Helping your dog adapt to amputation with acupressure

How acupressure-massage can help can replenish the healthy cells needed to heal your dog’s wounds and strengthen his other limbs after amputation.

As a young dog, Rosie the Chow-Chow mix could catch up with a rabbit, run with her pack, and was generally as fleet of foot as any dog you have ever seen. The only difference between Rosie and the two other dogs in her family was that she had three legs and they had four.

Rosie was originally found on the side of the road with a crushed left forelimb. A rescue organization had her leg amputated, she was adopted by a family with a farm, and she never looked back. She has lived a full dog life, and although 12 years old now and slowed by arthritis, she’s still in good condition.

Becoming a “tri-pawd”

Dogs are amazingly resilient. The loss of a limb seems tragic to us, but most dogs adjust quickly and get on with their lives. When an amputation first occurs, however, it can take some time for you and your dog to make the necessary adjustments. Making sure he feels comfortable and safe is important. Your dog may experience “phantom” pains where the limb was – it’s as if his brain in searching for the limb and interprets the loss as pain. These pains will most like resolve as he heals.

Your veterinarian will probably give you instructions on how to care for your dog right after surgery. Often suggested is soft padding or bedding for him to lie down on; a wrap that isn’t confining, like vet wrap; gentle exercise with good footing; and bodywork such as acupressure-massage.

As your dog heals and becomes more active, he will need to reestablish his sense of balance and build his strength in a way that does not compromise his other three legs and their joints. Physical therapists have excellent methods of helping dogs incrementally and safely increase their activity levels.

Massaging around the nail beds of all “four” paws. Remember: the missing paw exists energetically, so massage it as if it were there.
Massaging around the nail beds of
all “four” paws. Remember: the
missing paw exists energetically, so
massage it as if it were there.

Swimming, for instance, has proven to aid in gaining strength and confidence.

The role of acupressure-massage

After surgery, as well as during the following years of your dog’s life, acupressure-massage can help him heal more readily and feel more secure about his status as a “tri-pawd”dog. During the initial healing phase, this modality can enhance blood circulation to his entire body, removing toxins and replenishing the healthy cells needed to heal his wound and strengthen his three other limbs.

The three-legged dog has to relearn balance and coordination, and build his muscles to accommodate the changes in his mobility. At first, it can be tricky for him to adjust, but he will figure it out – and you can help him. Acupressure-massage can serve as a support to everything you need to change in order to help your tri-pawd dog have a happy, vigorous life.

How does it work?

Acupressure-massage is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been actively used for humans and animals for at least 3,000 years. According to the theories of TCM, there are energetic pathways called “meridians” running through the living body. These meridians enervate and promote circulation of vital substances such as blood. Along these meridians are specifi c pools of energy called “acupoints” which affect the fl ow of energy and blood. When we stimulate these acupoints, we can effectively enhance energy and circulation throughout the entire body.

In TCM, when a limb is amputated. we work with the limb as if it were still there. That sounds a bit strange, but by assuming the missing limb is present, we are helping the animal balance his energy and circulation. Even without a leg, the dog is considered whole – and we are working with his whole body in acupressure-massage.

Bladder Meridian

A technique to try

  1. Start by finding a comfortable and safe location for both of you. Most three-legged dogs prefer soft floor coverings or beds on which to lie.
  2. Now take a few minutes to think of how you want your dog to feel when you are offering him an acupressure-massage session – calm, relaxed, contented and free of discomfort. As an added benefit, spending these one-on-one times with your dog will give him a deeper sense of security and connection with you.
  3. Place one hand on your dog where it can rest easily. With the heel of your other hand, stroke from his head across his back just to the side of his spine, then down his leg to the outside of his paw.
  4. Repeat this stroking from head to paw three times on each side of your dog. Remember: in TCM, the missing limb is treated as if it still exists – pretend the limb and paw are there and follow through with your stroking in that area. When you perform this stroking from head to hind paw, you are actually tracing what is called the “Bladder meridian” (see chart). This meridian is known to help dogs balance their energy, relax, and get used to intentional touch. Follow the chart while tracing the Bladder meridian.
  5. Once you have completed tracing the Bladder meridian three times on each side of your dog, simply massage around the nail-beds of each paw (including the missing paw). There are acupoints on the sides of the nail beds that influence the energy and circulation of all the meridians in his body. These points can help restore your dog’s balance, bring more blood to his muscles, tendons and ligaments, enhance his absorption of nutrients, and provide a sense of grounding.

This acupressure-massage session can be offered every day after surgery for ten days to two weeks. After this initial healing time, go to every third day. As your dog gets back to being himself, offering this session ever fi ve to six days will be beneficial for his long-term health and level of activity.

Dogs are marvelously optimistic creatures; not even an amputation can get in the way when it comes to living an active, joyous life. A safe and loving environment, along with regular acupressure massage sessions, will enhance his well-being even more!

Caring for a three-legged dog

  • Keep him slim to avoid extra stress on his remaining limbs.
  • Provide soft bedding to minimize elbow irritation (hygroma).
  • Keep his nails trimmed and paw pads healthy to enhance traction.
  • Exercise him regularly to maintain strength.
  • Avoid slippery surfaces.
  • Use raised food and water bowls.
  • Use fore or hind harnesses as needed.
  • Have fun together – live a dog’s life!

Note: With fore limb amputation, getting down from a raised surface may be difficult because dogs carry 60% of their weight on their front legs. Dogs with hind limb amputation can have difficulty jumping up. These situations may require the use of a broad-band, comfortable harness for assistance.