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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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So much information=So uncertain what to do.
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Forum Posts: 1
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27 January 2009
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10 February 2009 - 10:42 pm
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Hello everyone.

I am new to this site. I've read SO MANY, SO SO MANY, of your posts. Thank you all for contributing your stories and experiences etc. I'm grateful and sorry and inspired and saddened by them all. I'm hoping to find an answer or some sort of direction as to my next step. However, as GREAT as THIS site is, and “google” in general, and all the vets I've seen over the last few months, and all the research I've done, it leaves me more confused and uncertain of what to do next. Do I do something or nothing?…either way I feel like I'm doing it wrong.

Here is our story, not so different from most others. I'll try and be brief.

My name is Lynette. My baby is Harley. She is a 13 year old Black and Tan Coon-hound/Foxhound mix. She was diagnosed in September 2008 with Osteosarcoma in her front left leg in the ulna bone, between the elbow and the knee, but closer to the knee. Lungs were of course “clear” at dx. I was living in Southern California at the time, and after the initial dx, we began with an Oncologist. After a month or more of a lot of research and deliberation and agonizing soul searching, I opted not to amputate at that time. I never had any intent for chemo and radiation. I considered the palliative radiation and even the Pamidronate pain reliever I.V., but ultimately opted to just care for her with proper nutrition, some vitamins and supplements, and oral pain medication. And just love her for as long as she will let me. And of course, like all of us, to just keep her happy and comfortable with quality of life.

We have since moved to Austin, Texas and Harley was doing GREAT! For 3 months, she was on a low dosage of pain meds, totally acted the same as always and no limping or any other signs of cancer, however, I could see the tumor was growing. In December she began to limp again. Her new vet (NOT an oncologist) and I increased her pain meds. Again, the meds worked and she was no longer limping. A month later, in January 2009, tumor is bigger and she began limping again. After long discussions with the vet, and frankly, me still not knowing what to do, we added another medication to her pain management .  It has helped, and she was doing okay, but her limping has not completely subsided this time as the past few times. As of today, still just on oral pain medication, 3 different meds.

So, during one of my conversations with the vet, he suggested to remove the pain…remove the leg. I completely understand that this is not a means to a cure, and while I have no issues with amputation, I am just not sure if it's the right thing for Harley at this point, seeing as I didn't do this before. Which is why I am posting this here, today.

Because I thought it wouldn't be the right thing, to amputate at this point; it's been over 4 months since first dx, I just assumed the cancer has spread to her lungs. But because she is still totally the same senior dog that she has always been, she has certainly given me more than a difficult time with this decision. She is still present and engaged in her life. She eats, hasn't lost one ounce, still hovers around 68-70 pounds. She still wants to eat, drinks, pees, poops, etc. She still wants to walk, even though I have become more hesitant and do not really take her too far. She still has that same ol' puppy dog face when she might get a treat. Still pays attention to other people and animals and wags her tail and does her usual….'someone new around' talk and dance. Smile SO….because she is still present, the only way I figured I could consider amputation, is to check her lungs, to see how the cancer has spread, and run all her blood work. Two weeks ago we did just that and here are the results. NO VISIBLE cancer in her lungs, and her blood panel is almost perfect. The vet and I, looking at 4 different views…NO cancer in her lungs. According to her blood work, liver, kidney, etc…all functioning very well. He commented that her lung function actually looks really good. Listening to her heart and lungs…all good. She has Hypo-Thyroid, for the last few years, but that seems to be OK, on meds, under control. One of her liver enzymes is slightly elevated, but it's been that way for a long time, even before cancer dx. The docs attribute that to her thyroid issue and her age. And, she doesn't really appear to have much arthritis. Only some minor arthritis in her back right leg/hip. So all in all he says, even though there are risks, as with any surgery, she is a good candidate for a surgery. Great! Great????

I cannot come to a decision to determine if I should put her thru such a major surgery. Here is my dilemma; given that the cancer hasn't spread to the lungs, the vet commented that we do not even know for sure that it is osteosarcoma. And that perhaps she could live a whole lot longer without being in the pain that is in her tumorous leg. (I never had a biopsy taken, but did rule out the fungal bone infection possibility.) She is 13 years old, all be it, in “good” health. She is 70#'s. She has hypo-thyroidism. She recently started showing more of a “gimp” to her walk, in her back right leg, hopefully just the arthritis and compensating for her front left leg. And one more thing, that she has always had, which is one of the reasons that I “saved” her from the pet store 13 years ago back in Chicago. She has had, periodically over the years, “weak” wrists in the front paws. It's the best way I can describe it. When she walks, her wrists weaken and she doesn't stand fully just on her feet/pads. Like I said, this is sporadic, but it's been more often lately than not, in her front right paw. Perhaps again, just compensating for the painful left leg.

And my biggest uncertainty. The vet, whom I love; they are good, kind, caring, is not an oncologist. Everyone in this city respects and trusts him. (I am new to Austin/Texas) He said that he would amputate between the shoulder and the elbow. When I asked why, he merely stated, just that is the way they do it there/here, in Austin Texas. Everything I've read/researched, shows they take off the entire leg, remove the entire shoulder, etc. SO….is this better or worse or really inconsequential????

I'm lost, confused and just do not want my girl to be in pain. I also cannot justify putting down an otherwise viable, present, engaged happy dog. Help. Any input would be greatly appreciated. I just have no idea if I should put Harley thru this, or keep her on pain medication, until she can no longer bear it. Also, one more thing. She NEVER acts or shows any pain or discomfort in any capacity. I know dogs are stoic, have a high pain tolerance, etc. But is it AT ALL possible, that she really IS NOT in such severe pain, as severe as this kind of cancer dictates?????

Thank you all, for anything and everything. Like everyone else, she is, Harley is, the love of my life……

Respectfully yours,

Lynette aka Harleymama

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10 February 2009 - 11:12 pm
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Harley mama (I love that)

I can understand why the decision is so hard. I wouldn't bother doing a biopsy on Harley. I think if it is quality of life you are looking for taking the pain away (amputating) is a good idea for a start. There are many posts on here about senior dogs. They have come back from the surgery like younger dogs. Just think that pain will be gone from Harley she may even feel relieved. Dogs hide their pain very well from us sometimes not even showing signs. Obviously you have to make the ultimate decision of what's right for you and Harley. That limp will probably never go away no matter how many meds you give Harley. What I would be afraid of is “if” she ever fractures or breaks that bone she will be in excruciating pain and don't even know if meds will help. Saying that I would consider the amuptation before that can happen. It may be osteosarcoma but as you have read it affects every dog differently and you never know how malignant it is. It sounds like Harley has done pretty well to this point.  Good luck my prayers are with you.

Heidi (Titan's mom)

The Rainbow Bridge

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11 February 2009 - 1:29 am
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Thanks for finding us and joining the Tripawds community. You are obviously a loving, caring pawrent who just wants to do right by Harley. And you have, and will continue to do. It's just that science has now given us these options that we never had before with our fur kids, and it's hard to know which way to go at times like this.

Harley sounds like she would be a great candidate for amputation, and would probably bounce back right away. But it is a gamble; nothing is guaranteed, she could have lung mets soon after surgery. It's a hard call to make, but it is often worth the chance when you have a healthy dog with a strong will to live. Jerry was the exact same way. He hardly ever showed his pain, and he definitely compensated for the leg with the tumor, by limping on other legs. There were days when we couldn't tell what leg was the affected one, before he had the MRI done.

The vet situation is making it a little more difficult, I know. Keep in mind though, that vets are different from certified oncologists. These are two entirely different medical professionals. The route to surgery we took was, first a vet, who referred us to a surgeon. Then we saw the oncologist, after the ampuation.

However, is your vet a surgeon (should have the inititals DACVS after their name)? Some are, some aren't. When our vet couldn't figure out what was wrong with Jerry, she referred us to a surgical specialist. That is something to think about. If it were us, we would get an opinion from a board certified veterinary surgeon. Your vet should be able to give you a referral to one if he isn't. If this is something he doesn't want to do for you, I would consider finding a new vet.

You're right; usually the entire leg is taken off, including the scapula. When vets do a partial amp it is usually because of cost-concerns on the owner's behalf, or because it's quicker and cheaper for the vet to do it that way. That's just what we've heard though…

Dogs are incredibly stoic. The pain from osteosarcoma, or any kind of bone tumor, is something beyond imagination for humans. We would never be able to tolerate pain like that. But our dogs do, to make us happy and keep te pack together.

We know this is a hard decision for you, but if it were us, we would get that second opinion for Harley's sake. She definitely has a will to live, and you never know how much time amputation can buy. For me, it was almost two years. That's a lot of loving, a lot of living, and definitely worth the gamble.

Good luck Lynette. Let us know what you decide to do. We are here for you.

It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.™
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Forum Posts: 48
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11 February 2009 - 10:03 am
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Our regular vets also sent us to a surgical specialist.  They have so much experience with this and we felt like we were in good hands.  This seems so hard for us to believe but 4 vets I spoke to said the whole shoulder removal amputation is actually not a very big deal surgery for them to perform!!!  And in our case, just trying to remove the tumor would probably not have cured the cancer in the long run and would have been a major surgery too, so after reading everyone's posts, we went for the whole front leg amputation.  We spent a long week crying and questioning and today her staples come out and we're done!

Good luck, and I have a big, drooling, sweet coonhound myself,


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11 February 2009 - 12:02 pm
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I think you should seriously consider the amputation.  As the tumor gets bigger it will eventually destroy the bone and you'll probably have to do it anyway.

Read the posts of the 'two weeks of hell' post – op, although, in all seriousness, it's probably more about the humans than it is the doggies! 

We were referred to a surgical specialist also, ours was a rear amp and he took the leg off at the hip even though the tumor was below the knee. The reasons he gave is that, healing time is much faster. The potential for complications is greater also he said, and such things as pressure sores with a 'stump' and potential pain when they bump it.

Our girl is two months post op and she acts like she never had four legs, only three.

You might want to consider having a biopsy done of the leg post-op and they can really give you a good idea on what type of cancer is there.  Low Level Chondrosarcoma has a much better outlook than Osteosarcoma and it can give you ideas on what treatment plans you want to pursue.

It's such a hard decision to make, until you make it and see how well the pups can do!

Best of luck, sending happy thoughts your way.

Kim and Tika

Kim and Spirit Tika

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11 February 2009 - 12:20 pm
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It seems that you have all the facts that you need to make this VERY DIFFICULT decision. Now…try and get some quiet time alone with your sweet girl and explain to her what is happening…ask her what she wants to do…she will understand. Zeus did and he responded to me by jumping off the bed (we were laying on the bed when I explained to him what was going on and that I didn't know what to do), grabbing his toy and whipping it around, chasing his tail and then running to the window to bark a few times…then he looked back at me as if to say, “I want to live Mom”. We amputated a few days after that and I have no regrets. 10 months post amp…10 year old Golden Retriever and yes, also the love of my life. I understand what you're going through – we all do and we are all here for you.

Listen to your heart…it will guide you down the path that is right for you and your baby.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you and we are here for you no matter what you decide.

Love Heather and Zeus

Heather and Spirit Zeus - Our life changing journey…from the earth to the heavens…one day at a time…always together

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11 February 2009 - 2:16 pm
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Hi Lynette, 

We just came home with our 12 1/2  year old chocolate lab Marley who had amputation surgery Monday. She did great through the surgery and recovery seems like it won't be bad at all! (Our Marley also has had elevated liver levels, liver biopsy came back with some scarring and minor inflammation.) I know there is a 15 yr old lab posted on here somewhere who had a recent amp – I can't remember her name. I'm sure Jim and Rene could tell us… As our oncologist said, “I hope if I'm 84 and needing a hip replacement my docs don't whisper to each other, eh let's just let 'em go…” Our vet, surgeon and oncologist said that her age is simply not a factor in terms of putting her through the surgery. They all said she'd do fine and she did!! 

As for getting a 2nd opinion on something, we had one surgeon tell us that her knee in what would be her remaining leg had a previous ligament tear that we never realized (she never limped) and had since healed, but that if we amputated it would surely rupture. We were devastated and thinking we would have to let her go, but then saw another surgeon who said she did not agree and thought she'd be fine on 3 legs! And she actually looked at xrays where the first surgeon just felt her knee. so if you're questioning how your vet wants to do the amputation, I would definitely get a 2nd opinion!! 

Marley is now sleeping soundly in the next room.. I can hear her snoring… no more pain! She was in such pain over the weekend that we were looking forward to the surgery! (which I was terrified about!) I kept thinking if we chose not to do the surgery then how do you decide when it is time to let them go??? Her prognosis may not be good – they found an enlarged lymph node – but even if we have only a couple of months at least it will be pain free and we'll know that we TRIED. We still have hope that we will have a lot more time with her. Regardless, it will be quality time and pain free!!! 

I know we JUST got home, but it seems clear to me that the hardest part in all of this is the decision making and the time leading up to surgery… it's just unbearable! You have found the right place for help. I don't know what I would have done without all of the people on this site. 

If you decide to amputate, I really don't think you'll regret it – our oncologist and surgeon said they really haven't had a client regret it yet. Check out some of the videos on this site of tripawds running on the beach!

Good luck to you and Harley! we are here for you… 

Holly and Marley 

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11 February 2009 - 3:05 pm
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Hi Lynette,

I'm a big fan of getting as many opinions as you need to be comfortable with your desicion. I'm originally from TX, and when any of my friends had serious helath concerns with their pets, they always took them to Texas A&M. They have a teaching hospital there with an oncology department. A&M has one of the best vet schools in the country, and I think you might find some excellent resources they are only about 45 minutes away in College Station. http://vmth.tam…..ndex.shtml

My dog was not eligible for amputation due to tumors in multiple limbs, therefore we were only able to offer him palliative treatment. I am happy to share that experience with you, should you decide to pursue that option, but I hope you can get in over at A&M for another opinion.

Regardless of what you decide to do, just posting your concerns here means that Harley is in great hands! As long as you proceed with compassion, you will make the right decision!



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11 February 2009 - 3:37 pm
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Here is a link to A&M's oncology department: http://www.cvm……/oncology/

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11 February 2009 - 5:57 pm
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Texas A & M really is awesome.  They were able to diagnose our German Shepherd, who has Exocrinic Pancreatic Disorder, another horrible disease, but fortunately manageable and not like that nasty Osteosarcoma.  They saved her life because we were having a horrible time figuring out why she was slowly starving to death!

I found them to be passionate and informative (albeit that I've only dealt with the GI lab there) I've even had the actual doctors email us with test results. Wow!  (We live up in Kansas and feel so fortunate to have them relatively near.)

My vet considers them to be hands-down one of the best vet schools/working hospitals in the country.

Good call, Erin!

–Kim and Tika (and EPI shepherd Caya!)

Kim and Spirit Tika

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11 February 2009 - 6:57 pm
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  I just wanted to comment on your situation. Is she using the leg now? Probably not… so I don't think the amputation would be an issue. This is my opinion, however if she is in pain, I feel it is a quality of life issue especially if she is dependent on pain meds. What kind of pain meds is she on? Certain meds can affect the liver…  I can relate to your concern of her wrists. My Buster had a hyper flexed wrist remaining front paw and I am and was in constant fear of it giving in. It never did, there is so much to take into consideration. Only you and your pet will be able to answer. However if the tumor is growing rapidly which you may be able to determine since the onset, the pain it causes can be unbearable. No amount of pain meds will help since she may build a tolerance…

ps please consult an opinion of an orthopedic surgeon … they would be able to give you some answers as to how well she would compensate on 3 legs and if she is a candidate

Best wishes,

Kim & Buster

Kim & Angel Buster

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
–Anatole France

My heart lives at Rainbow Bridge
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11 February 2009 - 8:28 pm
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While it is a tough decision, you must make the decision that is right for the two of you.  We went for a second opinion and were so very impressed with the vet.  He took all the time we needed to discuss the options we had and he impressed upon us how very painful bone cancer is.  If you let it go, the bone can fracture and then the only choice is to amputate.  My fear was that if we chose the pain medication only route, Trouble would become so drugged up that she would no longer be herself, and her quality of life would be minimized.  With the knowledge that the cancer is painful and that she would have to live on pain meds, it was not difficult to make that hard decision to amputate.  If I were faced with the same decision again, it would be much easier knowing what I know about Trouble's adaptability and surgery recovery.

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.

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11 February 2009 - 10:57 pm
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Dear Lynette,

Regarding the question of full vs partial leg amputation, I really agree with the advise to get a second opinion as well.  Sophie's amputation was done by a surgeon, who explained that, among other things, it is easier for dogs to balance if they are not carrying the shoulder.  I've also talked a lot with a neighbor, whose German Shepard had another cancer years ago and had a partial leg amputation.  She's told me that she thinks Sophie's mobility is *much* better than her dog's was- and that her dog was frequently in pain from bumping the stump/ would get sores from the pressure that she would put on it/it affected her balance.  She said if she could go back in time and do it over, she would have wanted the whole leg removed.

So, I know that is just anecdotal, but it seems worth knowing while making your decisons.

Good luck to you both.  Harley sounds like a wonderful sweetheart!!

Christine & Sophie

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16 February 2009 - 1:45 pm
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Your decision is very difficult. You love your buddy and want the best life for your buddy.  I have a cancer survivor… at 3 he had Undifferentialed Spidle Sarcoma.  … they took the leg off.  Now that my buddy will be 11 next month…  he is starting to get weak and having a hard time balancing. I found this site – Orthopets.  They make arms for dogs. Now I wish I had a nub/stub of an arm for them to make an arm for him. But as others wrote… the nub gets in the way and the extra weight…  Gosh, I think there is no right answer. And darn-it, our dogs can't tell us what they want. Up untill very recently, my dog has done well with the complete amputation. I know you have a heavy heart…  keep your mind open and heart open, the right decision will appear to you. I wish you and your buddy ALL the best. Shelby and Rachelle

Shelby & Mommy, Rachelle

The Rainbow Bridge

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16 February 2009 - 10:55 pm
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3leggedbestbud said:

I have a cancer survivor… at 3 he had Undifferentialed Spidle Sarcoma.  … they took the leg off.

Gosh, I think there is no right answer. And darn-it, our dogs can't tell us what they want.

Rachelle, thanks so much for joining us here. It's so wonderful to hear that Shelby has thrived for so long as a Tripawd. Talk about inspawration! You are helping so many others by sharing Shelby's stoy.

Have you talked to a specialist about Shelby's balancing problem? It could be something neurological, or it could be something that acupuncture can alleviate and help him balance.

Our dogs can't “tell” us literally what they want, but we can do a good job reading their signals. I think though, what our dogs want most is for us to stop fretting, and let them be dogs, enjoying life for all it has to offer.

You're a great pawrent. Keep up the good work, and keep us posted about Shelby OK?

It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four.™
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