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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

Summary

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



 

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Leave a Comment





  1. Tangi on April 16, 2012 at 4:49 am

    My 6 year old Bull Mastiff 48kilos, Bud xx
    Was diagnosed a week ago with a MCT on his front right leg, we had this removed but unfortunately the vet has recommended that we take his leg from the shoulder to make sure that it won’t spread.
    My head is going round in circles and I don’t know what the best choice would be.
    I have read a few things online about dogs living comfortable and considerable lives after surgery and I also hear the stories of ppl ignoring the facts and there dogs/babies suffer.
    My main concern is that cos he’s so big the weight on his other limbs would bring on a whole lot of other problems.
    Has anyone experienced or know of anyone that can shed some light on big dogs with cancer or big 3 legged dogs.

  2. Toya on March 11, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Hi Kerri,

    There is a vet in Richmond, Va. called Helping Hands. Their fee for amputations is $800.00 all inclusive. If you are within reach it would be worth the additional 3 to 9 months.

  3. Abner's Dad on March 9, 2012 at 7:23 am

    I am perhaps not the best person to weigh in on this but I am going to anyway. My Great Pyrenees was tentatively diagnosed with osteosacroma in his right hind leg and I was given the same information you were. I have a close friend who is a veterinary oncologist who encouraged me to go ahead with the amuptation and follow up with the chemo. Abner’s leg was amputated 4 days ago and while he is certainly having a bit of a tough time, he has started to sort of walk unassisted for short (20 feet is his record) distances roughly 4 days out from his amputation. I am expecting his recovery to take several weeks in terms of walking becoming easier for him although he seems quite happy now that he is home and getting lots of visits and love. He appears to have little or no post op discomfort with Deramaxx and Tramadol to take care of what there might be.

    What I will tell you this soon after, is that I probably would not do this without the chance of chemo extending his life 18-24 months. I think he is going to have to work hard for the next 4-6 weeks to get to where his walking is more comfortable and rewarding and if he only had a life expectancy of three months and the likelihood of discomfort coming from a different source, I wouldn’t put him through it. Our costs, not including the diagnostics which exceeded $2,000 will be about $6,000 as you have been told where the surgery was only about $2,000 of that.

    I know what you mean by an impossible decision. We don’t even know conclusively that Abner had osteosarcoma but because of the evidence pointing toward that and the very aggressive nature of this disease I had to make the choice and quickly. I cried a lot but at this point have a pretty happy dog at home with me. If things go well I will have a happy dog for another year and a half or more and that would certainly be worth the more than $8,000 this will end up costing me. One thing I am doing is paying for this with Care Credit. this is a credit program that is owned by GE that many doctors, dentists and vets offer that allows you to pay off these expenses over a period of 6-18 months interest free. It becomes very costly if you don’t pay during the allowed time but I should be able to and it will help spread out these big expenses.

    Best of luck. I sympathize with your difficult situation. I hope my current experience helps.

  4. Kerri on February 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    My 8 year old chocolate lab was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on his left scapula today based on xrays. Options for treatment given to me were to 1) Amputate the leg and give him pain free living for 3-9 months. or 2) amputate with chemo and get average 18 months left with him. Unfortunately the cost of both is around 6,000 dollars, which we don’t have. Is it worth it for him to go through the amputation to only last 3-9 months??? or do I spare him the additional pain and put him down? its an impossible decision.

  5. Kathleen on December 30, 2011 at 4:02 am

    I’m writing this with a broken heart. After 2-3 weeks of limping I brought my bullmastiff in hoping it was just a simple injury. We were told it was bone cancer. the Xray showed bad in her right shoulder. Vets said if it shows up that bad in that Xray it’s probably already spread. We rescued her only 2 years ago. Vets suggested amputating the leg as well as chemo and radiation but says with all that we will be super lucky to get a year out of her. We have decided to put her down tomorrow. Before pain gets any worse. She has had major surgery on both her back legs getting her knees replaced so that acted in the decision we mad. Amputating would put more stress on her already other legs which she couldn’t handle. But the decision kills me. When she is still playing and being silly it’s hard to comprehend how sick she is. A dogs love is stronger than anything on this planet. I seriously feel I’m having an emotional breakdown over this. My best friend is leaving me.

    • Debby on July 22, 2012 at 4:58 am

      Hi Dr,
      I have a 115 giant pyrenese. He has cancer in his left front paw. If the cancer hasn’t spread….we are scheduling him for a byopsy to be sure it is cancer and xraying his lungs, amputation is our only recourse. I have many concerns as to whether our Louie can learn to walk with as big as he is. He is 34″ tall a giant dog and my human mind can’t wrap around the idea of him learning how to get up off the floor and get around. Have you ever experienced seeing a gian dog like him maybe a St Bernard learning how to walk? I am desperate here because I love my dog and only want the best for him.

      • Dr. Demian Dressler on July 24, 2012 at 8:50 pm

        Dear Debby, more often than not they do fine.
        Here’s the link to Tripawds– check it out
        Don’t forget diet, apoptogens, supplements, immune support…there is more to it usually than surgery for best outcome- If you have not yet I would read the Guide!
        Best
        Dr D

  6. Heather on August 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I have a question. My dog is 51 pounds and 10 years old and has canine osteosarcoma, which is cancer in her left back leg. I’m not sure if I should go ahead with the surgery which is an amputation. Does anyone have any comments or advice to help us out. We want to go ahead with the surgery, but would like to talk to someone who has gone though this before. I also, talked to Dr. Charles Loops and he said to go ahead with the surgery and to give her his herbal vitamins. We also, went to Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey and spoke to the two doctors and they both told me to go ahead with the surgery, and her back leg is strong enough. However, her regular vet told us NOT to do the surgery and that her back leg is not strong enough. So I AM VERY CONFUSED AND would like some advice from someone that has had a dog with bone cancer and did the surgery. E-mail : heatherzimmermann@live.com

  7. Erica on August 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I have a question. My dog is 51 pounds and 10 years old and has canine osteosarcoma, which is cancer in her left back leg. I’m not sure if I should go ahead with the surgery which is an amputation. Does anyone have any comments or advice to help us out. We want to go ahead with the surgery, but would like to talk to someone who has gone though this before. I also, talked to Dr. Charles Loops and he said to go ahead with the surgery and to give her his herbal vitamins. We also, went to Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey and spoke to the two doctors and they both told me to go ahead with the surgery, and her back leg is strong enough. However, her regular vet told us NOT to do the surgery and that her back leg is not strong enough. So I AM VERY CONFUSED AND would like some advice from someone that has had a dog with bone cancer and did the surgery. E-mail : Ericazimm@live.com

    • Brad on August 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      Heather,

      I had a seven year old 75 labrador that had a front leg amputation in January 2011. She was absolutely amazing after the surgery. She did not even know she only had three legs. My understanding from talking with others is that rear amputees may be a little easier since most of the weight bearing is in the front. Each dog is different though and only you know your dogs limitations. If left untreated, the bone will weaken and you may end up with a fracture which will leave you with the other decision which may not quite be ready for. We read the survival guide and talked to folks on the website and other groups such as tripawds.com and found such an amazing community of folks out there to help us out. We would not have done anything differently in our treatment and would do the amputation again. You have to come to terms that it is a treatment though and not a cure. It is simply removing the tumor and pain in your dog. One common lesson we learned was that osteosarcoma is incredibly evil and agressive. We were only able to prolong our dogs life for seven months because the cancer came back in the lungs and both kidneys. The kidney failure was what finally got her. Up to that point, however, she was absolutely amazing and brought so much joy. She had a compromised immune system from the beginning so suspect that had a lot to do with it. It was a real commitment to go through with the amputation and was rough for a week or two but her recovery from it was absolutely amazing. You know your dog best so take advantage of whatever resources you can to help you navigate this difficult time.

      • DemianDressler on September 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm

        Dear Brad,
        thanks for sharing your experiences with the rest of the readers. It is a tough choice but most of the time the results are similar to what you describe, so thanks for that. By the way, don’t forget about the other tools you have at your disposal too…diet, apoptogens, immune support, anti metastatic supplements, and of course deliberate increases in life quality too! Best, D

    • DemianDressler on September 6, 2011 at 7:24 pm

      Dear Erica,
      if your dog is limping, she is already bearing weight on the other remaining 3 legs. Hopefully the added extra won’t be that big a deal for her. Don’t forget diet, apoptogens, immune boosters, deliberate life quality increases, and anti-metastatics discussed in this blog and more completely in the Guide.
      Best,
      D

  8. Danielle on June 7, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Dr. Dressler –

    Our 6 year old Great Dane was recently diagnosed with Stage 1 sarcoma in her lower jaw. The vet couldn’t verify whether the cancer is osteosarcoma or some other type. We are having x-rays and blood work done tomorrow to identify whether the cancer has spread. If it has not, then surgery to remove the tumor is likely. Our vet didn’t not mention anything about the grade-level of the cancer but rather only referenced it as stage 1. Is there a difference between the stage and grade of cancer? Also, given that stage 1 sounds low in comparison to a cancer that is stage 3 (for example), do you have any insight on whether that reduces the likelihood that the cancer has spread?
    Thanks for your insight!
    Danielle

  9. Nikole on June 6, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Yesterday my 10 year old German Shepherd was given an initial diagnosis by our general vet (radiographs also read by a radiologist offsite) of osteosarcoma on the proximal humerus. I have seen the radiographs and it certainly is not as obvious as the ones that are posted online but there is an irregularity in her shoulder – it looks like a break in edge of the bone and sharp piece sticking out but perhaps somewhat of a sunburst pattern if I really use my imagination inside the bone (no mass sticking out). The chest radiographs are said to be fine – I don’t know what I’m looking for but I do see hundreds of small specks on that one. They said that is normal? She has very advanced arthritis for about 3 years and takes 150mg of Rimadyl a day, so the limping may have been masked for a while due to the pain medication. However, she was seen by the vet the day BEFORE the limping started for her comprehensive annual exam, dental cleaning, and vaccines. When they called to check on her the next day, I asked them if she fell of the table because the limping started right when she came out their door (they said no)… that was two weeks ago yesterday. We have an appointment tomorrow afternoon with an oncologist. I am wondering what questions I specifically should ask in order to make our visit as productive and informative as possible? I want to be able to make as informed a decision as possible for my girl. Thank you!

  10. Diane on June 2, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Thanks for the reply in regards to my dog having her front leg amputated. It is day 3 to-day, and she is doing phenomenal. I am having a hard time keeping her from doing too much. We have a small carpet covered 3 step stool, which she uses to go to the couch or onto a bed. Like you said, she has been relying on her other 3 legs for so long now, that I believe she is finding it so easy. We have a pet door which goes to our garage and then outside, but I am not sure if in the future she will be able to use it. Once she steps through it, there are 2 steps, she needs to go up. Once her wound is healed, I guess we will see. Should it make a difference, with only 1 front leg, since she could always do it with 2??? She hasn’t been whimpering or whining, since the 1st day, and I am still giving her the tramadol. Should I be giving her it for the complete week……Thanks again……………..only regret is not having done this sooner! Cookie is now painfree, and we are finally getting a break from the constant worrying and work that goes along with having a pet with a long term problem!!!

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