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The Top Five Questions About Amputation And Coping with Bone Cancer

PART 1: The Top Five Questions…
PART 2: Five More Questions…

Three legged Genie Dog Runs in SnowEvery day, sadly, another four legged friend gets told that a leg must go.

Ok,” we dogs say, “so when can we play again?

Humans, on the other hand, have a harder time with this news.

There are tons of questions our pawrents have before and after surgery, and many people are doubtful about the benefits of amputation. To help you through this hard decision, we’ve come up with a list of the Top 10 questions that pawrents have asked us here at Tripawds. Here are questions 1 through 5. Questions 6 through 10 will follow soon.

Question #1: “How do we know that amputation is the right decision?”

First of all, there are no “right” decisions. Only you know your dog better than anyone else. Ask yourself, “is my dog strong/healthy/spirited enough to endure an operation like this?

Three legged Codie Rae runs in OaklandIf your dog is fighting cancer, most times amputation will not make it go away. Most bone cancers do metastasize (spread to other parts of the body) eventually. But whether a dog is fighting cancer or  undergoing amputation because of an accident, the greatest thing about it, is the immediate gift it gives both canines and their humans; a pain-free life, and more time together.

The biggest risk is being on the operating table, and like any surgery, you must prepare yourself for the chance that something can go wrong. But once a dog recovers, they typically go about living just as they did before.

The biggest benefit that amputation offers is that it will immediately alleviate the unbelievably horrible pain your dog is experiencing from bone cancer, or a shattered limb. And remember, you’re not getting rid of a leg; you’re getting rid of the pain! Whether amputation allows your dog a extra month, year, or longer to lead an extraordinary life, that extra time is all about quality, not quantity. After amputation, every day together is icing on the cake.

Witnessing your dog’s resiliency, and their extraordinary ability to get on with life and continue having fun, is one of the greatest lessons that humans learn after going through amputation with their beloved friend.

Question #2: “My vet says my dog isn’t a candidate for amputation. Now what?”

Three legged rescue dog SammyEveryone’s circumstances are different, and not every dog is a great candidate for amputation. Cancer severity, weight and age can sometimes be an issue (although most times, even senior dogs get through it without a hitch).

Sometimes, vets who aren’t as familiar with the extraordinary lives of Tripawds may quickly dismiss your dog as a candidate because of his age, or size. If your vet does this, please get a second opinion.

Better yet, find a specialist, or go to a teaching hospital near you. Yes, osteosarcoma is an aggressive nasty disease. And if it has already metastasized in the lungs then palliative care may be the right course of treatment, instead of amputation. But if not, you can buy precious time with your pup by proceeding with the amputation.

Find a vet who is knowledgeable and compassionate enough to understand; it’s all about quality of life, not quantity.

Visit the Resources Page for many more helpful links!

Question #3: “What can we expect the first few days after surgery?”

Immediately after the surgery, the horrible pain your dog was in will be gone. Any post-surgery pain will pale in comparison to that of bone cancer. But, there will be post-surgery challenges. Remember, amputation is a major surgery, and as easy as dogs can sometimes make it look, the road to recovery can be long and challenging. Some things you can expect when you pick up your dog from the hospital include:

  • Your dog may or may not have a bandage, it all depends on the vet. Please get yourself and family members pschologically prepared that the wound will not be pretty. Check out our post-surgery photos to prepare yourself. When you see your dog, focus on his eyes, not his surgery site, and do your best to hold back any tears.
  • You’ll notice that your dog’s walk has changed. It’s weird to see him hopping toward you, but ignore that, and try to rejoice in the fact that your dog is out of pain, incredibly resilient, and coping far better with this new lifestyle than any human ever will.
  • The first couple of days after coming home, your dog will need her rest. She might be very groggy, weak, and sleepy. That’s normal. Let her rest and sleep well. Just be sure to make water available to keep her hydrated. Chicken broth or Gatorade in their water will help stimulate drinking.
  • Some dogs might want to be left alone, in a quiet spot. Some might have poor appetite, nausea, constipation, affected by pain medications and antibiotics. This may be accompanied by whining or crying. Usually it lasts just a couple of days, but only a vet can tell you if there might be unusual pain involved. Some true signs of discomfort, include a change in diet or refusal to eat, incontinence, or an inability to stand.
  • She will need to learn how to get into position to go potty. Don’t worry, it’ll happen naturally after a day or two. When they gotta go, they just go!
  • Your dog will have a brand new, cool walk, more like a hop! And you’ll be so surprised at how fast she moves. All that stuff you taught us about heeling at your side? Forget it! Remember, it’s always easier for us to hop along quickly, than walk slowly.

After a few weeks, once we recover, we can get down to the serious business of playing and keeping our families happy.

find fast answers in tripawds ebooksQuestion #4: “What can I do to make my dog’s recovery easier?”

Three legged Jerry Dog plays in the snowThe biggest thing you can do is get yourself mentally prepared, and be a strong pack leader. Accept that there will likely be challenges over the next few days that may make you sad, or even regret that you went through with the surgery. That’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up, remember to be strong, and know that the recovery time is just temporary.

Don’t get discouraged if you think progress is slow, and don’t compare your dog’s recovery with others’. Remember that recovery times are all different for each dog, and progress is gradual, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Always remember to embrace the little steps along the way.

Some practical advice we can offer includes:

  • Have his favorite foods handy, things you know your dog can’t resist. Be prepared to do some home cooking. Tempting foods will help him get his appetite back.
  • Put down runners and rugs on all bare, slippery surfaces in your house. A spill right after surgery can be a real confidence killer to a new Tripawd. However, once your dog learns how to to adapt, any minor stumbles or spills while playing won’t be such a big deal to him (you, however, will need to stay calm).
  • Cozy pillows in her sleeping area are great, but make sure she has a firm and supportive mattress.
  • As she gets used to getting up to walk around or go potty, try wrapping a bath towel under her belly to hoist her rear end and give her a little support. Or, you can cut up canvas grocery bag, and it wrap around your dog’s chest as a sling. Many dogs will only need this kind of assistance for the first few days.
  • Later, after the stitches heal, a Ruffwear Harness is extremely helpful by allowing you to assist your dog in getting around (in and out of cars, learning to use stairs on three legs, and helping her up when she lays in an awkward spot on the floor). The harness is always the most helpful when you least expect to need it, so always keep it on your dog except at night.
  • For the first week or so, keep your Tripawd confined to a small area in your home, and never let her tackle stairs or going outside by herself during the first few days.
  • If you have other dogs, you might want to supervise them closely when they play together, to keep your Tripawd from overdoing it or injuring the incision area.
  • Don’t let your Tripawd jump up or down off the bed or couch until they are completely healed. Your Tripawd will forget that they are adapting to a new body, and can hurt themselves. It’s up to you to help them through this phase.

Remember, think positive, and be strong as a pack leader. Always, offer her lots of encouragements. She will pick up on your emotion. ”

Question #5: “It’s been 7 days after surgery, and my dog isn’t behaving like he used to. I think he’s depressed. Is this normal?”

Three legged Dachshund FrankieMost times, what humans think is depression in their dog is actually just the dog’s reaction to pain meds. Heavy duty painkillers like Fentanyl patches and Tramadol can induce whining, crying and anti-social behavior. Remember, your dog isn’t used to these drugs, and they’re probably making her see pink elephants. Most often, withdrawal from pain meds is the cause of the change in behavior. Or, they could be coping with Phantom Pain.

We think the biggest reason that pawrents think their dogs are depressed is because deep down, they aren’t sure about their dogs’ ability to cope, and they are projecting those feelings onto their dogs. After all, humans know that they would have a difficult time coping with amputation if they had to go through it.  Please keep in mind that dogs are SO much smarter and resilient than humans! Dogs live in the moment, and they have no regrets about losing a leg. When your dog is done healing, he will go on with life, happy and playful, because that’s all that matters.

We hope we’ve addressed some of your concerns here, but if you’re still worried about your dog, please discuss your concerns with your vet.

If you can think of any others, please add to the discussion we’ve started in the Forums. The next five questions will follow shortly . . .

PART 1: The Top Five Questions…
PART 2: Five More Questions…
Read All FAQs

109 Responses to “The Top Five Questions About Amputation And Coping with Bone Cancer”

  1. I am fostering a 1-2 year old Yorkie and the vet just recommended amputation of his hind leg due to a congenital defect. He can only bend it at the hip, but not the knee or hock. An x-ray showed the bones and knee cap badly mis-aligned and twisted. I’m hesitant to schedule it because other than sometimes dragging it when walking, he get around great, doesn’t seem to be in any pain, and uses the leg for balance and running.
    How likely is it that he will suffer from arthritis or other problems later in life if he keeps the leg? Because I don’t see how amputating will improve his quality of life in the present.

  2. Hi, Our 12 year old black lab/blue tick mix was just diagnosed with bone cancer in her right front leg. We are facing the decision of having her leg removed so it will provide her comfort. Your answers to the questions about amputation has given me very valuable information so we can make a clearer decision. Thank you.

    • Oh gosh I’m sorry Mariel. But we’re so glad you found this great community. Please let us know how we can help OK? Best wishes to you and your pup for many more happy times together.

    • Hi, Our Saint Bernard is 6 years old and , yesterday vet confirmed she has bone cancer. This Tuesday she will be operated on. Her front left leg. It’s a very worrying and emotional time for all the family. Your questions and answers have given us hope that she can and will have a good quality of life, even if it’s short. Thank you. Fiona

      • Fiona I’m really sorry to hear this. Take comfort and know that your sweet pup can do great on three legs. Check out Patchy’s story for some inspawration and hop over to our Discussion Forums for a community you can lean on. Best wishes to you both, keep us posted.

      • Molly and Libby October 4, 2016 at 9:53 pm

        Hi Fiona…. I just received the same news and my Libby just had her left front leg amputated too. These have been the longest days of our lives for sure…. It’s nuts how many thoughts and emotions go through our heads because of this happening We just took her home tonight, it’s scary and I feel bad for her
        No more cancer pain though! So good luck and may dog bless you xoxoxox

  3. Hi there. I just adopted a puppy, ten weeks old yesterday. Her name is Mollie, and is a very happy, energetic french bull dog-boston terrier mix. Her right leg appears to be formed differently than the others and she avoids walking on it with all the needed weight. When she does walk on all four, she has a very noticable limp as it almost seems she is walking on the knee rather than paw. Regardless of the issue, she does not hold back on any activities and does not seem to be in observable pain. I brought her to the vet a couple days ago to get some options as to what the problem and solutions are. The vet I saw said, shaking her head, “I am not sure why they allowed this puppy to live”. She continued with thoughts of hip dysplasia and mentioned future health difficulties that could be major. She recommended x-rays to get an exact diagnosis. Sure enough, hip dysplasia in both legs and arthritis beginning to form on her right leg. She said she wouldn’t confidently know if taking off the right leg would be a positive fix for Mollie, as she isn’t sure the other hip and leg can perform the duties of a three legged dog. I have a second opinion with another vet tomorrow. What should I do? Do I wait and see as she gets older if it will get better? Do I perform at home therapy and give omega pills? Do I make a wheelchair cart for her? Help!

    • Hi Danielle, thanks for commenting and sharing your pup’s story. You’ll find much more support and insight from our community in our Discussion Forums so be sure to stop by. Meanwhile, yes, we agree a second opinion is a good idea, just make sure it’s with a board-certified orthopedic vet who can give you even more insight. See you in the Forums!

  4. My chihuahua had to have his front leg amputated along with the shoulder blade. This was on Monday. His first day home was yesterday and went well. He now is crying every time he moves when he is laying down. I know it is a major surgery so this is probably common. But he also won’t take his tramadol. He spits it out no matter what I do. I’ve wrapped it in multiple things. He eats some of the “treat” and spits out the pill. I tried crushing it up into peanut butter. He must have smelt it and didn’t even try it. Any recommendations ? I hate to hear him cry!

    • Kel, it sounds like your dog is in pain and needs better pain management. Please call your vet and let them know what’s going on. Also, Tramadol is a very bitter pill, you will likely need to try these methods to get him to take it. Please join our Forums community where you will find fast help. Hope things get better for you and your chi.

  5. Mansi shrivastav April 25, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Plz HELP!!! our 4yr old Great Dane had his 1 rear leg amputated as he met with an accident. He has a very bad habit of biting into his wound..trying to lick and bite of tissue in the wound that has been in the course of heeling. Because of this he once tore the whole wound post surgery leaving no skin to be stitched back. His thigh bone is slightly visible through the wound now and the doctor said only regular dressing is to be done. He has tired to bite in his wound many times.we are trying our best to help him recover soon and he was progressing until today almost after a month when he tried to bite again.. plz help me with a good alternative so that his wound can heal quickly. Is their no antibiotics available to be given to speed his healing? Doctors are not prescribing the same sayin No need! But its hard to keep a 24*7watch on him.. one mistake and he gets a chance and spoils all his wound and recovery made till then

    • Mansi we are sorry to hear about your dog. First, you need to get your dog to a better vet NOW. If you are seeing bone he could get a bad infection, if he doesn’t have one already. Please take him to another vet who understands how to help him TODAY. He also must wear a cone and have good pain control. It’s up to us to make sure our dogs don’t chew their stitches and the only guaranteed way to do that is to make them wear a cone like this, and give good pain control (chewing on stitches can indicate he is in pain). Please see Jerry’s Required Reading List for more tips on how to care for him. We wish you all the best and hope he heals soon.

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