate, I knew this had to be done now while she was still luckily healthy. Sahara is doing pretty well, a bit confused, but walking short distances with encouragement. Its been hard to keep my emotions in check for her but I know that the initial days are the hardest. She’s a bit of a princess the vet said, and was used to using her leg prior to surgery, that it would be a bit harder to adjust, than a dog that favoured a limb. I don’t have any doubts, just have to be patient and hope for the best recovery, and get that unique spark back of hers!

  2. 123turtle says

    I love this article! I have an 8 pound poodle who recently lost his left front leg , because he was hit by a car. I am so blessed to have my best friend back with me. It’s been almost two months since he was hit, and he’s back home, hobbling along on his three legs.

  3. sara says

    Our beloved Rocky, a 6 year old, pit/lab mix had his back leg amputated 45 days ago due to cancer. I was devastated to learn this was the best option for him to live the best life possible and thought the worst.
    The first 7 days were emotional while we nursed him back to health and learned of his challenges.
    Fast forward to today, 45 days post op and Rocky continues to surprise us with his ability to adapt. He prefers the stairs over the ramp we made for him, he does well running in the yard and continues to be a joy in our life. Don’t get me wrong, he has a spill now and again but gets right back up, sturdy and strong.
    A note to everyone who is blessed to have a tripod K9, these dogs will steal your heart. Love them and cherish them.

  4. Grace and Bama says

    Last Sunday we found a dog on the side of the road that had been shot and she was underfed, we took her to the vet and… it turns out she had been hit by a car and broken her femur in 4 places. (back right). We are keeping her (her name is Bama :) and I love her to death already! We had no choice but to amputate it. She just had it amputated about 3 hours ago and she’s coming home in 2 days. Thank you for this information, I’m preparing our house and getting ready for her to come right now (I’m only 14 though so my mom is doing most of the prepping and I’m doing the research haha). Do you recommend joint supplements? She is 73 lbs probably between 4 and 7 years old and we’re guessing a lab/bloodhound mix (she looks mostly like a lab). Which harness do you recommend for a big dog? Thank you so much!

    • shibashake says

      Congratulations on your new dog! Four paws up for rescuing a dog in need!

      In terms of joint supplements, we give Shania fish oil tablets. The amount to give is based on weight, so I would consult with your vet. This article has more on dosage guidelines.

      We also give her chondroitin/glucosamine supplements, but whether that helps or not is inconclusive. According to the specialist that was treating Shania during her amputation, it doesn’t really help but it doesn’t hurt either.

      For Shania, we used the Ruffwear harness. More on our experiences with it here.

      Give Bama a big hug from us when she comes home. πŸ˜€

  5. Nat says

    My 9 year old Lab Mix Diesel is having his leg amputated today. He developed a massive post-opp infection from a tumor removal on his foot. I am devastated but keep reminding myself that he will likely adapt and be just fine, I need to let my own ego go and let him be a dog. Thank you!

  6. sue says

    I have a 5 year ols lab mix, Midnight. He has been limping for a couple of months.we followed vet recommended treatment of pain meds and dasequan. We had xray that show ed no damage in elbow. Few weeks went by with shoulder muscle wasting. Has MRI. This shows a golf ball sized enlarged lymph node. Emg showed muscle no being innovated at shoulder. Vet wants to remove lymph node but says it is way up in arm pit. Cannot get needle biopsy as it is too deep. He wants to go into shoulder and if cannot reach it remove leg. Midnight has pain when turns on leg. He will weight bear only walking on incline surface. Not sure if cancer. Not sure where to go from here

    • shibashake says

      Big, big hugs to Midnight.

      With Shania, we visited with a specialist (vet recommended) who laid out all the options for us, including chances of success, etc. In this way, we could make a good decision for Shania, based on the best information available.

      We first tried to save Shania’s leg with surgery, but that didn’t work out and they had to amputate. That was very difficult to deal with, but Shania has done very well with three legs. I write more about my experiences with Shania here.

      The tripawds.com site has some great resources on dealing with cancer and amputation. There are many people on the forums who have gone through cancer with their dog, and it is a very supportive environment.

  7. Terry says

    Hi…i just wanna start by saying thnk you for sharing your story and publishig all the great tips you have learned by living with Shania. my whippet mix Bernie has been limping for a few weeks so we went to the vet. he has been dignosd with either Valley Fever…or osteomyelitis from a trauma he may have suffred before i rescued him from the local county shelter. so amputation isnt a sure thing yet as we ar waiting for the Valley Fever test rsults. But i have learned so much from you site and feel much better about his future if he does have to have it amputated. thx so much…i hope Shania continues to thrive.

    • shibashake says

      Hello Terry, Thank you very much for your kind words.
      Have you gotten back Bernie’s test results? How is Bernie doing?

      Shania is now almost 8, and she is still very bouncy. I have to be the grumpy bad cop, that stops her from doing this, that, and the other thing. The way that I look at it, every day I get to spend with Shania, is a very a good day indeed. πŸ˜€

      Big big hugs to Bernie. I am glad that he is now in such a good forever home.

  8. dale pullen says

    Hi, my dog has been walking on three legs since he was one and a half years of age. Recently he can’t stand up, he was fine and walking Sunday then early Monday afternoon he wasn’t able to stand up at all. We took him to the vet and they couldn’t tell us exactly what was wrong. His front left leg has stiffen up but his two hind legs are able to move. He eats a lot like always and does all the regular stuff he doesn’t seem to be sick at all. His currently 9 years old turning 10 next month. Do you perhaps know what’s wrong I really need help my parents want to put him down Thursday which is in 3 days time because his been like this for a week now. His a Germanshepard
    He also hasn’t mated or have any sexual contact with other dogs before if that helps. Please get back to me

    • shibashake says

      Did anything unusual happen on Sunday? Did he fall or overuse the leg? Has he been having difficulty getting up or walking prior to this? Did the vet take x-rays? Did they say what it *could* be? What did the vet suggest in terms of next steps? Did they refer you to a specialist? When my vet is unsure about an issue, they usually suggest next steps and/or refer us to an appropriate specialist.

      Some people use dog wheelchairs, although that can be expensive and may not be appropriate for all dogs.

      For medical issues such as these, I explore all options with my vet or with a specialist. Once I have all the information, I can make an informed decision that is appropriate for my dog.

    • Christine says

      We have an articulating brace to support the carpus for our front amputee dog. Check out orthopets.com

      We also started dry needling to help with muscular problems due to the bouncy gate.

  9. Lesley says

    My Boxer is going to be 9 years old in 5 months. He (Sarge) needs to have his front limb amputated from a brachial injury. I am uncertain of what to do because of his age and his long lean legs. I don’t know if he will be able to bear the weight on 3 legs. Also it is very humid where we live, and Sarge is breathing heavier; therefore, I worry about his heart. Further, we moved to the country with 4 steps up to our residence and all linoleum floors. Any advice would be appreciated. Sarge is laying in his bed more and more.

    • Anonymous says

      Hi there, sorry to hear about your dog. I can let you know that my dog had her front leg amputated at 15 and a half years old. That was over seven months ago and she is getting around fine on three legs. I think that if your vet says your dog’s heart will be strong enough then there is a good chance that it will work out ok. Wishing you the best.

  10. says

    We run Cochise Canine Rescue is southern Arizona. We have a larger than average number of elderly, “special needs” and chronically ill dogs in residence. We have a 12 year old Chihuahua diagnosed with osteosarcoma of his left front leg. The specialists and our vet said that it could buy him some time. We opted NOT to go for chemo due to Billy’s age…and it has been 5 months an he is doing great. We know the cancer may eventually spread to his lungs but so far so good.

    Last week we took in a dog, Tri, who was on the e-list at a high kill municipal shelter after they had amputated his leg but no one wanted him so he was e-listed after less than 8 weeks. We are not sure based on the lack of info the pound provided exactly why they amputated the leg but it has been 6 weeks since his surgery and he is doing well. Still wobbly, but doing ok for the most part.
    He obviously was neglected during his life before here…and won’t sleep on a bed or even a stack of blankets or towels….Not sure how to get him to accept a higher level of comfort than he has been used to…..

  11. 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

    • Anonymous says

      Hi. I’m so sorry to hear about your pup. My moms dog was just diagnosed with the same thing. She decided it was best to let him live out his life instead of putting him through a surgery. She didn’t wanna have him have to deal with the healing process either. Best of luck to you.

    • sara says

      We are going through the same thing with our beloved 6 y/o, 75 lb, pit/lab mix. We decided to go through with the surgery and have his back leg amputated and removed a part of his pelvis, where the cancer spread.
      It has been 45 days and he is doing great! Really!!!
      The cancer was successful in removing all cancer and we feel blessed every day we have Rocky with us. It was a costly surgery but worth every penny as he is back to his old self and no longer in pain.
      Best luck to you and your K9 buddy.

  12. 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!

  13. 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???

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    • Rachel says

      Hi our lab mix puppy fell off a chair and has hand to have her right hind leg amputated at the hip too. She hasn’t shown any aggressive tendancies im afraid infact she seems to be more clingy but she has started to bite the scar tissue (quite badly sometimes) and ALL her other legs and paws. Im wondering has yours done this? Im sorry to hear yours has turned aggressive and I hopeyou dont have to rehome Buster. My advice, get a cage and at any sign of aggression put him in the cage tell him no and ignore him let your husband let him out. Get your husband to treat him play with him (no dominance games try fetch) and most of all correct him.

    • shibashake says

      When Shania was healing, the scar tissue area can get pretty itchy, so she would sometimes try to bite on it. However, I make sure to stop her every time, because her biting can cause infection, can open up the wound, etc. I use an Elizabethan collar if necessary. This is something that is best discussed with her vet.

      As for biting on legs and paws, that could a sign of allergies or skin parasites. I would take her to the vet for a check-up.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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! πŸ˜€

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