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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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Newly diagnosed with osteosarcoma and need advice
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Member Since:
14 July 2010
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14 July 2010 - 10:02 pm
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I am new to the site and appreciate the info everyone has shared!  However, I'm wondering where I can find detailed info on the recovery process (I'm sure its on the site somewhere!)  🙂

My rottie/shepherd mix, Chance, will be 10 in September.  In March he began limping due to arthritis in his left front wrist, but through the x-ray, they also discovered a spot in his left shoulder that appeared to be osteosarcoma.  Because the limping was 'hit or miss' and once he started an anti-inflammatory, it went away all together, we felt amputation seemed extreme at the time.  However, the limping came back and has gotten progressively worse this summer.  As of our x-ray today, the spot in the shoulder has doubled in size and is definitely the source of his pain now.  Chance shifts most of his weight off of that leg now when walking.  The vet says it is not too late to amputate and it would end his leg pain, but I am concerned about his recovery.  I have two younger children (4 and 6 - the two legged kind!) and right now, my husband is deployed (I'm an Army wife).  I'm just wondering what the recovery involves since I will be taking care of him by myself - how frequently do you clean or bandage the surgery site, what physical exercises do I need to do with him and how frequently to help him recover, how long will he need my assistance to walk, potty, etc., does he need his own 'room/space' during recovery, (this could be difficult with the age of my children)?  I realize it is different with every dog, but any guidelines/experiences are appreciated! Also, our house is two story and he is used to sleeping in my bedroom which is on the second floor, but he weighs 78 pounds (he was around 85 but has lost weight since March and does not have as much interest in eating as he used to) and has a long body and long legs, so I have never been able to successfully lift him.  Even with his limp, he still jumps in the back of my RAV4 unassisted to run errands with us.  I am not sure how I can get him in and out of the vehicle post surgery if we do this.    Also, I see lots of comments on food in other postings - Chance has food allergies and can only eat certain brands of Lamb and Rice foods...what are the dietary restrictions while recovering? 


So sorry for all the questions!  Any input is appreciated as we try to make the best decision for our Chancey.

Chance, our 9.5 year old Rottie/Shepherd mix was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in his left front shoulder.  In July of 2010, we planned to proceed with the amputation, but lung mets were discovered.  Chance reached the Rainbow Bridge October 1, 2010, just a few weeks after his 10th birthday.

14 July 2010 - 10:42 pm
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Hello and welcome to Tripawds.  I hope you don't mind but I moved your post and started a new topic- this way more people will see it and respond.

As much as we hate it that you HAD to find this site, we are happy you are here.  This is absolutely the best place to be when facing an amputation and cancer journey.


Please look at Jerry's Required Reading List.  The posts here will answer many of your questions.

A quick take on a couple of your questions:

Since Chance is already limping on the leg he will probably be quick to regain his balance. Most new tripawds need some help getting around, but often only a day or two.  You can make a sling out of a towel or a cut open cloth shopping bag.  A harness is invaluable for a bigger dog- most here use the Ruffwear Harness.  My pug Maggie never needed help getting around, but she was little and a rear amp.

You don't need to worry about diet right now.  Many dogs don't eat well right after surgery anyway.  You should keep things as consistent as possible for him.  After he recovers, and depending on if you do any treatment you can look at his diet and supplements. When you are ready you can check out the Tripawds Nutrition Blog.

My advice is to take a step back and break this down into steps.  You are understandably a bit overwhelmed with all the decisions you feel you need to make.  Focus right now on amputation and recovery.  While he recovers you can look into treatment (if you choose).  Then you can think about diet and supplements.

You will get plenty of support here.  We have all been where you are now, and want to help.

Karen and the pug girls


p.s.  Thanks to your husband and your family for your service!!

My heart lives at Rainbow Bridge
Member Since:
28 November 2008
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15 July 2010 - 2:52 am
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Karen's suggestion to break this into manageble steps is an excellent one.  Just the diagnosis is a huge blow to deal with.  There are several large breeds here whos owners had to be concerned about how they would help them during recovery and hopefully a few will jump in and ease your fears.

After the first couple of days, most tripawds learn to maneuver on their own.  We helped Trouble for a couple of days and then she was ready to make it alone. The Ruffwear Harness is a great investment for helping them around long term.  I didn't have one for Trouble until her age and arthritis started to take a toll.  It is so valuable in assisting her getting in and out of the vehicle and on surfaces where her footing is not so stable.  There are also steps and ramps to help get them in and out of vehicles.  Most tripawds who are accustomed to using stairs daily are able to adapt to doing stairs on their own.

Osteosarcoma is a painful disease.  The only way to stop the pain is to amputate.  We were told we could manage the term with medication, but it would eventually not be effective.

You will find tons of useful information here and lots of great folks to support you.  I'm sorry you had to join us, but the upside is that you will find a lot of comfort here.

Shanna & Spirit Trouble ~ Trouble gained her wings 3/16/2011, a 27 1/2 month cancer survivor, tail wagging. RIP sweetheart, you are my heart and soul.  Run free at Rainbow Bridge.
The November Five - Spirits Max, Cherry, Tika, Trouble & Nova. 11/2008 - 3/2013 An era ends as Queen Nova crossed the Bridge.

Cleveland, OH
Member Since:
19 June 2010
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15 July 2010 - 4:40 am
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Denali's journey started June 2 and everything happened so quickly - so I understand how overwhelming this can all be.  There are many choices you do have to make, but you don't have to make all of them today.  Take things one step at a time and know the decisions you are making are the most informed decision and the best ones.  After a decision is made, you can start researching the next step(s).


With the amputation, everybody tells you the first 2 weeks are going to be hard - this is very true!!  They are in a deal of pain, but under pain management , so that does help.  You can ask for a drug called gabapentin to help with phantom limb syndrome - some dogs  experience it, while others do not.  You should limit your dogs space for a while, you can use an x-pen or something else a dog won't hurt himself/herself with - there is a mix of members who stay home during the time with the dogs and those who are not able to.  The main thing is you'll want to make sure your dog is not able to lick the incision and is not OVERLY active (which is usually the concern of vets).


Most dogs take to the amputation the next day - some do not (I am on the 'do not' side - but from what every doctor has told me, this is pretty rare).  Denali has been bunny hopping - but she's a rear-amputee.  Denali isn't really able to do stairs because she refuses to walk like a proper tripod - so I've been sleeping on a futon I have downstairs (or on the couch) with her.  My vet told me the first 2 or 3 days, don't do steps but after that she could do them on a limited basis - so if it's just going upstairs to sleep at night, that probably would be ok - but make sure you ask your vet and follow his/her recommendations!!


As far as diet (and I'll probably get yelled at here) - I have talked to 2 oncologist, 1 of which being pretty known for treating bone-cancer and they have both told me thre is no data surrounding how much a diet helps (and many of the supplements).  They did say the high protein/low carb diets and the different supplements couldn't hurt, but don't go broke trying to factor those things in.  I did end up switching to a commercial no-grain (high protein/low carb) diet called Acana because Denali just did not like her other food and I wanted her to eat.  We tried EVO, she loved it, but it's out of my price range.

~~~~ Denali ~~~~

June 9, 2010 OSA suspected

June 17, 2010, July 14, 2010 Clear X-rays – no mets

July 1, 2010 Amputation

July 9, 2010 OSA Confirmed

November 23, 2010 Cancer took you from me - Never forgotten, Always Loved - Forever

Supporting the Fighters, Admiring the Survivors, Honoring the Taken, And never, ever giving up Hope

Wesley Chapel, FL
Member Since:
13 September 2009
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15 July 2010 - 5:11 am
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Hi Chancey's Mom,

I'm so sorry to hear about Chancey's diagnosis...

My Jake (10yr old golden retriever, 85 pounds) also had osteosarcoma in his front leg, between his elbow and scapula... He was otherwise in perfect health for a dog his age... except for the fact that he had fractured his leg where the bone cancer was... So our only choices were to either put him to sleep right away, or to go ahead and remove his painful cancer leg to give him a chance at life.

The first two weeks were difficult... as he was learning to balance on his remaining 3 legs, dealing with being loopy from the pain meds, etc. But he quickly learned how to 'hop around' within the first few days... The sling and harness definitely helped alot!!! The harness has a handle on it... Maybe the first few nites that he's home, you can sleep on the couch downstairs, so you don't have to worry about him hopping up the stairs to come to bed with you. If you have baby gates (or can borrow some), you can keep him restricted to one room when you can't watch him. I took a week and a half off from work to stay home with him... but mostly because I was so worried... Most of the time he spent sleeping and recovering from his surgery... so I think that if you can't stay home... as long as you keep him restricted from the rest of the house while you're not there (so he can't jump up on a couch or go up the stairs) he should be OK. Also, give him a T-shirt to wear to cover the incision area... if he's a licker... then he can wear a cone so he can't get at the incision. I had a doggie bed for Jake and a bunch of comforters in different rooms of the house, so he could just plop down wherever he felt like.

I know how scary all this must be for you... especially since you are alone with 2 small children. But you will be amazed at how quickly dogs recover from this surgery and how well they do on just 3 legs. The surgery is not a cure... but it will help to extend Chancey's life. Some dogs (like my Jake) only live for a few months after the surgery... many others live 6 months or much more (a year or two!). None of us know how long they have... all we care about is that they're not in any pain, and that they have good quality of life for as long as they have left. Jake had a very good quality of life and was very happy until the end.

Whatever you decide to do, we are all here to help support you!! Sending you a big fat hug!!!

Angel Jake and Wolfie's Mom



Jake, 10yr old golden retriever (fractured his front right leg on 9/1, bone biopsy revealed osteosarcoma on 9/10, amputation on 9/17) and his family Marguerite, Jacques and Wolfie, 5yr old german shepherd and the newest addition to the family, Nala, a 7mth old Bengal mix kittie. Jake lost his battle on 11/9/2009, almost 8 weeks after his surgery. We will never forget our sweet golden angel… ….. CANCER SUCKS!

Scottsburg, IN
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5 February 2010
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15 July 2010 - 6:08 am
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Hi.  I think the others have covered things pretty well, but I thought I'd say a little about our experience. 

We didn't have any issues with cleaning the surgery site, and it was never bandaged in our case.  I'm not sure about physical excercises.  As far as assistance getting around, I know most people use the towel/harness that the others have mentioned, but Roxy never required any (she's a boxer with front, left leg amputee).  Actually, it seemed like if I tried to help her I just got in the way.  Some dogs just get up and go, and others need a little guidance.  Roxy preferred to be in the room with us during her recovery.  She didn't try to sit right next to us, but if we went to a different room she would follow, find a comfy spot and stay as long as we were in the room.  Maybe you could let Chance guide you on what he needs, isolation or company. 

I think some good advice that I've read on here several times is to remember that your dog feeds off of your emotions.  It's going to be hard, but the more normal you can act, the better for Chance.  Don't treat him differently, talk to him the same, if you need to break down take a few minutes in a separate room and come back composed.  It's one of those really hard things that you need to do as a pawrent.  You're obviously a strong woman being an Army wife (and like Karen, I thank your husband and your family!) so you can do this. 

Oh, I almost forgot.  I highly recommend putting a t-shirt on Chance for your kids' sake.  It can be a scary sight for a little one, so covering the incision will give them time to adapt to the three legged concept before they see it. 

Leslie, Roxy's mom

On The Road

Member Since:
24 September 2009
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15 July 2010 - 10:27 am
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Hi ChancesMom, we are so sorry about your pup, but we'll all do our best to help you through whatever you decide. It's gotta be overwhelming dealing with this on your own, please let us know what we can do for you OK? Your hubbys doing so much for all of us, it's the least we can do!

Ok, so do we have a great family here or what? I can see they've answered most of your questions and pointed you to the right places, especially our Required Reading List. That's a great place to start.

The first few days:

The best description we've heard about the recovery process, was by a veterinarian who told us; "It's like brining home a baby from the hospital." You're constantly checking to make sure his breathing is right, elimination is happening, etc. Since you're a Mom, I know you can relate. There will be a few sleepless nights when you bring him home, because the pain meds make a lot of dogs whiney and pant, but it's not forever.

While most dogs will be up and walking within 12 hours after surgery, he may need some assitance going potty. Not much, just be ready with a sling (canvas grocery bag with the sides cut open), in case he wants your help. Many dogs won't need it. The first week it's probably best not to let him tackle the stairs, or get in and out of your car by himself. A harness sounds like it will be essential in Chance's case. You should have someone with you when you bring him home from the vet's after surgery. That's about the only time you'll really need help unless you have some physical limitations.

Chance won't need his own room, but it's important to create a space where he feels safe, and can go den if he is tired. Most dogs will sleep for the first few days and not want to eat, or play. Most. Some dogs will be batty from the meds and try to do too much. It will be  important to make sure your kids give him space and not try to do too much with him the first couple of weeks.

Most dogs get along fine without rehabilitation therapy after surgery, although it's always beneficial. Don't beat yourself up if you aren't able to do that with him.

As for diet, worry about that later. You'll find that as soon as the pain is gone from his leg, his appetite will return within a week or so.

Overall I think you'll find that Chance will bounce back much, much faster than any human amputee patient does, and he will inspire you and other like you won't believe. While I can't say the process will be easy, it probably won't be as difficult as you are thinking it will be. Not all dogs have a smooth recovery, but most do.

No matter what you decide, we support you in your decision to help him. You've got a lot on your plate, and we commend you for doing what you can for your pup.

Good luck, and keep us posted OK?




Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

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20 May 2009
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15 July 2010 - 4:19 pm
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Everyone has given such good advice, I'm not sure there is anything I can add to it!  Emily was a rear leg ampute and I think that is an easier recovery.  She ran to the car when we picked her up at the vet, bolted up the steps when we got home, and jumped on the love seat as we prepared a bed on the floor.  (None of those things are recommeded by the way.  It was hard to keep her calm.)  Our main problem was that she did not handle the pain meds well.

I can see how you would be worried about how you are going to manage two children and amputation recovery with Chance.  I, too, recommend a harness or sling but you should probably only need to help with the physical needs for a couple of weeks. 

I think that your children will also learn an important life lesson is dealing with people with physical disabilities.  A loss of a leg does not diminsh who your dog is.  Yes, the incision might be scary to look at but children are resiliant!  Thank goodness, huh?!

Remember that dogs are primarily pack animals and Chance will be looking to you to see how he should react to his amputation.  Try to be positive around him.  Like the others said, I think you will be surprised at how well he does.

My only other suggestion is to raise his food bowl.  Dog's carry 60% of their weight in the front and if Chance has to lower his heavy head to the floor to eat he may have a hard time balancing!

Good luck.  You and your family are in my prayers.

Debra & Angel Emily





Debra & Emily, a five year old doberman mix, who was diagnosed with an osteosaecoma. She had a right rear leg amputation on May 19, 2009. On November 10, 2009 she earned her wings and regained her fourth leg.

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10 March 2010
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15 July 2010 - 5:45 pm
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well, there isn't a lot I can add...but (as those around here KNOW) I will find a few words to put down!!

The ruffwear harness was invaluable to me.  Magic was 114 pounds going in and I have physical limitations (torn rotator cuff, artificial hip and artificial knee) and I'm getting older much as I hate to admit it.  I left Magic at the vet for about four days and visited daily and had neighbors help me get him out of the truck when we arived home.  (My husband passed away two years ago)  Magic preferred to do steps rather than the ramps I had put over the steps for access to the yard for potty...His incision was bandaged which I was really glad for because the vet told me I could use the harness as soon as it got here (check with your vet).  Non skid throw rugs on lino floors were also very helpful.  I too had pads everywhere for Magic to lay on, but he really really preferred either the throw rug or the floor or the carpet because I think it was easier for him to get up and down....He did eventually get used to using the pads.  Magic was 11 when he had the surgery, and I can only say that no matter what I read, I was totally astonished at how well he did.

My house is on a single floor so I didn't have to contend with steps to the bedroom, but I did gate him into the kitchen when he first got home to limit the distance we had to go to get outside.  Since he had always had a doggie door, I wasn't even sure how often he was going to need to go out (haven't had to potty train a dog for 38 years...had pet door and always had an older "teacher" until now)...poor guy probably got drug out to potty twice as often as necessary.

Like the majority of folks here, tramadol was problematic after the first period of time....but I didn't realize it until we had weaned off.  We didn't have the phantom pain for which I was very grateful.

Good luck to you and the best advice I could possibly give (other than the harness and rugs) is to make enormous use of this site...It has saved the sanity of all of us.

Thank you for your service (because being a military wife isn't easy) let us help you.


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14 April 2010
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16 July 2010 - 7:05 am
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OK, I'll throw our 3 paws worth in, Gus had his left front amputated in April, and he had already been hopping on three for a couple weeks at the time of his surgery since we had initially thought he had pulled a muscle or something like that. He is a lab-rott mix, very strong, so he had already been adjusted to three. Gus came home the next day after surgery, had his rough 2 weeks and by 4 was as normal as before. I didn't have to do any kind of assistance for him, his diet stayed the same, although while on Tramadol his appetite wasn't as good. He did have a problem with phantom pain , but by that 4 week time, that had run its course also. Obviously each dog will react different, so to I don't want to mislead you in thinking you won't have to help your dog. Gus was even using the steps the first night home and never missed a night in our room. Believe me when I say it wasn't an easy 2 weeks, I don't want to make like it wasn't very difficult, but well worth the lost sleep and work that went into it. We found lung mets about 7 weeks ago and have him on cytoxin and doxycycline along with prednisone and mushrooms, so we take each day one at a time. I initially wasn't going to do any kind of chemo since the vet thought we caught the cancer early, but after finding the mets, I felt I would at least try to slow the growth down, so I'm not sure how much time we have with him, but he is living a good life and I have no regrets on my decisions of how I did anything through this whole crappy journey, I hope this helps, Paws up, Gus and Dan. Prayers and thanks to our military people, my nephew is on his third tour in Bagdhad with special forces.

My buddy Gus had a left front amputation on April 7, 2010 and lived a great life until July 26,2010

16 July 2010 - 8:40 am
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Welcome to the site no one wants to belong to.  I can't add much more than what's already been said.  It sounds like you have so much to deal with already, I'm sorry this has been added to the mix.

Amputation isn't as bad as I thought it would be.  Ruthie recovered quickly and just seemed happy to have the pain gone.  All dogs are different.  But you probably won't get much sleep the first week or 2.  I was so happy I got to give Ruthie 9 more months of good life.

I know I speak for everyone here that we look forward to hearing your progress. 
Prayers for your family, your husband, and Chance!

Spirit Ruthie's Mom


Calgary, AB
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30 January 2010
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16 July 2010 - 12:29 pm
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Welcome to Tripawds!

Obviously you've already received  lots of great advice but here's my experience anyway winker   

Tai had the same thing, some random limping that was easily handled with Metacam and would disappear. After the 3rd round of the mysterious limp we did xrays and discovered the dreaded osteosarcoma in her shoulder. We amputated 3 days later in order to remove the source of the pain. She is a "solid" slightly overweight lab and I thought the front leg amputation might be difficult. I was so wrong. I live in a two story walkout so we all moved to the ground level for the first two nights to avoid the stairs. I did not have a harness because I hadn't yet found this great site. The incision was covered with a light gauze, which didn't stay on, and was supposed to have a drainage tube which she decided to remove herself while still at the vets so they left it out. There was some bruising but no leaking.

On the second day I went upstairs to the kitchen and on my way back down discovered that Tai had climbed over my furniture "barricade" and was making her way up the stairs. Changes in routine seemed to upset her the most. She just wanted things the way they were. So that's what we did. Within a week she was going up and down the stairs with no help (although that's not recommended), just a guiding hand in case she fell (she didn't). She could go for short walks, went outside to potty by herself. In two weeks she was easily jumping into the back of the car for car rides and wanting to fetch toys. As she's not a crazy, hyperactive dog we let her dictate what she thought she could do.

I did purchase a Ruffwear harness for her but she is FAR too independant for that  little-devil  so I use it on her 14 yr old brother who is arthritic and needs help getting in the car when I take them BOTH swimming. I have always used elevated food/water bowls and I think that is a MUST for front leg amps. Other than that I think you don't need to make any changes.

Your children will understand that Chance will need some quiet time to get better and I believe he'll appreciate being "part of the pack" instead of isolated. 

All that being said, it must be hard for you to be facing this alone while trying to manage two young children. We are here to support you every step of the way. You might need some physical help to get Chance out of the car when you come home from the vet. Is there anyone who might be able to take the kids for a sleepover on the first night or two? Just to help lighten the stress level a bit.

Keep us posted.

Laura and Tai big-grin

Tai – 9 yr old lab. Diagnosed Osteosarcoma Dec 18/09. Front right leg amputated Dec 21/09. Started chemo Jan 7/10. Lung mets discovered Sept 16/10. Valiant to the end on Oct 26/10 when cancer reappeared in a leg and we made the decision to set her free. Forever in my heart where not even cancer can take her from me.

On The Road

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24 September 2009
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16 July 2010 - 1:19 pm
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Pawesome advice, Laura! Thank you!

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

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14 July 2010
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16 July 2010 - 9:21 pm
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wow!  Thank you all so much.  Your encouragement and advice have been so helpful.  Because we are considering the amputation, our vet recommended we do a chest x-ray first to check for mets, so we will go in Wednesday for that and determine what is next based on the results.  Thanks again for sharing your stories and experiences.  I will let ya'll know what we find out Wednesday...


Chance, our 9.5 year old Rottie/Shepherd mix was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in his left front shoulder.  In July of 2010, we planned to proceed with the amputation, but lung mets were discovered.  Chance reached the Rainbow Bridge October 1, 2010, just a few weeks after his 10th birthday.

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21 July 2010 - 9:48 am
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Let me begin again, by saying thank you to everyone who has shared so much on this site and to the founders for creating this site.  We just got back from the vet, and Chance's chest x-ray was not the results we were hoping for.  He has 6 visible mets.  While she still feels the leg will probably cause him problems before the chest mets, the vet does not feel that we should do the amputation due to his lung capacity.  I did not realize how 'geared up' I was to doing the amputation until I found out it is no longer an option.  I know (from reading other forums!) that Chance does not know his time is limited and my job is to continue to spoil him and keep my spirits up for him, but I am devestated right now and have a hard time even looking at him without crying.  My husband does not get home from this deployment until October, and I can't even think about Chance not being here when he gets home.  We're doing what we can to make him comfortable and enjoy his life for as long as we can.  He's on tramodol (which he handles well) and Novox (anti-inflammotory) and she said we have room to up the doses if needed.  I just don't know how to determine when enough is enough…but right now, that tail is still wagging!

Ok…deep breath…thanks for giving me an outlet to share my feelings with others who understand that dogs are family members.  Ok…don't know if this will work, but I'm going to try to include a photo below! This is my profile picture, but I love it so I've included it larger below – this was Chance in January, playing in the snow with us!

Chance in the snowImage Enlarger

Chance, our 9.5 year old Rottie/Shepherd mix was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in his left front shoulder.  In July of 2010, we planned to proceed with the amputation, but lung mets were discovered.  Chance reached the Rainbow Bridge October 1, 2010, just a few weeks after his 10th birthday.

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