Three Legged Dogs: A Detailed Guide
Three legged (and two-legged) dogs are the very definition of ‘abled-differently.’
As long as they’re well taken care of, a missing limb is just that—a missing limb. It doesn’t prevent them from leading a happy life or uplifting the lives of others.
Meet Salem, a senior dog that lost her leg late in life due to cancer. No one thought she would live very long but her tenacious attitude was inspiring and she lives life to the fullest. (watch her video above)
With a little bit of ‘special’ care, patience, and love, Noel adapted to her situation and learned to live her best life.
Rest assured that adopting a three legged dog isn’t as hard as it might seem. All you have to do is understand the care a tripod needs.
Specifically, the most important changes in care you should expect when you adopt a three legged dog are:
- Feeding for weight management— not to spoil or comfort the pet (OR YOU)
- Exercises to strengthen the remaining limbs— not just for keeping fit
- Joint health to prevent, delay, or manage inflammatory conditions
Let’s explore these in more detail so you can make an informed decision.
1. Dieting for Weight Management
For tripod dogs, lean is good, heavy is bad.
A lean body mass means less weight for the remaining limbs. This goes a long way in preserving muscles and joints.
On the other hand, a heavy body strains the remaining legs. The more your pet overworks the remaining limbs, the weaker they get and the higher the risk of immobility.
Weight Distribution in Dogs
A dog’s front legs carry about 60% of the total weight. The hind limbs support the remaining 40%. When one limb is amputated, the other must step up and bear the 60% for front leggers and 40% for rear leggers.
This overload (without corresponding strength training) can lead to:
- Difficulty walking and standing up
- Abnormal or slow gait
- Limpness or muscle weakness (due to fatigue or joint issues)
- Pronounced slope (which can negatively affect the spine)
- Instability when active, such as during walks or stooping to feed
- Reluctance to be physically active
- Painful joints and muscles
Note: The signs of painful joints and muscles in dogs include:
- Whimpering during activity or at rest
- Licking, biting, and scratching the affected area
- Frequent slipping when moving about
- Stiffness after rest
When one limb weakens and slacks off, the remaining legs have to carry additional weight. The probability of straining leg muscles, joints, and spinal cord during activity increases.
Now, add weight gain to the equation. The burden of carrying the added weight can become a painful experience for your pooch.
That’s why you need to pay attention to what goes into a tripod dog’s bowl and stomach. It’s for the long-term good and happiness of your dog.
Body Size in Dogs
Preferably, when or after adopting, have a vet check your tripod’s body condition score (BSC). BSC is similar to body mass index (BMI) in people. Vets use this to establish the ideal weight and how much weight your dog should lose or gain to be considered lean.
Your dog’s BSC or body size will range from emaciated to obese, as shown in the image below.
Note: Tripod dogs need to be size four at most and three at least. These sizes have less body fat, meaning less weight for the legs to carry.
The vet will use BSC to determine the diet your dog needs to become a size four. Typically, your vet will work with established Resting Energy Requirements (RER), such as the ones indicated below. You can also use these figures to create your dog’s ideal diet.
|Ideal Target Weight (lbs)||Kilo Calories for Weight Loss||Kilo Calories for Weight Maintenance|
2. Strength Training for Long-Term Limb Health
Strength training reinforces your tripod dog’s joints, muscles, and balance. It helps three-legged dogs become more physically active, healthy, and happy, like Dexter in the video above.
Without strength training, a three-legged dog might overwork one of the remaining limbs, causing it to get weaker. This increases the risk of immobility and disability.
Remember: not many rescue centers or shelters have the resources to train a tripod (or a bipedal), so you might have to do the training yourself.
Unstable Surfaces for Strength and Balance Training
The best strength training exercises for three legged dogs include using a balance disk, cushions, wobble pads, or other unstable surfaces.
The purpose is to help a dog relearn proprioception—the ability of joints to coordinate limb (and muscular) movement and find balance.
When on the balance disk, the body has to make slight continuous movements to find its balance. This ‘struggle’ works the core muscles, which provide posture support. It also helps them get stronger and find balance much faster when the body is in motion.
How to Use Unstable Surfaces on Your Dog
Technically, strength training the front or hind legs using an unstable surface is the same.
- To strengthen the front leg, place it on the disk for a few minutes—five is enough. The disk helps the remaining limb get stronger and find a more comfortable way to balance the body.
- To work a rear limb, have the two front legs on the balance disk. As the front legs adjust to find a workable balance, the rear leg learns to step up and support its share of the weight and help with balance.
Remember that tripod dogs get tired faster than their four-legged peers. Short but moderate or intense activities work better than long and slow-paced ones for three-legged dogs.
For example, implement five minutes sets with short breaks of about ten minutes. The breaks are ideal for muscle recovery. You can even massage the muscles to facilitate recovery.
3. Joint Health for Joint Preservation
Three-legged dogs are at risk of osteoarthritis, a painful inflammatory joint disease. A proactive and protective joint health plan can help preserve joints and improve mobility.
Joint supplements and formulas help prevent and lower inflammation and strengthen joints. They can also prevent or delay osteoarthritis.
You’ll need them for three main reasons:
- Your dog may have ongoing joint problems due to neglect.
- Tripods are at risk of inflammatory conditions, including arthritis.
- Three legged dogs slide a lot (due to compromised balance), which can cause strains and sprains.
There are many joint health supplements you can invest in. However, consider buying supplements with:
- Glucosamine. Suppresses inflammation in joints, lowers cartilage damage, and boosts cartilage repair.
- Chondroitin. Stimulates cartilage repair, lowers pain, prevents or manages arthritis, and improves joint function.
- Green Lipped Mussel (GLM). Has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties for optimum joint health.
Expert Tip: Did you know that The Dog Bakery has a treat with glucosamine and chondroitin? It’s a treat with a hip and joint formula, just like a supplement. You can even use it when strength training, especially if weight isn’t an issue. This is what a profoundly satisfied customer had to say about the product.
Tripod dogs need physical therapy to:
- Relieve strained muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments
- Preserve and improve joint range of motion
- Reveal injury or exercise-induced soreness
- Improve your dog’s balance and muscle health
- Detect posture or gait problems
The purpose of physical therapy is to help you understand what care your dog needs. It also helps the physical therapist develop more tripod-friendly exercise routines for you to continue at home.
Best Front-Wheel Carts for Three-Legged Dogs
Dogs carry the majority of their weight on their front legs, which can make losing a front limb more difficult than losing a back limb. A front-wheel cart for dogs who have only one front leg can help reduce the extra pressure on their existing limb, reduce their chance of injury, and make walking, running, and playing a little more comfortable.
While you can buy mass produced dog wheelchairs, these aren’t a safe long-term solution. Every dog is unique, and will need a custom mobility aid to ensure they are fully supported without affecting gait or posture.
Eddie’s Wheels has been developing front-wheel carts carts or dogs for more than 20 years. The minimalist two-wheel design gives dogs more freedom to sniff, turn on a dime, and play with their four-legged buddies. Eddie’s customizes every cart for your dog’s disabilities and needs, and let your tri-pawed pooch move easily on all terrain.
Buy From Eddie’s Wheels for $550—$880.
Family-owned and operated, Ruff Rollin’ is one of the worlds best-known dog wheelchair designers with customers in more than 24 countries. Ruff Rollin’ customizes every order to fit your dog’s specifications and give them the best possible support for their needs. The two-wheel design is considered the best for optimal mobility so your pup can truly have a new “leash” on life!
Buy From Ruff Rollin’ starting at $545.
Three Legged Dog Care Objective: Preserve—Don’t Overprotect
Generally, when you adopt a tripod dog, you focus more on preserving the remaining limbs. Don’t overprotect them with treats, food, and inactivity.
Like four-legged pets, your tripod dog will always follow your lead. Train them the right way, and they’ll love you more for prioritizing their wellbeing.
Resist caving into those adorable eyes when it’s time to exercise or feed. Hold your ground and use affirmative words to encourage them into action.
As your three legged dog learns to be playful and carefree, consider tweaking your home to be more tripod-friendly.
For example, tripods slide easily. The missing limb compromises their balance, so place more rugs on the floor for them to run and play safely.
If you adopt a larger dog, raise the food and water dishes. The missing limb makes stooping down difficult. They might lose their balance, slide, and get hurt in the process.
Now it’s time to take care of your tripod and give them the best life possible. After all, every dog deserves to enjoy every day to the fullest.
Three-Legged Dog FAQs
Do you have more questions about caring for a three-legged dog? Let’s go over some answers to the most common queries.
The same way a four-legged dog poops! Seriously, most three-legged dogs have no trouble pooping. If they struggle with balance while doing their business, a wheelchair can help give them some more stability.
Three-legged dogs have the same life expectancy as four-legged dogs! Missing a leg does not impact a dog’s longevity, but related circumstances or conditions can reduce life expectancy.
For example, if a dog is missing a limb due to a traumatic injury, the injury could also have impacted their neurological or cardiac health. This is not directly related to the missing limb, but could reduce life expectancy.