Logan got his second chance at life when he became our medical foster fail this past March. As far as we know, he either fell or jumped out of a moving vehicle and badly fractured the femur in his right rear leg. While waiting for his previous owner to claim him, he was brought to the veterinary clinic where I work and treated for his injuries. Radiographs revealed significant damage to his femur and, once surrendered into the care of local animal services, it was decided that limb amputation was his best chance at recovery and a normal life.
The veterinarians at my clinic are estimating that Logan is about two or three years old. Although he looks like a purebred Australian Cattle Dog, he’s very tall compared to the breed standard and we have absolutely no idea where he got that height from (maybe one day we’ll do a DNA test on him just for fun!). He’s an affectionate couch potato who enjoys giving kisses and sleeping upside down with all three feet in the air. His only “bad habit” is the excessive barking he does around meal times, a trait he borrowed from his bad influence of a big brother, Remy (also a blue heeler, go figure). Otherwise, he’s the perfect companion!
It’s difficult to imagine life without our big ol’ “Logie-bear”, but sometimes I think about how painful it must have been for his previous owner to have to surrender him because, financially, they were not able to care for such a significant injury. I choose to believe that their decision came from a place of love and that in doing so it saved him from being unnecessarily put to sleep. Although an extreme case, these choices we make for our pets are difficult. But, when we are empowered with the right information, we can confidently make the best choices. I’m here to explain that when faced with the possibility of amputation, it can be a viable option for your pet and why, if you choose this route, you don’t have to live with the gnawing regret of, “Did I make the right call?” or “Could I have done more?”
My career often calls for me to educate owners and, as always, serve the best interest of my patients. Recently, I was approached by one of our veterinarians and asked to speak with a client whose dog had been hit by a car. The owner was juggling three options now that radiographs had confirmed that their family pet had a badly fractured femur. Option one: We call in an orthopedic surgeon and have them repair the leg (our clinic charges upwards of $2,000 for this service). Option two: We immobilize the leg with a splint and schedule an amputation (estimated cost being around $500 with a shorter healing time). Option three: We humanely euthanize this animal and relieve it from it’s pain. Their situation was eerily reminiscent of ours with Logan. For this reason, my personal insights on this matter were being requested.
The veterinarians had already discussed both the physical and financial commitments of the choices they were facing. On the one hand, specialized surgery on the owner’s part requires intensive aftercare, several weeks of physical therapy, multiple followup appointments, and a lengthy recovery time, not to mention a hefty price tag. On the other hand, amputation is something most owners have a hard time wrapping their head around. The third option, euthanasia, was not being considered becasuse the owners were deeply attached to this dog and wanted to explore the other two options first.
My ultimate goal when speaking with owners is to help guide them into a decision that is beneficial for both them and their pets. It is not my place to make that decision for them, but to give them all the facts and speak from a place of understanding and experience. One of the major concerns the owner voiced to me was if his dog would ever “be a dog again,” meaning, would his dog be able to live a full and happy life with only three legs? My response: Absolutely! With Logan, I could tell he was still a dog with a lot of life and affection left to give. I knew that his injury was just a bump in the road and not something that would be his downfall. Young animals make good candidates for amputation since healing time tends to be faster and they can more easily acclimate to this new lifestyle change. I’ve also witnessed a case where a dog received an amputation at twelve years old and recovered beautifully! This just goes to show that you have to take your pet’s individual needs into account.
From there, I shared Logan’s story with this owner, along with numerous pictures and videos of his journey up to this point. I shared the good and the bad; how I celebrate his triumphs and encourage him to overcome and adapt to all the new obstacles he faces. Suddenly the options this owner faced were not so terrifying. The atmosphere in the room shifted into something more hopeful.
True, every case is unique and there are a multitude of factors that come into play, but ultimately you have to explore all options, educate yourself, ask LOTS of questions, and decide on the best course of action for you and your pet. Orthopedic surgery is OK. Amputation is OK. Euthanasia is OK. This choice isn’t to be made lightly but it can absolutely be done without regrets once the, forgive me, leg-work has been done.
In the case mentioned above, this dog’s owners decided that amputation was the right choice for their family. Soon after this appointment, I worked with another family that had a young hunting dog with the same exact injury. For them, orthopedic surgery was a more appropriate choice given the lifestyle and needs of the dog. A natural duck hunter, this dog is going to lead a more fulfilling life with the use of all four legs. Will he be a future field trial champion? Maybe not, but he will be able to continue doing what makes he and his family happy.