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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. Jackie Noble on February 2, 2019 at 12:23 am


    My 9-year old greyhound was just diagnosed with osteosarcoma on his rear right leg yesterday. His xrays also show a suspicious shadowing on his front right shoulder. His back leg is quite painful and although we are trying to make him comfortable with Tramadol and NSAIDs, he is still uncomfortable. We understand that amputation would be the best option for the rear leg, but out veterinarian has serious concerns about the possible presence of another sarcoma lesion in his front leg. Should we be considering rear leg amputation? I know he doesn’t have a huge amount of time, but I want to give Dexter the best QOL possible in the time he has left. I understand amputation would relive the pain, but will it put too much stress on the other limb that may also have cancer? He is in great shape otherwise, not overweight and typically very engaged.

    Thank-you for any insights you can offer,

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on February 4, 2019 at 8:22 am

      Hello Jackie,

      Thanks for writing, and we’re sorry to hear about your boy. As we’re not veterinarians here in customer support, we can’t offer you medical advice. However, we can provide you with information based off Dr. Dressler’s writings 🙂

      In the seminar, How to Talk To Your Vet, Dr. D says that if your dog is limping, or is already bearing the weight on the other three legs, they’re already training themselves as the cancer develops to prepare for the post operation period– they’re basically doing their own physical therapy, and will be just fine.

      However, you should consult with your vet and see what options they would recommend for your dog, as they know your dog the best, and if your vet has a concern about another sarcoma lesion in his front leg, it might be worth asking your vet about tests that you can do, and the options available for your dog.

      You may find these articles to be a helpful read:

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

      We can’t tell you what the right choice is because we’re not vets, each dog and their situation is different, and we don’t know your boy. But you do, and once you figure out what is most important to you both, you can then make a more informed decision

      We hope this helps!

  2. Deborah on March 25, 2013 at 8:39 am

    My 9-1/2 year old Saint Bernard has severe arthritis in both hind limbs. About a month ago, she became lame in her right front leg. Obvious, significant pain. Walking with difficulty. We are no longer able to get her to the vet, actually. The ramp, the drive, her difficulty with moving are too much. We have a vet who comes to the house. This is great, but it means the exam does not include x-rays or anything. My vet is 75% sure my dog has osteosarcoma. She is not a candidate for amputation (arthritis, age). She cannot take NSAIDS (internal bleeding, have tried everything). So she is taking prednisone and Tramadol. It provides some benefit. She is quite immobile. Able to walk, but with obvious reluctance and difficulty. Still waggy and happy and has a good appetite. The truth of the matter seems to be that it does not matter if this is osteosarcoma or something else since our treatment options are so limited. Does that sound right? I feel it is really getting close to the time when I must have her put to sleep, but I am terrified that I am wrong, or that I will do it to soon or (much, much worse) too late. How do I know when the time is? She wants me close to her all the time. She pants. But she eats, and she still smiles. Any guidance? I love my little girl.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Dear Deborah,
      sorry to hear about your St. Bernard. The diagnosis of osteosarcoma is very different from other orthopedic issues unfortunately, with different treatments and outcomes. I would suggest you perhaps re-evaluate the NSAIDS. Sometimes one will work better than another. Also don’t forget about smaller doses. Metacam, Deramaxx, Rimadyl, Etogesic are common, and liquid metacam can be dosed in small amounts for better control than pred. I might have your consider Apocaps at a low dose (1/4-1/2 the labeled dose) under veterinary supervision of course. Other pain control steps are gabapentin and acupuncture and loading up the Tramadol which can be given in surprisingly high doses (all under vet guidance). Also consider Traumeel Heel or Zeel (homotoxicology), Adequan, and Everpup. i hope this helps. Here is more info for you:
      Dr D

  3. Helena Hon on February 19, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Dr D and E,

    Are there no prosthetics for amputated dogs?

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 24, 2013 at 9:23 am

      I’ve only seen prosthetics that work for the ends of the legs, not the entire legs.
      All my best, Dr Sue

  4. dogkeiko on November 11, 2012 at 7:35 am

    We had our Baby girl Dali diagonsed in June 2012 with ostercoma in her back rear leg, we did amputation and 4 chemo treatments, she did wonderful , got right up after surgery, not sick from chemo..but then right after last chemo treatment she was not walking well with her existing back leg, it was checked by regular vet, xray showed no issue, just strain of 3 legs, and mild arthrithis, she is 11. One month later she now would not get up at all, we just found the cancer is back at the hip of amputation site, we have her comfortable now on pain meds, she is still eating, and bathroom good..but plan to say goodbye this week for her own good and no suffering. This is the hardest thing my husband and I ever went through and decision to put her down, I wish everyone well in their fight. She is the best dog ever, we have 4 and our life will never be the same

  5. lou on November 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    dont do it i had 2 rotties with amp back limbs there quality of life was never the same and i regreted doing it they both lived only about a year later dont do this its tough but its hard for them

  6. Ruth on October 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Hello. My Golden Retriever started limping a few days ago on her front right leg. I inspected her paw and bent her leg and she did not show any pain. She is acting fine, eating fine, etc. I did notice a bump about the size of a quarter just above her ankle joint on the back of her ankle, just above what I think is called the hock (that small pad on the leg). I’ve started researching bone cancer and am getting very worried. I was thinking that she might have sprained her leg while playing with our other dog. Could this bump on her leg be something other than cancer?

  7. sherry and my dog Patchman on September 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Patchman will be 18 years old in feb i just took him to the vet today for cyst on his paw the vet gave two options i could have it removed but chances are it would come back or suggested to have it amputated so it will never come back he is over weight and has a birth defect with his front paw that causes his foot to look crooked so sometimes he has arthrists in it do i do this or not i am not sure for a older dog i love this dog with all my heart which i am leaning more on having put to sleep to avoid him going threw all this pain i feel he is the happiest on all fours and it would be selfish of me to take that away from him his last days or months or maybe another full years on earth i just do not know what to do i dont want to loose him yet i dont want him to have problems adjusting either help me you can email at

  8. Jennifer Hartz on August 30, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Hi Dr. Dressler,

    My ~3 year old Sheltie mix was diagnosed with osteosarcoma 6/27/12. We amputated her leg on 7/7, and she’s being treated with carboplatin every three weeks.

    She’s doing great, so far. I’ve had her on Apocaps alternating with artemisinin and K9 Immunity/Transfer Factor since right after her amputation. We’re also feeding your diet (supplemented with Orijen kibble).

    What are your thoughts on Avemar (Lifeguard 4 Dogs)? Would it be beneficial to add it to Scout’s regimen? If so, how and when should it be administered? Currently, she gets K9 Immunity and fish oil with her twice daily meals. The Apocaps/artemisinin are 3-5 hours after each feeding.

    Thanks for all that you do! I got your book the day Scout was diagnosed and read it cover to cover. I can’t imagine how we’d have gotten through to this point without it.

    Jennifer and Scout

  9. Erica on July 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I have my baby, 14 years old presumably . I found him , I rescued him from a very bad abuse…In 2007 he was diagnosed with sarcoma and now the cancer has invaded the entire front leg. The doctors suggested to amputate it. My quaestion is after the amputation hpw big is the chance for him lose any other limbs. I live by myself and I am afraid not being sucessful in his recovery, is there any way to find a recovery center? I don’t know , I am desesperate..

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on July 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      if you dog is hopping on 3 legs he is already walking on three legs…so that is how he would be walking without the leg if all goes well with the procedures!
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  10. Debbie on June 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Hi my dog has had a lump on his leg since feb 3rd . I didn’t do anything because he would limp for a day and then be fine. My self and groomer thought is was arthritis. 3 days ago he was rough housing with the kids and the lump got really big and he has been limping the whole time. I took him to the vet and he thinks it is bone cancer. He has sent it to orthopedic surgeon to read xray. His chest is clear. They said if it is it would have to be amputated. He is a healthy airdale who will be 9 next month. Do you think maybe this could be a calcium build-up as they found a fracture too. If is is cancer how do i know if I get the leg removed that it hasnt spread. Should I have a biopsy first.

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