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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


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.


Dr Dressler


Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

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  1. amy on January 28, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Just before Christmas my 9 1/2 year old lab mix, that weighs about 50 lbs, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in one of her outer toes/knuckle on her front paw. Because of the size of the mass, the vet feared that if it were to get any larger because of where it was located she might fracture her foot, so we had the area removed. They were able to remove it up through the wrist, the edges were clean, and chest x-rays were clear. For about 2 or 3 weeks after the surgery she seemed to be doing fine: although her food intake was not as much as normal (I blamed this on the surgery, since my dog has always eaten every meal put in front of her), we had her last bandage change on her foot done about 2 weeks ago and after this she went to eating one meal every day or 2 and was laying around a lot. Took her back into the vet and he did bloodwork, which showed she was anemic to the point that she was close to needing a blood transfusion and the numbers in her liver and spleen function didn’t look right, she was given a b vitamin shot and we were refered immediately to the hospital. Went to the hospital, where they gave her fluids and antibiotics to stabilize her, and then they did an ultrasound of her abdomen. I was told she had fluid in her abdomen and that the ultrasound confirmed their suspicions of cancer in both the spleen and the liver (to be exact multiple tumors in both) and that coupled with the sever anemia the best course of action was euthanasia. I left the hospital fully expecting to come home and have my dog pass away that night, needless to say it has now been 3 days since her diagnosis and she is still with us. She has eaten a little more than she had been, seems to be more active, but I am just wondering if this is false hope due to the antibiotics, fluids and vitamins they gave her the other day. I’m so confused. This is a dog that prior to her surgery, a month ago, was still eating 1 1/2 cups of food twice a day, was chasing squirrels in the back yard and was ready to go on a walk if you even got near the front door. She seems to have the will to live, but am I just making her suffering last longer, I just don’t want her to die alone or make the wrong decision. Realistically what are her chances if chemo and radiation, in conjunction with dietary changes, are not an option?

  2. Kathy on January 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    My beautiful golden retriever boy Max, age 7, started limping two weeks ago. We thought it was a sprain, since apparently he is a stoic guy, the vet to X-rays and is now sending us to a specialist. Our appt is Wednesday which seems like a year from now. I know you can’t diagnose from a blog, but while the X-ray of his leg looked bad, she said she didn’t see anything on the chest X-ray, but reminded us she isn’t a specialist. My question is… I keep hoping this means it hasn’t spread yet. How will they check to see if it has spread aside from the X-ray? The whole thing is such a shock! He doesn’t look sick. He is eating. He was misbehaving before the pain meds, can this really go down hill as fast as it seems? Also, she put him antibiotics incase it is a fungal infection. Would a fungal infection present the same way? Augh. So confused.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 29, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      Dear Kathy, I am sorry but we need a bit more info to make a call on this one. Yes, fungal infections in certain areas in the US can mimic bone cancer, so let’s be sure that is ruled out…
      Dr D

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      Fungal infections can be in bone, so it is important to ask your vet if fungal infections are common in your region. For example, in NY where I preactive, the fungal infections that affect bone are very rare. Also sometimes location (which bone, where in that bone) can help. I agree with your vet, you should see a specialist. Also check out my recent blog, and more to come soon.
      All my best, Dr Sue

  3. Erin on January 14, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Thanks, Dr. Sue. Rocky has only had one treatment so far, Carboplatin. They recommended alternating between that and doxorubicin every three weeks for six treatments. It’s been two weeks since his first treatment and aside from a few days of feeling a little crummy and some excessive drinking/urination he’s been feeling great. I look forward to reading Daisy Mae’s story and I hope that we can have the same time with our boy! I downloaded your cancer diet and am looking into that and supplements that may help him along. He is currently eating Orijen dog food.

    Thanks for responding so quickly!

  4. Erin on January 11, 2013 at 9:02 am


    My 7 year old beagle had his spleen removed a few weeks ago because of a large fluid filled tumor. They determined it to be extraskeletal osteosarcoma as he doesn’t have the cancer anywhere else (that they can find). We have been to Auburn University’s oncology department and started him on chemo. From talking to the oncologist, this type of cancer is very rare to find in an organ like that so there really isn’t much that we know about what to expect. Just curious if you have any experience with this type/location of cancer.


    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on January 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Hi Erin,
      This is rare indeed, but I am treating and just celebrated the 1 year anniversary for a patient, Daisy Mae. She also received chemo. The prognosis is poor, but that is not a sentence or guarantee. So keep the faith!
      Check out Daisy Mae (post Jan 9th)
      All my best, Dr Sue

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      Dear Erin,
      there is not a huge amount of info on these, but in general they are more aggressive than the osteosarcomas that occur within existing bone. I don’t have specific survival data on these in the spleen however, I am sorry. A link that may help as well for other ideas on what you can do:
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  5. Jessica on December 16, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Our 9 year old lab/rot mix was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on Friday.
    I took her in thinking it was a hurt toe that was causing her to limp.
    The X-ray showed that awful disease around her right knee area.
    I am sickened and don’t want to lose my special baby. The limp
    Is pretty severe, and I can tell it hurts her bad. We are giving her pain meds
    as well as anti inflammatory meds. How will I know
    when it is time to let her go? I love her so much!

  6. Kimberly on December 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Our 3 1/2 yr old Weimaraner was diagnosed on Monday with Osteosarcoma in his back leg. After many tears we decided to amputate and chose to take the entire leg out from the hip joint. Xrays of his lungs and other legs look good right now. Picking him up yesterday was quite emotional, but today he seems happy and is walking on a leash. I like the suggestion others have of a halter and will get one to make balancing easier for him, but he is doing well. We are not choosing chemo, but instead plan to use Neoplasene. I have read the diet recommended by them of 50% meat, 25% white rice, and 25% vegetables. The reason they say this is to make the Neoplasene easier on the system. Since his dosage is more of a maintenance one to keep the potential metastasis at bay, what are your thoughts of a more substantial anti-cancer diet combined with the Neoplasene?

  7. Alison on December 3, 2012 at 9:22 am

    My beautiful great dane, Bella, has osteosarcoma. We are not amputating. We are just giving her as much love, and comfort, as possible, knowing that our time together now will be very short.

    It seems that everyone I talk to, or read about, whose dog has suffered this terrible disease, wishes they had done the opposite of what they chose to do, thinking that maybe a miracle would have happened. Please don’t torture yourselves like that; if you’ve researched and listened and calculated costs and time and everything else, and know your dog’s character, I’m convinced you made the right decision for you and your pet. We have to trust we are doing the right thing, and it’s a very very hard situation.

    My Bella is proving to be exceptionally brave… quite a turnaround from the scared and fearful dog I adopted a few years ago.

  8. Salvador on November 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I have a Golden Retriever named Goldie. She is about 6 years old and she has something growing on her right paw. I took her to the vet and he told me that he could try to cut it off. After he cut it off, I went to get her and he told me to bring her back in a week. Whenever she takes the bandage off, she licks it. A week later, I took her to the vet. The vet told me what it was called but unfortunately, I forgot. I think it was osteosarcoma. But I’m not sure. He told me that Goldie licking it made it worse. It is now bigger than before. He said i either had to amputate her leg up to her shoulder or put her to sleep. Goldie doesn’t seem to be in pain and she doesn’t limp. All she does is lick it. I would like to know what it is that’s growing. Can just her paw be amputated? Is it a tumor? I should be asking these questions to the vet but they’re closed. I have the weekend to think about this and I hope I make a good decision. I would not want Goldie to be in pain.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on December 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm

      Dear Salvador,
      I am sorry but I am unable to diagnose this over the internet without having hands on your Goldie. Talk to your vet about some options like the use of an elizabethan collar, medications for pain, inflammation, or infection. You should find out the tumor type and that will help guide your decision further since different types of growths behave differently.
      Dr D

  9. Linda on November 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    We just today received the sickening news that our beloved 1/2 german shepherd and 1/2 black lab has bone cancer in her left front leg. We have had her at the vet three times for a limp. The last time was mid October and the doctor informed us then no bone cancer, and it was a case of arthritis and presecribed anti inflamatory and pain meds. Now today, brought Emily in and was told this shocking news. We have an appointment in less than a half an hour to go over the options for us. We are all heartbroken. She is ten years old, but has been the best and most loveable dog ever. We are just devastated.

  10. zena on November 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about you dalmation, as in the post a few above yours I told that I had a Rottweiler who had this disease and at 6 I like you wanted to fight this condition and give myself more time with my beloved pet 🙂

    I have always told everyone who has a problem like Cancer that YOU have the biggest advantage over any specialist and any expert ………. Which is NO~ONE knows you dog like YOU DO !!!

    This is something that I have known with all of my dogs or animals its this advantage which will allow you to know if your dog wants to fight this and when they have had enough !

    Always go with your heart and if your heart say’s your dog could cope with the amputation and is ready for this heroic Battle then NEVER let anyone even a VET tell you otherwise

    I want you to know that I knew Fizz was a fighter and it looks to me like your Dalmation is made of exactly the same stuff 🙂

    So all I can say is good luck and if you want any other question answered then please get back to me

    good luck and you and your Dalmation are in my prayers
    love zena xoxox

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