Aiding dogs with missing legs

In the past, a serious leg injury often meant euthanasia for dogs. Now, thanks to therapeutic aids for damaged or missing legs, a disabled dog can live a long and active life.

Everyone loves to watch a happy, healthy dog running, jumping and playing. To help him stay active, though, you have to maintain his mobility. That includes not only protecting his paws but also caring for his legs when they’re injured, and keeping limb wounds and injuries safe and clean while healing. A wide array of products, from splints to orthotics, are available to help optimize your dog’s comfort and mobility when he has problems with his legs.

Orthotics and prosthetics

When a limb is damaged or removed, orthotics (that support the limb) or prosthetics (that replace it) are often used. Contrary to what you may think, dogs often adapt very well to these devices. Depending on the injury, the patient can go back to relatively normal activities once he is accustomed to the device.

Orthotics can be used for a range of problems, from simple sprains to complete ligament ruptures. They can provide support, stability, restrict movement, correct deformities and promote healing. Braces and casts are examples of orthotics.

leg braceProsthetics replace a missing limb. In order to be successful, prosthetics require that at least part of the limb remains; at least a significant stump but ideally down to the hock or elbow. This gives the artificial limb something to hold on to. When amputation takes place at the hip or shoulder, it is almost impossible to use a prosthetic.

Orthotics and prosthetics are custom made using a casting kit. A mold is taken of the leg, or the remaining part of the leg, and sent to the manufacturer along with detailed information about the animal and his injury. The orthotic or prosthetic is usually created in seven to ten days and sent to the caretaker. Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for the device to require final adjustments and that it may need to be temporarily returned to the manufacturer. Sometimes, annual adjustment is called for as the animal’s health changes. Orthotics and prosthetics are as much an art as a science. Look for a company with a strong reputation, testimonials, approvals and good staff credientials.

Wraps and splints

Wrapping can be a good temporary solution for adding support and protection to the front or back legs. A simple wrap can be a neoprene and Velcro pad that wraps around the leg. A custom wrap can offer different degrees of support and stiffness, depending on the problem.

Front and rear leg splints offer stability and support. They typically strap to the leg with padded Velcro and stabilize the lower portion of the leg. A full splint will extend from above the carpus (wrist) or stifle (knee) to all the way under the foot, and also provide a stable walking surface.

Quality splints

It is important to realize that even though a splint will cover the carpus or hock, it is not designed to help with injuries to these joints. Structural support falls into the orthotics category. Look for a sturdy, padded splint with a non-skid rubber pad on the bottom. The splint needs to be specially shaped so the dog’s front or back leg sits comfortably in the support.

leg braceJoint protection

Hygroma is a common problem in dogs, especially older ones. It’s an inflammation at the elbow from the repeated trauma of lying on hard surfaces, and includes pressure sores and ulcers. Although custom orthotics can be designed to protect a dog’s elbows, an adjustable product called DogLeggs is also available. Cushioned wraps protect the elbow and are held in place by a strap that goes across the dog’s back.

A tear to a ligament in a dog’s knee (or cruciate injury to the stifle) can be devastating to the animal. A cruciate ligament tear causes the knee to only move forward and backward instead of rotating normally. This causes pain, lameness and severe arthritis. A cruciate brace by WoundWear can resolve the problem, sometimes without the need for surgery. It can also provide healing support after surgery. It prevents abnormal movement at the knee while still allowing normal rotation to occur.

Boots for different uses

General wear boots protect a dog’s paws from hot pavement, sharp objects, road and lawn chemicals and more. They can be used for stability on slippery surfaces, both indoors and out, and to keep paw and lower leg injuries and bandages clean. Boots can also be worn as a convenience on wet or muddy days and taken off when the dog comes inside. Typically, general wear boots are made of a soft, water resistant material like neoprene with a reinforced rubber sole. Often attached with Velcro straps, general wear boots can be both attractive and comfortable.

Look for a soft, flexible boot with a reinforced sole. The life of the boot is based on how long it takes for the sole to wear out and the terrain it is used on. Longer (taller) boots that cover more of the leg tend to stay on better.

Protective boots are typically used to cover the entire leg with a waterproof bag to keep bandages, casts and orthotics dry and clean. These are typically thinner than general wear boots and not intended for rigorous use. The Medivet boot is waterproof and breathable, with Velcro and elastic straps, a drawstring closure at the top, and a non-skid sole.

Therapeutic boots such as those manufactured by TheraPaw are specially designed to prevent dragging and knuckling (where a damaged paw knuckles under). They are used with a veterinarian’s recommendation and supervision. Clips on the toe of the boot connect with straps to a cuff on the leg, and hold the paw in the correct position.

In the past, mobility problems for dogs were considered critical and often became an end-of-life issue. Now, with proper care and the advent of products like splints, orthotics and prosthetics, an injured canine can live a long, happy, active life

Resources and companies

Animal Ortho Care,
Thera-Paw, and