Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat
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Shiloh turns 13 years old this month, and is currently 6 weeks post amputation (front left leg) from cancer. He’s had some ups and downs with the whole ordeal, and I wanted to share his story.
(Yes, it was worth it!)
Shiloh is a German Shepherd/Husky mix that I adopted from a high-kill shelter in Florida when he was 9 months old. Most of the dogs were arranged 2/kennel for adoption. Shiloh was in the euthanasia kennel crammed with other dogs, completely filthy and soaked in urine, and underweight from food competition.
He has been a very healthy dog with no issues up until he developed allergies 9 years ago. Pork products have always aggravated his bladder, but we found out that chicken/grain foods will cause him to break out with skin infections. He is on Natural Balance: Limited Ingredient Diet (Buffalo or Venison) to prevent food allergies, and he has been on and off of Prednisone when regular bathing doesn’t help his seasonal allergies.
First sign of cancer:
Shiloh decided to become a very lumpy dog when he turned 10. We brought him in to the vet for a large lump in his armpit, which turned out to be a fatty tumor. At this point, we checked him out all over where we found some more smaller fatty tumors, which weren’t very concerning. He also had an x-ray performed which wasn’t very helpful. Shiloh has the ribcage of a German Shepherd, on the body of a Husky, so most of his organs were obscured, and all the vet could see was something that “might be a spleen” peeking out from behind his ribs.
A few weeks later, he suddenly developed a golf ball on his elbow. The vet was not very helpful and kept vaguely saying “it might be bad” and that we’d “have to make some tough decisions” without any details.
A year later we moved, and found the previous vet refused to share medical history, x-rays, etc with our new vet citing that they had some kind of copyright on his information… Really shady, and we’re glad we had a new vet. Shiloh’s elbow had grown larger, but he was still really healthy, so we continued to leave his elbow alone for another year.
About 2 years after he started to develop the tumor on his elbow, we decided to take him back in because it was still growing larger, and it was starting to rub raw on the bottom where he would sit on it. It wasn’t painful for him, and he’d occasionally use the tumor as a pillow.
We were referred to a veterinary oncologist, where we ran all of the tests. He had a biopsy of his elbow, and an ultrasound to detect any other tumors to see whether he had “spread” throughout his body. The ultrasound showed the “spleen” the previous vet found on an x-ray was actually another tumor, but not dangerous. However, his elbow did not give us good news.
Malignant soft tissue sarcoma: No spread, which meant that removing the tumor meant that he would be rid of the cancer. However the tumor was so large at this point, they’d have to amputate to get all of the cancerous cells.
We weren’t sure at this point whether we wanted to go through with the surgery. On one hand, Shiloh was already really old (12), but on the other hand he’s still hyper social, in really good health otherwise, and I had visited Tripawds and seen how well other dogs have recovered from the same surgery.
This forum helped our decision, as well as having some very patient phone calls with the oncologist. And I’m grateful for all of the information we were able to get to, because this is when Shiloh finally got sick.
The biopsy site wouldn’t stay closed, and the tumor took aggressive advantage of the opening and decided to start growing outside of his elbow. I won’t post pictures, but it was disgusting. He also developed a fever (infection), and all he wanted to do was sit in a dark corner by himself, and shiver. Our consult with the surgeon turned into immediate admission to put him on IV fluids and antibiotics overnight, with surgery in the morning – one week after the biopsy.
The first week/The worst week:
The surgery went flawlessly, and his fever broke right afterward. We were told that he was walking immediately after waking up, but that is not what we saw when we went to pick him up. They monitored him overnight and we were able to pick him up the day after surgery. He was clumsy and stumbling, but already a million times brighter and happier than the obvious pain and illness he had going in. He couldn’t walk though, so we carried him out to my car. I had already arranged to work from home for the week, and we had a pen set up for him to keep him from moving around too much.
But he couldn’t walk, wouldn’t eat, and he had no control over his bladder, so every time he rolled over he wet himself.
Calling the vet, we found out this happens when dogs are sensitive to the fentanyl patch they apply after surgery for pain management . (Shiloh is very sensitive to painkillers in general). 12 hours after removing the patch, he wasn’t super dopey, and he had control of his bladder again. A week later he was walking in short bursts.
They did an autopsy on his leg, and found there were signs of lymphoma in one of the lymph nodes that sat next to the tumor. Otherwise, they confirmed that they removed all of the cells related to the soft tissue sarcoma.
The second week:
The second week, I was able to bring him in to work with me while he was still on antibiotics and oral tablet pain medication. He still had a hard time walking for any kind of distance, and this is where I was really glad that I lift heavy weights, because there was a lot of 60lb dog carrying.
I tried two different harnesses, but again the giant German Shepherd ribcage on an otherwise petite Husky frame made harnesses impossible. They would slide up off his ribs and choke him at the throat, so it was walk on his own or carry.
Mid-week, he had his staples removed, and a weird bunched up “nipple” of skin at one end of the sutures. We kept a dog shirt on him to keep him from licking that spot (and also so we wouldn’t have to look at the incision). We were able to remove his inflatable collar, and the oncologist gave me Metacam liquid medication for soreness/pain. His lymph nodes were tested to follow up on the lymphoma scare, and they all appeared to be normal. The oncologist’s thoughts were that the one lymph node gave a false positive strictly from sitting so close to the sarcoma for two years, and that it was most likely isolated to the node that was removed.
The metacam was fantastic for his pain. He was able to walk for longer periods of time almost right away on the medication. And he even snuck out through the dog door all on his own without any assistance. (He’s actually better at the dog door than our other older dog with bad hips.)
However… He started having bowel movements that were just blood and mucus. He was only on metacam for 3 days before we stopped it. It took him another week for his bowels to return to normal, but the 3 days of pain-free walking seemed to help him immensely.
Week 3 and beyond:
Shiloh taught himself how to use the dog doors. We have two, and one of them opens immediately into a step, but he didn’t seem to have any trouble with them. I wish I had more information besides “he had no problem with them”.
The following week, he kept trying to go up our staircase (which he wasn’t supposed to do yet), and the week after that, he figured out how to go down the stairs. The stairs were actually a really interesting point, because he had become so used to me carrying him, that he would squat a little bit when he wanted me to pick him up, and run away from me when he really wanted to do it himself. He’s really motivated to do things himself.
He started having issues with whining for a few days, but I feel like that had more to do with the weather and he’s terrified of rain. It cleared up as soon as the weather returned back to our typical Sunny California weather.
He gets a little restless at night. I have a feeling that he was this way before the surgery as well, it’s just a lot LOUDER to have him thump around in the middle of the night.
He does get a little winded after the stairs or a longer walk, but I attribute that more to the fatty mass he has sitting in his abdomen combined with how much more work hopping is over walking. He still gets around a little TOO well anyway since he was able to sneak out of the house and run down the street through the neighborhood while I was taking the trash out. He had the biggest smile on his face for making me chase after him (and yes, he’s pretty fast).
His last odd habit is that he’ll compulsively lick the carpet where his missing paw would sit. The oncologist explained that this is a mindless habit, and if it was actually painful, he would be chewing on the incision – which he never did after the “nipple” of bunched skin flattened out. He has no trouble being pet or rubbed over the incision, and especially appreciates neck scratches/rubs.
He had his final follow-up at week 6, his lymph nodes were still healthy, and Shiloh is a happy dog that is now free of cancer. He’s even started to make new ‘dances’ on 3 legs for breakfast and dinner.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and the first two weeks were admittedly rough. But he is doing fantastic now, and I’m glad we decided to amputate instead of euthanize. (At this point, he’s escaped the needle twice.)
Every time I bring him in to work, he serves as both a great ambassador for rescue mutts, as well as older dogs, and a canine cancer survivor.
And yes, old dogs can do it too.
25 April 2007
Welcome, and thank you for sharing Shiloh’s story. Senior Tripawds Rule!!!
Your future forum posts will not require moderation. Please keep us posted, and consider starting a blog to share photos and document Shiloh’ progress.
3 June 2014
Wow…Shiloh’s story is amazing!! From almost being euthanized to beating cancer what an inspiration!!
Happy 6 week Ampuversary Shiloh!!! You still have a lot of life left in you and you’re showing everyone you’re not done yet. I loved the visual of him trotting down the road with a big smile on his face with mom chasing after him.
I’m so happy you shared Shiloh’s story and I hope that you continue sharing his journey!
Sahana and her Angel Leland
November 17, 2009 - June 30, 2014
May you finally be healthy and running free at the Rainbow Bridge. Until we meet again my sweet boy!
WOW! What a story! Big applawse to both of you for overcoming that jerky first vet (oh my DOG I won’t use the four-letter words that come to mind), but I’m just so glad everything worked out. Your details are so well-done, thank you. I’m going to share your story in our “Size and Age Matters” forum too, Shiloh is very inspawrational!
Thanks for joining, we are so glad you’re here. Shiloh is also one handsome pup!
I wanted to add that the oral tablet pain medication he was on before the metacam was tramadol, and he didn’t seem to have any problem with it besides not really wanting to take it. I had to hide it in a bit of salmon so it wouldn’t melt in his mouth and make him spit it out.
We also fed him pumpkin to help his gut after all the medication. It did take him a while before his first bowel movement (the fentanyl kept him from eating at first and he did lose weight), and the metacam also stalled his normal bowel habits.
And he still has the original large fatty mass (peach sized) in the armpit of his remaining front leg. I was concerned that it would get in the way when he had to rely on just that one leg, but the oncologist and surgeon said that it would be too much tissue loss and unnecessary strain on him to remove it at the same time as his leg. He’s not having any trouble walking with it still in his armpit.
He’s also a full leg amputee- they removed the scapula along with the leg. His undercoat is growing back pretty quickly, though it looks like his darker guard hairs will take a while longer to return. For now he just looks very two-toned.
You had a great grasp on handling his pain meds and post op care, excellent job! Yes, tramadol tastes super bitter so the stinky salmon was a big help I’m sure.
Glad to hear the fatty tumor isn’t getting in the way. We’ll keep our paws crossed it keeps behaving itself.
3-paws up to you and Shiloh!
22 February 2013
WOW! Just catching up on the HANDSOME and AMAZING SHILL!!! What a sweet boy!!! Couldn’t see the vides because I’m not FB…but his pictures were wonderful….even his very druggy eyes pictures!!!
And thst vet who said henhad a “copyright” on his medical records…bull crap! Glad you got away from him onto a vet you and Shilo are co.froatable with!!
You’ve got a great handle on things and a wonderful attitw! Continue to stay in the moment with Shilo…enjoyingnhis three legged dinner dance and neck and butt scratches!! Everyday is a gift on this journey and you and Shilo clearly are not wasting a second!
Shilo, you are indeed, a wonderful GOODWILL AMBASSADOR on so many levels! Thank you!
Look forward to hearing more and more about your victories and inspirational journey! We are all in love with you!!
Hugs to all!
Sally and Alumni Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle 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!