Recently, photos showing Comedy Central and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart walking his three-legged dog appeared on the Huffington Post. Champ, Stewart’s canine companion, appears to be a young American Pit Bull Terrier or a mixed breed missing the right thoracic (front) limb.
Although some may consider this pooch to be unlucky, as only three legs carry around the body weight instead of four, I feel that Champ has struck proverbial gold. I’d let Stewart adopt me if he was interested in taking on a late-30’s holistic veterinarian with no known health problems and overall good house-training habits!
It’s no surprise to see Stewart palling around with this kind of pooch, as he’s well known for being an advocate of animal welfare causes and has two other rescued Pit Bulls. Dogs are reportedly incorporated into the fabric of Stewart’s work life, as Bark magazine’s Claudia Kawczynska notes that upon entering The Daily Show’s set "the first thing new employees, show guests and visitors notice are the dogs. Free-ranging and ubiquitous, they have become an integral part of the office landscape: roaming, playing or lying about, with toys scattered everywhere”.
So, how did Champ end up with three legs? There are a variety of reasons that a dog (or cat) may be missing one (or multiple) limbs, including:
Hit by car, dog fights, gunshots, knife wounds, and other severe traumas can lead to the decision that a pet’s best interest is served by having the affected limb amputated. Although bone, soft tissue, blood vessels, and nerves can heal, significant compromise to their function can motivate the decision to pursue surgery so the dog can function better on the remaining (and hopefully more normal) limbs.
Osteosarcoma (malignant bone cancer) is one of the most common cancerous cause of limb amputation. This typically occurs in adult and senior large-breed dogs. Cancers of bone, cartilage, nerves, and other bodily structures are often quite painful and can severely compromise a dog’s quality of life when permitted to remain attached to the body. Amputation of a cancer-afflicted limb improves a pet’s comfort and quality of life.
Congenital malformation or developmental disorder
Some dogs are born with an abnormal limb or the development process does not occur as ideally as it should. In these cases, the leg is otherwise normal but for the fact that it does not function properly to support the body’s weight. Over time, the limb can become traumatized or inhibit a pet’s more normal movement and necessitate amputation.
According to University of Pennsylvania veterinarians David M. Nunamaker and Peter D. Blauner’s Textbook of Small Animal Orthopaedics, “in a normal stance, 60% of the dog's weight rests over the front legs: extension of the head and neck or lowering of the head can increase this forward weight bias by 10% to 15%”.
Therefore, Champ and other dogs having one of their front limbs removed are required to support 60% of their body weight on their remaining thoracic limb. As a result, there is much more literally riding on one front leg. This is why it is important to make lifestyle changes to ensure that the single thoracic limb is not unnecessarily impacted from day to day activity. My suggestions are to:
Maintain lean body condition
Currently, Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 54% of pets in the United States are overweight or obese (approximately 89 million cats and dogs). Excess weight increases the body’s overall level of inflammation, which can even promote cancer cell growth.
Seek guidance from your veterinarian about the Body Condition Score (BCS) currently held by your pet to establish if your cat or dog is too thick, too thin, or in near perfect body condition. If your pet is too thick, then create a weight loss plan involving calorie restriction and safely increasing activity.
Reduce household trauma
Although a dog with three limbs can certainly walk and run, doing so in a “crazy dog” or overly athletic way is not the healthiest choice. Going down stairs or off of elevated surfaces (couch, bed, car, etc.) can be traumatizing to the toes, wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints along with the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other structures that keep the single, supporting limb in place.
It’s best to prioritize safety when creating your home aesthetic by lowering the heights of beds and couches. Additionally, place traction enhancing carpeting slippery surfaces, especially on stairs. Place obstructive gates at the top and bottom of stairs to prevent access unless a responsible adult is around to ensure the pet goes up and down a safe and reasonable pace.
I hope that Stewart, Champ, and the other family pooches have many happy, healthy, and upwardly mobile years ahead of them.