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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

My Dog Has Osteosarcoma: Should I Allow Amputation?

Updated: January 28th, 2020

Summary

Is amputation a good idea for dogs with osteosarcoma? Dr. Dressler looks at this decision from two perspectives. In this article: life expectancy.

Osteosarcoma is a common dog cancer in large breeds, and it most often affects the long bones of the legs. It’s very aggressive. That’s why most of the time, as soon as a veterinarian sees the lesions on an X-ray she will recommend amputation.

(Most dogs with this kind of cancer do not survive beyond a year with amputation alone. Editor’s note: To read more about canine osteosarcoma including the numbers and stats, see this article by Dr. Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology).)

The idea of removing your dog’s leg probably kicks up strong feelings. This is a hard choice.

So, should you allow an amputation? Or should you let your dog keep their leg and try to cope?

This is a heavy duty question.  You probably want to prevent pain and suffering in your dog, so it’s a good idea to carefully contemplate this so you can cope.

I recommend considering at least two factors: Life Expectancy (how long life is), and Life Quality (how good life is).

In this article, we’ll look at life expectancy, and in the next, we’ll look at life quality.



What’s the Average Life Expectancy for Your Dog?

I know it sounds harsh, but realistically, dogs live much shorter lives than we do. I know that your ten-year-old dog might not seem old to you, but for some breeds, that’s a really advanced age. Particularly for large breeds, who tend to have shorter lives in general.

So, as you contemplate amputation, it’s nice to get an idea of the average life expectancy of your dog. There is an excellent review of dog life expectancy here.

Now, be careful with these numbers. These numbers are just averages, just like they are for people. The average man might live to 72, but that doesn’t mean any one individual man will die on his 72nd birthday. The same is true for dogs.

Now, What’s YOUR DOG’s Life Expectancy?

Once you have ascertained what your dog’s potential life expectancy is, you need to weigh what that really means for your dog.  Your vet can help with this by discussing the impact of your pet’s individual health problems.

For example, if your dog is otherwise healthy, your dog’s life expectancy might be a little longer than if she were diabetic, or had heart disease. Just like a human, right?

So, basically, you need to talk to your vet to see if your dog is near to or past the expected length of life given everything else going on.

For example, if your dog is already close to what we would expect for his breed and health condition, amputation might not be what you want. You will have to carefully consider whether the payoff will be what you expect.

On the other hand, if your dog is not close to her life expectancy, you might want to go ahead.


Get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for more helpful tools and information, including an entire chapter on osteosarcoma.


What’s Your Dog’s Personality?

So far we’ve focused on numbers to determine life expectancy. But an intangible factor that you must consider is your particular dog’s personality.

Some dogs just have this will to live. I’ve seen very senior dogs fight and spit and claw for life. I’ve seen young ones so passive that they don’t seem to much care one way or another whether you poke or prod.

If you have a dog that just wants to keep going, that’s a really good sign. These dogs are driven.

This will to live, this tenacity, boosts lifespans. That’s for sure! So, remember to consider this factor too.

If your dog is a fighter, they may be a good candidate for amputation, maybe even if they are at the end of their “expected lifespan.”

Remember There are Other Things That Can Be Done, Too

In addition to amputation, there are chemo protocols, covered in the osteosarcoma chapter in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. But beyond the conventional tools, many osteosarcoma clients have seen benefits with modification of diet, lifestyle, life quality boosting and addition of nutraceuticals like Apocaps (I’m biased since I formulated it), plus other supplements or comfort care medications.

In addition, I highly recommend joining the TriPawds community for more information on amputation.

Don’t Forget to Consider Life Quality

Looking at life expectancy is the first step in determining whether to amputate your dog’s leg or not. Next, we look at life quality on three legs, plus a little about the surgery itself.

Regards,

Dr Dressler



 

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

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  1. Jayne Findlen on June 27, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    My 6 year old golden retriever just got diagnosed with chondrosarcoma – how is this different from osteosarcoma? She has a large bump on her upper left front leg – too big to remove. Amputation was offered as a treatment. Is chondrosarcoma as fast growing as osteosarcoma? Does it spread as rapidly as osteosarcoma?

    • Sharon Torres on November 22, 2019 at 4:01 pm

      Hi,
      I just lost my English Mastiff Barrett 8 weeks ago. Treatments for his shoulder osteosarcoma weren’t an option for us and they gave him 2-4 months. I immediately created a plan and put him on it daily without fail. Barrett lived just shy of 17 months instead of 2-4.
      I created a website for others to use if you’re interested because we have to try everything!
      Love to all in this incredibly difficult walk.
      Sharon Torres

  2. Jenny Rainbow on April 23, 2019 at 12:34 am

    I have read your book. But i would like to get all your other seminars, talks on nutrition, apocaps and other topics. But i just dont want MP3s. I did download others and it worked but then the downloads didnt work. Also chznging phones you lose your spps. Also i am not really tech savvy but okay but many older people would be unable to access your MP3s as well as the not tech savvy. That is a lot of people who would love to access your information but cant.
    Can you do a CD package or DVD package. I live in Australia and would need compatibility. I would just love to listen and relisten to them.i have saved many of my pets by not accepting their diagnosis and treatment and getting second opinions from specialists. On one occasion my maltese diagnosed with GME was told to go off his prednisone after a few months to see if it came back. This was a specialst vet hospital. I took him to our only neurologist at the other specialist centre who said NEVER take him off his prednisone, we will wean him down and increase it if we need to. That was 5 years ago. He is healthy, happy and energetic.
    Cat and dog diagnosed with diabetes. I said NO INSULIN both times. My cats pancreas was then tested at a uni NO DIABETES. My chihuahua had haemorrhagic shock. Found it was from eating vets natural frozen raw food. Followed all guidelines. I said NO INSULIN. He was almost dead, gasping for air intermittently. He was given fluids, BP medication etc and revived and blood tests said one result showed diabetes in blood and urine. It was roughly 20-22. They insisted at the specialist vets he start insulin. I said he isnt diabetic. I asked for a morning blood test. It was 7. I was told he WAS NOT diabetic. I knew his body was flooded with sugar for survival. How come they didnt? There are heaps more examples of mine from over the years. Two spots on dog diagnosed as age spots. I had asked repeatedly for biopsy for melanoma. Refused. So i went elsewhere straight away. Second vet said either melanoma or haemangioma. It was haemangioma. They said she will prob die in three months time. I had them cut out and burned off for 3 1/2 years. She died at 15 of kidney failure. There are more stories. I think you can see i am very passionate about my pets and all animals. That is why i am really hoping you will put out a CD or DVD series please. I have 1 maltese 12, 4 chihuahuas 10 and 11, mini pom 4. Two rescue greyhounds 6 and 4. I ragdoll 13, and birds.
    I hope you will consider my request.
    Thank you.

  3. RYAN CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON on April 6, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    I have a 4 year old doberman he is my ultimate best friend he curently has a baseball size sarcoma on his front leg its come At a horrible time for me i cant afford the surgery and cant bring myself to put an other wise healthy dog that still has the will to push on to sleep he is losing weight. But is still super happy to be with me everyday and none of the aces i have went to will let me pay payments on the 1000 dollar surgery. It tears me down to watch him everyday but dont know what to do anymore

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on April 8, 2019 at 8:05 am

      Hello Ryan,

      Thanks for writing. As Dr. D writes in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there are a number of treatment options in the Full Spectrum Cancer Care that you could consider, under your vet’s supervision– Conventional Treatments (surgery, chemo, or radiation), Nutraceuticals, Diet, Brain Chemistry Modification, and Immune System Boosters and Anti-metastatics.

  4. M Keathley on December 27, 2017 at 8:28 am

    I have a 13-14 year old dog named Zeus who was diagnosed in March 2017 with osteosarcoma of his left front leg. He began limping on it but we thought he was still upset and acting out since the loss of our dog Star in November 2016. We took him to the vet’s office and, after testing, were told my baby had only 3 months to live. Amputation was not an option because of weakness in his back legs. Treatment was also not an option. We did pain meds and, in July, began pain patches. Zeus gets daily car rides, he goes practically everywhere with us, gets lots of chicken and turkey and other protein daily, gets ice cream (the calories help), and is spoiled rotten. Finding out he had cancer was devastating but he is still happy and engaged and enjoying life. He had a wonderful Christmas. My advice to anyone in our situation is spend time with your pet, spoil him/her, and keep him/her as comfortable as possible. Zeus was given 3 months to live and that was 9 months ago. Our doctor is amazed. We cherish every day with him.

  5. Angie Theodorakis on August 29, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    My German Shepherd/Malamute/Chow Chow/Collie is 9.5 years old. She started limping in Dec. 2014 and then I noticed a slight bump on her front right paw-midway. I brought her into the Vet and they ‘suspect Osteosarcoma’…She is an incredible creature. Lively, smart and full of mischief. I brought her into a few other vets and they suggested as you all below amputation, chemo etc. I refuse to amputate and have also refused a biopsy. I am giving her Deramaxx for the pain 100mg 1/2 tablet every night BUT along with that, I also have brought in for alternative therapy. She has undergone two treatments of acupuncture. She takes TURMERIC every morning and night. It is called ‘golden paste’ look it up…she also takes Omega 3 supplement daily and is doing well. Also, Astragulus a natural holistic pill which gives her an appetite has helped as well. Yes, she limps and the humidity does not help but she is incredible!! Do NOT let DOCTORS tell you what you should do! YOU know your dog better than anyone else. Animals are BIG BUSINESS $$$. I cook with turmeric and have for years and now give it to my dogs as well. Look up the health benefits…they are amazing! Don’t forget about your dogs personality! Some dogs just have this will to LIVE! They just want to keep GOING!! They are driven…this will to live BOOSTS LIFESPAN!!!! Don’t forget this everyone…and do not exert negative energy. Stay positive, visualize your dog doing well and she will pick up on that…after all that is all we are to a dog…scent and energy…stay STRONG!!!! Love and light…

  6. Susan Kazara Harper on October 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Maria,
    That must have been so frightening for you both! It’s difficult to tell what may be happening. Have you been back to the vet? Apocaps have anti-inflammatory properties, so that may have helped, and your dietary changes would have helped soothe and heal the body in general. Was any type of biopsy done? Perhaps another x-ray will show what’s going on. It may be that, if you’re not happy with the diagnostic and treatment, you may be happier getting a second opinion. It’s great news that your dog is feeling much better, but I suspect you’d feel happier knowing just what is going on. Good luck!

  7. Maria on October 6, 2014 at 7:42 am

    One pannel of a large metal kennel we use to keep our kitchen gated fell on our 12 year old akita 5 weeks ago. Needless to say the poor thing couldn’t work for a good 4 weeks. On week 3 the vet took an xray and he was so sure it was cancer that he told us to take her home and love her. He said she had another week to live. I have chaged her diet and have followed the apocaps, fish oil, and oyster cell capsules for a week. I began giving her the apocaps on October 29th and within 4 days, she started walking. It was a miracle! I dont understand how we went from having an injured dog (shoulder area) to cancer. Since she suffered such large trauma to her shoulder, could it be something else? I am not trying to get my hopes up, just looking for advice!
    Thank you.

  8. Judi Caldwell on March 18, 2013 at 5:20 am

    My dog is a 6 1/2 year old Boxer (Bandit) and has been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma which is located on his left front paw. He has a large nodule behind the pad on his foot as well as a nodule on the top of his paw. We had it removed about a year ago and it has returned. During that time we did chemotherapy, etc. but it has returned. The doctor is recommending amputation due to the fact that there is no “activity” in his lymph nodes. We are so torn as to what to do for our dog. We want him to have a good quality of life and understand that most Boxer’s do not live a very long life. Please provide your opinion.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Dear Judi,
      there is a chart in the Guide discussing the different normal life expectancies of dogs by breed and by weight.
      I would check out these links…but the short story is that many Boxers live a lot longer than 6.5 years and most guardians would want to see if they could get that time using the treatments that seemed right for them and their dog.
      Please see these:
      http://users.pullman.com/lostriver/breeddata.htm
      https://www.dogcancerblog.com/blog/an-overview-of-what-else-can-i-do/
      i hope this helps
      Best
      Dr D

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on April 5, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Judi,
      Sorry about Bandit. I hope you can understand that I am not comfortable making a recommendation like that on a patient I have not personally examined or reviewed the medical records. Maybe see a surgeon or an oncologist for a second opinion?
      All my best, Dr Sue

  9. Tara Mo on February 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    shelli,
    Look into universities that have vet schools. Alot of times they have trials for medications or studies which reduce the cost. I wish this was a option for us but because of our danes size it wasn’t. Look at the statistics as well. They are unfortunately not very favorable for danes. Where we live it was going to cost us 6000 for just the surgery then another 10,000 for chemo and radiation. With the research i did it would maybe give them a year more and thats if the cancer has not. spread. Do your research and do what’s best foryour dog, you and your family. Even if our boy was a good candidate for the procedures we couldn’t afford 16,000. I feel so bad that you have to go through this. We lost our 12 year old dane 2 weeks before our Axle who is 4 was diagnosed. Its so hard to watch him fade away from us….but we are blessed for every day we have with him and how he has blessed our family. So sorry for the diagnosis.

  10. Vicki on February 13, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Our Old English Sheepdog (8 years old) was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma the day after Christmas. The following day we decided to have her right leg amputated. Two weeks after amputation Bella started a chemo treatment plan with Carboplatin. She has had 2 treatments without any problems. Five days following chemo we give her Pepcid 1/2 hour before she eats. She is her same playful self that can’t get enough attention. We are praying that we caught the cancer early and that she is in the 20% for 2 years and then cancer free. Bella is a beautiful sheepdog that does therapy in nursing homes. : )

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 24, 2013 at 9:13 am

      Vicki,
      I always say, I love when dogs make liars out of me and the statistics. I hope Bella does the same!
      All my best, Dr Sue

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