Taking it in Stride: Those Amazing Legs
Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) is a common cancer in our dogs, and it usually develops in the long bones of the legs and the ankle or hock joint. It is more common in some breeds than others, and although there are certain reasons a dog is predisposed to bone cancer, the actual cause is not completely understood. Simply feeling safe that your breed or mixed breed is far down the risk-list is like wearing blinkers.
As always, I never look for trouble, but I try to remain aware and observant so if anything does occur, I catch it early. I asked my veterinarian for some tips on staying vigilant, and this is what I learned.
By developing a habit of watching your dog stand, walk, trot and run you have the best tool in your first-defense arsenal. When standing or moving, we want to see equal weight bearing on all paws with smooth movement. If you normally walk your dog yourself, ask a friend to take the lead occasionally, so you can step back and watch. Observe the gait, then focus solely on both front legs, then on both back legs. Watch as your dog pauses to stand as well.
If you notice even a slight favoring of one leg or a change in the weight-bearing ratio, it’s time to get your smartphone out and take a video. Just as photos are an excellent way to track a lump, bump or wound, short videos of your dog in motion can give your vet the best information to use if you make an appointment. Rather than trying to describe or demonstrate what you saw, just hit ‘play’.
If for some reason you have to delay a vet appointment, take a video as soon as you notice the limp, then another video in a day or two. These don’t have to be long recordings, but 30 seconds of seeing how your dog moves will tell your vet volumes.
Just like us, our dogs can slip or bruise a foot, leading to temporary discomfort. If you have your recording, but the limp goes away, hold on to it. Be watchful for a month. If there is a repeat of the uneven gait, another video is indicated, and it makes a good comparison.
If however, your dog appears to be in pain, or is holding a leg completely off the ground and refuses to put weight on it, an immediate vet appointment is crucial. Favoring a leg can indicate many things from bruising, minor strain, ligament damage or rupture, arthritis, fracture … and yes, cancer. Dr. Etttinger’s post on Recommended Tests for Osteosarcoma and Work-Up discusses the diagnosis process further.
Feeling your Way
Another good way to assess your dog if you notice that she has started to limp is by using your cuddle time to investigate.
Some leg and bone problems can begin without affecting how your dog walks. Running your hands along the legs from hip all the way down to the paws is a good way to let your fingers do the walking. This is especially important in the long-haired breeds where you would not see a misshapen bone.
As you feel your way down the leg, feel those strong, straight bones and appreciate how they let your dog move through her life. If you feel a lump in the bone, a depressed area, or an swollen joint, it indicates the need for your vet’s intervention.
Remember you have a comparison advantage. If you’re not sure whether her right leg should be shaped as it is, compare it to the left. And remember, if your dog does not want you near a particular part of her leg, if it seems tender or guarded … it’s vet time. Don’t wait and see. If it is bone cancer, you want to know as soon as possible.
So much can be done for our dogs when we catch an early symptom. In the Dog Cancer Survival Guide Dr. Dressler thoroughly reviews the signs, symptoms and treatment options if we find ourselves in this fight. And Dog Cancer TV has some wonderful, short videos on many subjects including osteosarcoma.
There’s nothing quite like seeing our dogs run free with all the joys of life ahead. We can help safeguard that for them.