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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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15 yo w/ osteosarcoma scheduled for amputation in two days--should we do it?
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Member Since:
8 August 2022
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9 August 2022 - 11:35 am
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I'm so grateful to have discovered this resource as we try to decide what to do for our blue heeler who turned 15 this month. On July 25th, we found out that Cowgirl's limp is most likely Osteosarcoma. It was devastating news, but the surgeon told us that she thought our girl was a candidate for surgery since she still had movement in her back hip and had already learned to get around on three legs (from limping to diagnosis took about a month and a half after two wrong diagnoses and waiting for the appointment), but she gets along very slowly and laboriously. Cowgirl has in the past few years struggled with some back hip weakness due to arthritis, which has been well managed with Cosequin, and she's also been getting treatment for Cushings and high blood pressure for three years. Every three months or so, she also has a seizure, which we think is due to the Cushings. CBD oil keeps those in check, I believe. 

We decided to do a chest x-ray to decide for us, and while her lungs looked clear, the first radiologist said he saw a mass on her spleen. To find out what we were dealing with, we had an ultrasound done. She did not seem to handle the anesthesia reversal very well. Her eyes were wide and she was very wired and panting hard. Every once in a while, her jaw would tremble. It was upsetting, and I told myself that I didn't want to put her through anesthesia ever again, but here we are, two days from her surgery date, and I'm not sure I can give up. We also had lab work done and everything was normal, except for slightly low hemoglobin. Yesterday, we got back the ultrasound results and there is NO mass! No sign of cancer. They only saw that her kidneys are smaller due to age. 

I'm eager to relieve her pain and don't mind the idea of amputation itself, but I'm wondering if her quality of life will ever be very good if she can't get around easily. And I'm terrified of her being in pain after surgery, especially since I suspect this surgeon will probably only give her an NSAID on top of the tramadol our vet is already giving us. I've had to lower the gabapentin dose because it was causing even worse inappetence and diarrhea. I guess I'm wondering what kind of pain we can expect and if, at her age and health state, if we should go through with surgery. We've been through it all with our beloved pets in the past, but this is the worst decision we've ever had to make. Thank you in advance for your insight and for being there for pet parents and their babies. 

The Rainbow Bridge


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25 April 2007
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9 August 2022 - 4:23 pm
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Hi Cowgirl and family, welcome. Your first post is approved so you can now post as much as you'd like. I'm so glad you decided to share her story. 

As a senior dog, it's not unusual for a bit of anesthesia recovery sluggishness. What did the vet say about her symptoms? Did they give you any medication to manage it? And how long did the symptoms last?

It sounds like over all she is a good candidate for surgery, especially now that they didn't find anything wrong with her spleen. That is extra peace of mind for sure. How is her weight? Does she need to drop any extra pounds? If so that will make a big difference in her mobility after surgery. All dogs of her age will have some form of arthritis. I know it seems scary thinking of her getting around on 3 at her age. We do see many older dogs with arthritis do really well after amputation surgery. What leg is affected?

One way you can help with her mobility is to get her booked for rehab therapy now. Don't wait. Most therapists like to see patients within 10 days of surgery and waiting lists for appointments can be long. Senior dogs especially benefit from having therapy, and the best part is that Tripawds Foundation can pay for your first rehab visit , up to $200!

Overall from what you are describing, it sounds like a normal scenario for a senior dog who's about to lose a leg. Yes, they do take a bit longer to recuperate, and their mobility may be a bit more sluggish for a while, but they do get their mojo back. 

What do you think SHE would say about wanting to have more quality time with you? Amputation won't cure osteosarcoma but it can make her remaining time with you pain-free. 

What does have me concerned about your post is this:

. And I'm terrified of her being in pain after surgery, especially since I suspect this surgeon will probably only give her an NSAID on top of the tramadol our vet is already giving us. I've had to lower the gabapentin dose because it was causing even worse inappetence and diarrhea. I guess I'm wondering what kind of pain we can expect and if, at her age and health state, if we should go through with surgery.

Why do you suspect the surgeon will skimp on pain management ? Are they not a board-certified surgeon? Family vet? A boarded surgeon will give good pain control. Some family vets who haven't kept up on continuing ed for pain control don't always.

As you pointed out, just giving an NSAID and tramadol (proven ineffective at managing acute pain) for amputation surgery recovery is unacceptable. It is up to you to advocate for better pain control than this. A good recovery starts with good, modern pain control. The worst recoveries are often because pain control was skimpy.

Our dog Jerry only received NSAIDs and Tramadol back in 2006. pain management has changed, it's better. You need to make sure Cowgirl gets it.

If Gabapentin doesn't work for her, there are other meds. See our Best and Worst Pain Management Drugs for Amputation Surgery.

I hope this helps! 

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9 August 2022 - 5:09 pm
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Thank you so much for your reply and your advice about getting rehab in place. I'm very impressed with the level of support of this site and all the things it offers! 😀 

I realized that I forgot to mention that it's her left, back leg that's affected. The tumor is at the end of a bone at the hock. The x-ray showed that there might be a lymph node involved. As far as her post sedation reaction, that was given to her at a veterinary imaging place, so I'm not sure who administered it. I believe they said it's not uncommon for it to cause agitation and tremors, but I plan on bringing it up with the surgeon to make sure that she has a slow waking up period. Maybe it was her Cushings that complicated it? I believe it was called Antisedan.

When we had our one appointment with the surgeon, she mentioned in passing that post-surgery, she would be sent home with gabapentin and an NSAID, but there may be more provided, and she just didn't mention it at the time. I'll be talking to them tomorrow and that will be my first question. My primary vet says that the speciality surgery hospital is very good (the surgeons are ACVS certified), so I feel confident that we're taking her to a good place surgery-wise. I understand why vets are hesitant to prescribe opioids, but I do worry that animals will suffer. If they tell me that they will only provide gabapentin and NSAIDS, is it appropriate for me to demand better pain coverage? I'm willing to do anything to make my dog's life more comfortable. Do you happen to know what pain meds most pets get?

Thank you so much for your help and insight! Stacy

The Rainbow Bridge


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10 August 2022 - 10:37 am
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aww you are so welcome! 

Yes do talk to the surgeon about the anesthesia incident. It does sound like she will be in good hands if the vets are boarded, which ACVS means. They generally don't skimp on pain meds.

It is always appropriate for you to make sure vets are following the latest AAHA Pain Management Protocols. That is your right as a client. My guess is they are going to give her Nocita, a 3-day injectible pain med, an NSAID, and Gabapentin (you can always ask for Amantadine as an alternative or in combination if Gabapentin isn't enough).

See our Best and Worst Pain Management Drugs for Amputation Surgery.

I hope you got some good answers today! Let us know OK?

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