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

Canine Osteosarcoma: Amputation and Life Quality

Updated: April 15th, 2019


If your dog’s leg is amputated, how does it affect them? Dr. D looks at amputation and life quality for dogs with osteosarcoma.

In my last article we considered life expectancy to help decide about amputation for dogs with osteosarcoma.  In this one, we’ll focus on amputation and life quality.

Will My Dog Be Normal With Only Three Legs?

This is almost always the first question I hear when we start talking about amputation.

“But will my dog be able to have a normal life on 3 legs?”

Everyone, the answer is almost always YES.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but dogs are usually up and hopping around whenever or wherever they want within one to three weeks.

That’s right, some dogs start moving totally normally within ONE week.

They really do just fine once their strength builds.

Now, keep in mind, it can be hard to watch them learn to walk, run, and drink their water and chase balls on three legs.

It’s a little like watching your friend try to walk after being on crutches for a long time. It’s not pretty, and you can tell they are working hard.

But I hear often that as depressing as it can be, people just have to look at their dog to realize “Wow … my dog actually seems pretty happy!”

Dogs seem to move on with life and live in the moment. They genuinely do not seem to care about whether they are walking on three legs or four.

As long as they are walking, they’re good to go.

This is a good lesson for all of us to learn from our dogs.

If you doubt this, I highly recommend joining the folks over at Tripawds. There are thousands of other folks with three-legged dogs and cats who can give you a real perspective!

How to Help Your Dog

So, dogs have a great attitude, right?

And a great attitude is the number one predictor of high life quality.

So, they’re already doing well. Now, let’s look at things you can do to help your dog with amputation and life quality.

There are two big things to factor.

Walking Assistance (at First!)

The first thing to plan for is assisting your dog in walking during the recovery period. Your dog’s body is used to using four limbs to balance his weight. Take one of those away, and he’ll figure out how to balance on three — really. However, those remaining limbs need to strengthen to support the extra weight.

During recovery, you will need to help your dog learn to walk on three legs.  This is really pretty simple: you just support their weight during walking until they can do it on their own.

The DIY version of an assist is a towel looped under the belly or the chest. You can also purchase commercial slings, which might be helpful if your dog is heavier.

Once you have your dog in the towel or sling, you just lift enough of their weight so they can hop right along. Once they are strong enough, you will feel them take the weight themselves.

If your dog has a lean figure or is young, this might just take a few days. If your dog is older, or overweight, it will probably take longer, weeks, not days.

Pro Tip: Position the towel or sling away from your boy’s sheath, or you will have a wet sling and an unhappy boy after he’s relieved himself!

Address Other Weight Bearing Issues

If your dog is otherwise healthy, you might just find yourself with a happy dog within a few days.

But if your dog has other problems that affect weight bearing (arthritis, hip dysplasia, old ligament tears, back or neck problems) things could get a little more complicated.

Make sure to ask your vet if there are other issues that could slow your dog’s progress during recovery.

For more helpful information and tools, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, and make sure to read the chapter devoted to osteosarcoma

If your girl has complications that affect her recovery, make sure your walking surfaces aren’t slippery. For example, if you have tiled floors, you might put down runner rugs so she has a nice grippy surface.

If there are lots of steps, ramps can help some dogs. There are also ramps made for getting in and out of cars.

Keep Your Dog In Shape

Dogs with three legs will always need a little extra help in the TLC department. For example, keep your dog lean, if you can.

Being overweight has a whole collection of bad effects in dogs with cancer, and bone cancer is no exception.

Extra weight also makes it harder to move around in general. There are also higher risks for injury in the remaining limbs due to increased wear and tear (arthritis, cruciate ruptures, and more).

Dogs Can and Will Be Happy 🙂

Believe it or not, activities that required four legs can always be modified for three.

Dogs learn to live how they can and they adjust, just like we do.

And if you watch your dog, I guarantee you will see him deriving as much pleasure from life as ever.

The limits of dogs can do may change, but not the limits of how happy they can be.

For more thoughts, please see this article by my co-author, Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology).

Best to all,

Dr Dressler


Leave a Comment

  1. Michelle on November 6, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    Hi. My 12 year old Staffi /Rotti had a bone biopsy, we are yet to find the results. The previous day she had Xrays, which have a shadowing around the inside of her knee area and the shadowing slightly extended a little on the Xray away from the bone. Worse case scenario, if she does have bone cancer. 1) Can dogs get around missing her back right hand side leg, taking into consideration she had surgery on her left back leg Oct/Nov 2019 and has mental and screws. 2) From your experience, how long is the life expectancy after an amputation on a 12 yrs old or do you feel the most humane thing would be to have her euthanised. I can see show much life left in her BUT I do not want to be selfish and just prolong her life because I desperately do not want to lose her. 3) The vet that I saw mentioned that 80% of the time in similar Xray cases it has turned out to be bone cancer. Is 80% around the right % as I do not know what to do. 4) Is it harder for a dog to recover having lost a back leg v front leg ?

    I want to do what is best for her, 12 yr Staffi /Rotti…opposite leg had surgery to repair her leg nearly 3 years ago and shows no signs of what she has in her right back leg. Just getting a few opinions at the moment to weigh up IF I get bad results from the bone biopsy.

    Thank you for your time.

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