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. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.