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Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat

Tripawds is the place to learn how to care for a three legged dog or cat, with answers about dog leg amputation, and cat amputation recovery from many years of member experiences.
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4 year-old Golden with osteosarcoma: Should we wait to amputate
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Member Since:
13 September 2022
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13 September 2022 - 10:01 am
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Hi All,

Thanks for this support network, it looks like it will be really helpful.

My 4-year-old Golden Retriever, Ellie, has dealt with limping on and off for several years after an injury wrestling with her litter mate. After increased activity she’d limp for a few days but return to normal, the vet thought it was just a ligament or muscle pull. This July the limping persisted past a few days and is now near constant. X-rays showed a lesion on her radius and a visit to the oncologist confirmed it was likely osteosarcoma and recommends amputation followed by chemo. She also is already noticing chest muscle atrophy around her affected leg. Good news is they did a CT scan and there are no visible tumors elsewhere.

This has been quite a gut punch, especially since Ellie is so young. She’s been my adventure buddy (hiking- over 100 miles last year, backpacking, swimming, etc) and was my pandemic pal- I lived alone so she was the only living being I could hug for months during isolation. 

I want to give Ellie, the best, longest possible life I can so definately plan on chemo. Right now, I’m wrestling over when to amputate. My oncologist recommends as soon, but my general vet warned me that 3-legged dog life is a big change and to maybe delay surgery to get a few more good months of 4-legged life. It feels like a hard decision because, even though she’s limping, Ellie still loves to go for walks, chase critters, go swimming. It’s hard for me to judge how much pain she’s in and if amputation and chemo will make her feel that much better. I’m worried amputating too soon will take away some of the things she loves. While the limping is near constant, she only limps really hard after running or long walks. 

Any advice on this? Do folks have dogs that are able to get back to activities they loved post amputation? I just don’t want to take away her joy. 

I’m also wondering what folks think about amputating at a specialty clinic vs their vet. The oncology / surgery vet quoted me for around $5500. I’ve read that you get what you pay for, is the care at the specialty vet that much more comfortable for the dog? 

Thanks,

Holly

The Rainbow Bridge


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13 September 2022 - 10:56 am
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Hi Holly and Ellie, welcome. We are so glad you found us, sorry you had to though. This is the club nopawdy wants to join. But if you have to, we are here every step of the way and will support you in your journey.

I’m going to be blunt here: your vet is thinking in a very old-school way. First, Ellie is in pain. Did he give her any pain management ? A limp is pain, and a limp from osteosarcoma is the worst kind of pain there is. Also, because dogs are masters at hiding pain signals , by the time they show they hurt with a limp, things are really, really painful. So please please please get her on some pain relief asap OK? Don’t settle for Tramadol either, it’s worthless. Gabapentin, Amantadine, Hydrocodone, and an NSAID, these are all good options right now. But they are very short term, and won’t get rid of the pain, just dull it.

Also, I know this will be hard to hear, but please prevent her from running and doing any kind of impactful activity on that leg, only for now OK? There is a HUGE risk of pathological fracture (did your vet not tell you about that?). If she shatters that leg you’ll get put on the spot to make a decision, amputate or euthanize. You don’t want to be in that situation, it’s horrible. We see it all the time here.

One more thing:

my general vet warned me that 3-legged dog life is a big change and to maybe delay surgery to get a few more good months of 4-legged life. 

First, let me get this off my chest, because it bothers me that your vet recommended this route. And it’s contradictory. Based on what we’ve seen here again and what vet experts tell us, is that delaying surgery, or forgoing it for any length of time without further treatment, delays pain relief. This is what amputation provides for osteosarcoma: immediate pain relief. And living a 4-legged life in pain is not a good quality of life. That’s what I mean by being contradictory.

If you’re unsure about amputation you might want to talk to your oncologist about palliative stereotactic radiation therapy, or a new technique like cementoplasty (neither gets rid of cancer, but buys more quality time). These are valid options instead of amputation. But doing nothing means she will be in pain, and a pain medication haze, until she can no longer tolerate the pain. That is usually only a matter of a few months. No pain control can match the pain from osteosarcoma tumors. 

Amputation can buy much longer than pain meds (Boone is still with his family enjoying life!). The surgery and chemo can give a year according to statistics, but we’ve seen dogs blow those stats out of the water and go up to 7 years here, living out their normal life expectancy.

Any advice on this? Do folks have dogs that are able to get back to activities they loved post amputation? I just don’t want to take away her joy. 

If your dog is otherwise healthy, there is no reason why she cannot do well on three legs and do what she loves. You will need to modify her fun and re-think what fun is all about, but as you can see from Tripawds Quality of Life Survey Results, people are almost unanimously happy with the results.

There are dogs much much larger than her who adapt and move on, continuing to enjoy life as before, with modifications to help them a bit. You will not be able to hike for miles and miles with her again, but she will be able to do so many other fun things! And, you can take her on long long walks in a dog stroller . This allows her to be with you, get out and sniff, walk a little and ride a little, without putting excessive strain on her body and joints. We encourage everyone to see a canine rehab therapist (Tripawds Foundation can pay for your first rehab visit !), to find out what activities are safe, fun, and healthy for their new Tripawd.

I’m also wondering what folks think about amputating at a specialty clinic vs their vet. The oncology / surgery vet quoted me for around $5500. I’ve read that you get what you pay for, is the care at the specialty vet that much more comfortable for the dog? 

Have you seen an oncologist yet? Or did you just call to get that number? If you haven’t consulted with an oncologist please do asap.

The price you were quoted is the going rate in most major cities. Are you in the US?  General practice vets can usually do amputations (ask these questions first before choosing one), and some do them just as well as a board-certified vet surgeon (ACVS). But most general practice clinics don’t have the same systems, staff, equipment, or experience that specialty care offers. What you want is a vet who does amputations all the time, a vet who knows what to do if things go wrong, or if complications happen. What you are paying for at a specialty clinic experience, training, staff, and safety. And if you make it an AAHA-accredited clinic you are in the best hands possible. 

One last thing: check out these videos from Dr. Robin Downing. She’s the leader of veterinary pain management , and an excellent teacher about how to advocate for our pets. I know you’ll find some helpful information from her discussions, especially about finding good vet care.

I hope this helps. Please keep us posted OK? And ask any questions you’d like, that’s why we are here. The Tripawds e-books library is a good resource, so is Jerry’s Required Reading List and our What to Expect articles .

Virginia




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13 September 2022 - 1:31 pm
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It’s clear you and your BFF Ellie have a very special bond.   Ot’s also clear from your post you want to do the best path forward to give Ellie a pain free quality  life for however long she is here in her earth clothes…..and we hope that’s  a very long time.

Rene has given yoj well thought out, extremely  knowledgeable  advice and a swer to all your concerns.  I can only say ditto × 1,000.  She is soooo spot kn with everything (as always).

I’m just doing a quick check in and will come back later.  I want to include some videos of Tripawds swimming and hiking and doing  agility and nose  scent work and dock diving competitively…..basically all  living their life to the fullest on three! 

Just to add an exclamation  point to Jerry’s post.  A  fully staffed clinic with overnight supervision  is definitely  a must!  Obviously  there are circumstances  that may.prevent that (finances,  not a clinic like that available,  etc).  A 24 hr stay (or more), gives them a chance to shake off the anesthesia,  get mobile to some degree,get past any risk of side effects from the surgery itself, etc.  AND, itgives you a chance to catch up on some much needed rest while your Ellie is being well cared for and in some good  meds.

We’re  all here for you and can’t  wait to celebrate Ellie as a Tripawd RockStar!  And….shame in me for saying this…….but be sure and send video of her rocking her “tripawdness” to the Vet who questioned  her quality  on three.  Well intended  but waaaaaay off vase.

Hugs 

Sally and Alumni Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle and Frankie too!

Happy Hannah had a glorious additional bonus time of over one yr & two months after amp for osteo! She made me laugh everyday! Joined April's Angels after send off meal of steak, ice cream, M&Ms & deer poop!

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13 September 2022 - 6:51 pm
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Hi Jerry,

Thanks for all that helpful info, I’m sure I’ll be spending a lot of time on this site and checking out all those links! And thanks for all you concern, it’s good to know folks are in your corner.  

Ellie has met with the oncologist (which is where I got the quote and more information on next steps). She is on pain medication (Carprofen and Gabapentin, plus an Zoledronate infusion) but this was all suggested by the oncologist and not my primary vet. It was 6 weeks from the initial x-rays spotted her lesion til I could get into the oncologist so I’m bummed it wasn’t suggested to me to get on pain meds over that time. 

I have been warned to avoid activities that could lead to fractures, ball chasing and wrestling with her sister are off the table for now. 

After talking more with the oncologist and with advice and stories from this site, I’ve decided to go forward with amputation (with the specialty vet) and then chemo. Surgery is scheduled for 2 weeks out. I’m working with a friend to get some nice photos taken of Ellie before she becomes a tripawd and am thinking of some art projects I can do to remember her at this life stage- more to help me work through accepting this change than anything else I think. 

Thanks again, and I’ll keep ya posted. 

Holly

The Rainbow Bridge


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13 September 2022 - 10:02 pm
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Holly you’ve definitely done your homework, I’m so glad you’ve got her on pain control and that you already talked to a specialist. Making the decision to amputate is tough but having extra knowledge behind it makes the choice a little easier. Whatever questions you have before or after surgery, we are here for ya. 

I like the way you are considering the diagnosis and treatment as another life stage for her. Yeah, it’s a change, and that’s scary. But I’m going to bet that you and Ellie will be closer than ever now. Going through recovery will likely have ups and downs but your bond will be even stronger because of it. 

We would love to see the photos when they’re done! Here’s how adding images to the Forums works. 

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29 September 2022 - 8:19 am
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Yesterday was Surgery Day! Ellie is officially a TriPawd!

Surgery went well- they also took out a nearby lymph node that was slightly enlarged for pathology- I’m a little worried about that. She’s still at the vet, they say she’s very sleepy now, but has been able to go outside to potty and ate some food last night. She’s not very thrirsty but still has an IV. I should be able to pick her up this afternoon! Dr’s assistant will walk us through all the post-op care, I know we’ll be on restricted movement for a week or two. Ellie gained weight during the diagnosis phase (turns out not walking as much will do that I guess), so we’ll also be working on her diet more. Dr. recommended a water threadmill physical therapy after recovery to help with movement and weight loss- have other folks done this? Also should be starting chemo after recovery!

I can’t believe all the outpouring of support from family, friends and coworkers: kind messages, care packages and offers to help whenever needed. Ellie is a special dog and so made it easy to build a great community around us. I have no words to express how thankful I am for everything folks have done for us (including TriPawds- being a stranger who was immediately welcomed and encouraged has been wonderful. Y’all are awesome!)

I’ll start a blog (and figure out the photo embedding) once life calms down a bit- I anticipate a lot of free time at home these next few weeks. For now, here’s some pics of how Ellie spend her last weeks as a QuadPawd. In true Michigan fashion it involves lakes, lake houses and snuggling 🙂

Lake Michigan swimming- her favorite

Vacation week on the lake

Late night snuggling before surgery

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29 September 2022 - 9:14 am
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Holly…sending lots of good wishes to Ellie and you!  I also had a very young dog diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma after on and off limping (that we thought was just from him being a crazy Corgi!). The pain relief he got from amputation was stunning. Yes, the first few days of recovery can be hard, so be sure Ellie gets all the pain meds she needs. And she will bounce back sooner than you can imagine!  We also did chemo and are very glad we did. I just posted on the string in this forum section “Need advice, so heartbroken” where you can read a bit more about Shadow. He is 18 months cancer free now, despite being given a very dire outlook. He’s loving every day!  Hugs to Ellie!

The Rainbow Bridge


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29 September 2022 - 12:40 pm
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Yay for Ellie! So glad she is on the mend. Keep in mind that bringing her home same day can be ruff. She may be dysphoric (seeing pink elephants) and anxious. Talk to your vet about her pain control and managing anxiety and restlessness if it happens.

Yes definitely do rehab! Tripawds Foundation can pay for your first rehab visit too! Here are great examples of members who have taken advantage of the program:

https://tripawd…..tag/rehab/

Let us know how today goes!

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10 October 2022 - 6:24 pm
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12 Days post amputation and Ellie is doing really well! (Sorry for confusion earlier- she spend the first night with the vet, came home the next day). She’s been steadily regaining energy and becoming more confident in her hopping abilities. Her staples come out in 2 days, she’ll be seeing the onocologist for this- hoping she’ll have biopsy results so we can start planning for chemo.  I’m also hoping we’ll get the go ahead to start slowly ramping up activity (right now she’s relagated to only potty related walking). She’s got some weight to lose, so looking forward to adding walks back into our routine. I’ve got her scheduled to see a local rehab vet (CCRT certified) at the beginning of November. (I’m noticing there’s a lot of demand for vet oncologist / rehab folks in my area- everywhere has quite a waitlist to get seen!)

Thanks for all the well wishes!

Virginia




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10 October 2022 - 6:53 pm
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Thanks so much for the update….and it’s a good one!!!

You are doing an excellent  job of monitoring  her recovery and helping her get all her sparkle  back soon!   I know you’ll find value working with a Rehab specialist.  They can help with tips to keep her at a healthy weight too.

,Looking forward to celebrating Ellie has she continues  to become a Tripawd Rockstar😎

Hugs

Sally and Alumni Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle and Frankie too!

Happy Hannah had a glorious additional bonus time of over one yr & two months after amp for osteo! She made me laugh everyday! Joined April's Angels after send off meal of steak, ice cream, M&Ms & deer poop!

The Rainbow Bridge


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10 October 2022 - 8:31 pm
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Holly this made my day! smiley_clapWhat a terrific update. Sounds like the progress you are making is what we all hope will happen.

I love that you have her scheduled for a rehab consult. Right now, take those walks really, really slow. Like no more than 10 minutes OK? Your therapist can guide you on distance and time, until then remember that long walks don’t build strength, but fun balance games like walking on sofa cushions does! I can’t wait to see what you learn from the consult.

Keep us posted! 

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26 November 2022 - 12:58 pm
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Update about Ellie:

Still doing really well! She’s got a lot of mobility back– we’re taking daily, short walks and she’s in rehab therapy program so we’ve got at home excerisces to do as well. She’s had 3 courses of chemo. The first caused low white blood cell count so she went on antibiotics. The third casused a day of nausea but other than that she’s been handling them really well. Overall, Ellie is loving life and adjusting to her new tripawd life really well. On the Dec 22nd she’ll have chest x-rays to see how chemo is working and hopefully a 4th session. Fingers crossed!

Virginia




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26 November 2022 - 9:03 pm
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HAPPY TWO MONTH AMPUVERSARY  ELLIE👏

Ellie is doing so well!  Made my day reading  this update!

Yeah, chemo can cause a little minor  bump in the road every now and then, but sounds like Ellie is handling it all very well.

Okay sweet Ellie, we’ll keep sending pawsitive energy your way👍

Hugs

Sally and Alumni Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle and Frankie too-.

Happy Hannah had a glorious additional bonus time of over one yr & two months after amp for osteo! She made me laugh everyday! Joined April's Angels after send off meal of steak, ice cream, M&Ms & deer poop!

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