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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I have been trying to find information on how hard it is on 13 year old dogs to lose a front leg to amputation, and the last thread I read was concerning a Australian cattle dog named Brandi, from 2010.
We found out last Wednesday that our Russian Wolfhound/Husky mix has a mast cell tumor on his right front ankle. We aren’t positive of Kitna’s age, but when he was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in 2013 (aggravated by kitty litter of all things) the veterinarian who diagnosed him and performed the endoscopy told us afterwords that he felt that at this point it was best to just “try to make him comfortable”. At that point in time we thought that Kitna was around 6, so I asked him how old he thought that Kitna was, because that wording is typically used with old dogs. He told us he was estimating his age at around 10. And BOOM, just like that we lost 4 years that we thought we had with Kitna lol. It was pretty devastating at the time, but now I can laugh about it. So anyway, we are estimating his age to be about 13.
On Friday we went to an oncologist to get a second opinion and to get his cancer staged (at the recommendation of our primary vet). Our primary vet gave us a copy of the full blood panel that we did on Wednesday (everything came back looking really good, except that his WBC [white blood cell count] was a bit low) and the slide of the biopsy of Kitna’s tumor and told me to take that with me to the oncologist. He was hoping to avoid Kitna having to have that lump biopsied twice in a week. 🙂 While at the oncologist’s, we opted to have x-rays taken, an ultrasound done, and they also took samples of Kitna’s liver and spleen to send to a pathologist. (Those three things + the office visit cost us over $1000, and drained half of our savings, BTW -_-).
Hopefully, we will get the results back today and find out what stage it is. The oncologist said that his ultrasound was clear and the x-rays looked good, so I am hopeful that it is a low-grade tumor and it hasn’t spread to his internal organs.
The choice that we are struggling with at the moment is if it would be better to try to remove the tumor or if we should jump straight to taking his whole leg. My concern with amputation is his age. I don’t know if taking his leg at 13 would make it hard for him to heal or if it would put a strain on his body that he can’t recover from.
As far as his current joint health, Kitna doesn’t appear to have any arthritis. He sleeps quite a lot, but when he is awake he can get up effortlessly and he runs and jumps and zooms all over the yard. I have even seen him zoom around the tree in our yard and then leap over his sister who is a 60# Lab/Staffy mix. Kitna is currently 40#s. He was 45#s in February, and I think 40#s is a bit TOO skinny actually, since when I pet him I can clearly feel his hip bones and the vertebrae in his spine. I am trying to get him to gain a bit of weight so that I can no longer feel his hip bones.
I wanted to know if anyone else had a dog with a mast cell tumor that had their leg amputated between 11 and 14 years of age. Was it difficult for them to recover and did you feel like it made their life shorter than it would have been if you had just removed the tumor and left the leg?
Ultimately, our goal is to do what is best for Kitna. We want to make the choice that will give him the highest quality of life, for the longest amount of time. The fortunate thing about the mast tumor is that it doesn’t cause him any pain. 🙂
Any anecdotes of your own experiences with amputation on really old dogs would be greatly appreciated. I would also be interested to hear from any veterinarians who frequent this board. Thank you.
(P.S. I saw a picture pop up on the banner above this forum of Maggie, and Maggie has very distinct Russian Wolfhound markings on her face and butt. I wonder if perhaps she isn’t part Borzoi (Russian Wolfhound). 😉 )
Welcome and best wishes for Kitna! Your future forum posts will not require moderation.
Be sure to check out these various posts about senior tripawds in the News blog . You can also search all blogs here . And these forums are filled with stories about senior dogs Loving Life On Three Legs , and mast cell tumors. Use the Advanced Search features to narrow your search.
Hope this helps! Please keep us posted.
FYI: here are a couple related forum topics you may find helpful…
2 April 2013
I think there was a husky recently that was closer to 16 who had surgery, but I’m not great with names. I’ll bet when Sally gets on here she’ll remember who it was.
You know your Kitna better than anyone else does. You really have to take his whole health into account. I would say that if he is otherwise healthy, then removing the leg is probably your best option. I have no experience with mast cell, but from what I’ve read on here, it tends to come back fairly quickly. It’s an aggressive cancer.
It’s always a tough decision to make. And whichever way you decide, this community will be here for you.
Donna, Glenn & Murphy
Murphy had his right front leg amputated due to histiocytic sarcoma at 7 years old. He survived 4 years, 2 months & 1 week, only to be taken by hemangiosarcoma at 11 1/2 years 6/12/17
Read about Murphy's Life on Three Legs
22 February 2013
Awww, Kitna’s avatar picture shows a sweet Soul. Can’t wait to see more photos!
This is such a rough spot to be in. It’s not easy for anyone, but when you’re dealing with a Senior, it adds another layer of concern. And yes, we’ve had many, many Seniors who have gotten good quality time after amputation fullmof tons more loving and spoiling!
Donna, I’m racking my brain trying to remember the Senior Husky you’re referencing. I think it was recent and he was from the Culaprina team from Alaska. Jerry will jave to come behind me and do the link..and clean up the spelling!
Karen (Pug Maggie) is one of the most experienced with this type and can give great insight.
I’m not sure which Maggie was on the banner. There was a wonderful black and white Cattle Dog named Maggie who thoroughly enjoyed life doing some agility after amputation.
You will make the right decision for your beloved Kitna because it will be made out of love. Remember that he is completely oblivious to anynole’ medical report and is living in the moment, worry free and happy as can be!
We are here for you, okay? Sorry I couldn’t offer much specific help, but others will chime in.
Sending love and hugs
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!
That’s a tough decision no doubt. It really does depend on each dog’s personality, every one is different and only you know yours best. To many dogs, age is just a number and as seniors they are still puppies at heart, so amputation is a no-brainer. To others, they are more sensitive to major changes and vet visits and a medical procedure like this would be difficult. Really the questions to ask yourself are “How does Kitna…
- Handle vet visits?
- Car rides?
- New places and faces?
- Poking and prodding?
- Changes in environment?
- Disruptions in routine?
To most younger dogs these kinds of temporary changes are no big deal, to some older ones though it can turn their world upside down. If you think Kitna rebounds really quickly from big changes in life, then amputation could be the way to go. But you really have to look at Kitna’s overall picture and not compare it to others.
Regarding Mast Cell, here is an interview with did with vet oncology expert Dr. Ann Hohenhaus.
Also, Dr. Dressler, the Dog Cancer Vet, has excellent webinars about Mast Cell Cancer.
Sally, the dog you are thinking of is Liam. He’s older but he didn’t have an amputation, he had a scapulectomy and got to keep his leg.
22 November 2012
My Franklin was 14 when he had his front left leg amputated due to osteosarcoma. And we debated for a while if we should do it… we actually took a few months (which if I knew then what I know now, I would have done it instantly!!). He was a 50lb English Springer Spaniel. and gawd damn he was the happiest dawg on three legs…. not to mention just so stinking handsome!!
It did not deter him down… he was a perfect patient and he recovered incredibly well. it actually made belly rubs so much more easier!! lol He was in good health when we did the amputation but what delayed us a bit from doing it was his age. We thought.. well.. he’s 14… maybe we should just take him home and let him be a dog… and when the time comes, the time comes right? But, his character and his wagging tail told us otherwise.. and we did the surgery on December 4, 2012.
We had 5 1/2 more months with him until we had to let him go because he developed lung mets. That was 5 1/2 more months of smiles, doggie kisses, sunday morning snuggle times, and unlimited tail wags. I don’t regret it.. and what I learned from it was to act fast when it happens.. I would never “go think about it” again.
You can read about him in his blog… and hopefully he’ll make you smile like we did!
good luck with your decision…. we are all here for you….
Christine… with Franklin and Maggie in her heart♥
Franklin, he was the Happiest Dog on Three Legs! Diagnosed 09/26/2012 with Osteosarcoma, amputated 12/4/2012. Had a wonderful 5 1/2 months painfree until he ran for the Bridge on 5/15/2013. Always in my heart, and always a guardian angel of my pack... You can follow his Tripawd Adventures, before and after, in my blog, Frank'n'Farter!
Thank you so much for the replies. They have been very helpful!
I wanted to give you an update on what we know now that it has been a few weeks.:
The staging results came back clear. Kitna has no evidence of additional MCTs in his liver, spleen, lymphnodes, or lungs. I have been in contact with a veterinary oncologist at CSU (Colorado State University) and she has given me a few other options. They have a couple of clinical trials that they are doing at the moment with Kinavet, but whether or not Kitna can get into them is dependant on the grade of the tumor.
I had no idea at the time of the staging that grading a tumor is completely different from staging it. Staging tells us the spread, grading tells us how aggressive the tumor is and how likely it is to spread. If I had known that a few weeks ago, we would have done the grading first. Oh well. Now I know for next time.
I called Advanced Veterinary Care in SLC, UT (which is where we paid over $1000 to have the cancer staged) to see how much they would charge us to do the biopsy and they quoted me the exact same estimate for complete removal of the tumor with reconstructive surgery. To backtrack just a wee bit, AVC estimated $2400 for removal of the tumor and $3600 for complete amputation of Kitna’s front leg. I called to get a comparison quote from our primary vet (who can do the amputation, but not the removal due to the tricky location) and he quoted me less than $1000 for amputation. So I am now under the impression that AVC is incredibly overpriced and they have an inflated sense of self-worth. Moving on. . .
I needed to find a place that could biopsy the tumor and send it to CSU, so I called around trying to get prices and I found a place called Mountain View Animal Hospital. Their veterinarian was able to send samples to CSU and she quoted me $550 to biopsy the tumor and send the “cores” to CSU. So last Wednesday we had the tumor biopsied (it wasn’t able to be removed due to the location) and I have had to bring Kitna back to the vet’s every other day (or there abouts; Thurs, Sat, Mon, and today) so that they can check on his wound. Well, on Monday we found out that the biopsy site is infected, so Kitna is now on antibiotics. His bandage fell off last night and I had to rebandage him at home, and now I need to take him back to the vets so that they can redo the bandage.
(Oh, and add to this that the day after we got the tumor biopsied my other dog [a very naughty lab/staffy mix] snitched Kitna’s anti-inflammatory meds off the kitchen counter and ate 450mg of Rimadyl, which I didn’t discover until I got home at 8pm after 8.5 hours at work and 3.5 hours at school. So the day after Kitna got back from the vet’s we had to go to the emergency vets to get Snicker’s to throw up that yummy medication she so greedily stole. I no longer keep dog meds on the kitchen counter. . .I should have known better, but I didn’t think she would be interested in the pill bottle because it wasn’t food. Apparently it smelled like food though.)
Has anyone on here had a mast cell tumor biopsied rather than removed completely? The vet at Mountain View Animal Hospital says that mast cell tumors bleed a lot and they are prone to infection when they are biopsied. But she chose not to put Kitna on antibiotics right after surgery because she didn’t think that the biopsy sites were big enough to pose an infection risk. I’m asking about infection because I am trying to determine if this occurred through no fault of her own or if perhaps there was something that we could have done to make this recovery a bit easier for Kitna. Luckily his foot isn’t bothering him at all and he is walking and running on it with no issues. 🙂
Through talking with my mother, I think we have decided that we don’t have enough money to get the tumor removed and be able to save his leg. So I think we are now down to three options. 1. Amputate through our primary vet and hope that his body can recover quickly and as painlessly as possible. 2. Let the biopsy site heal and leave the tumor alone, watch it, and if it gets any bigger try to shrink it with steroid injections, and then follow that up with blood-work and x rays every 6 months. 3. Let the biopsy site heal and since it is a low grade 2 tumor, put Kitna on Kinavet (which we can get for free through our primary vet due to a very generous donation from another family whose dog passed away from cancer), and hope that that contains it and stops it from spreading.
I think the hardest part about this is I want to make the best decision for Kitna, the one that will give him the longest life, and I don’t know what that option is because I don’t have any way to know exactly how old he is. I’m a bit suspicious that he may actually be closer to 11, because I have never seen a dog without arthritis, who is as active, playful and happy as Kitna is at age “13”.
Thanks again for all of your advice and help. And a special thank you to Christine from Canada. Your story about your 14 year old spaniel gives me a bit of hope that even older dog bodies can handle amputation. 🙂
(Sorry that this post was so long!)
Hey and welcome back, don’t worry one bit about the post length, it’s good to have details so we can be of better assistance.
I’m really sorry you guys have been through so much. It’s hard enough to deal with a cancer diagnosis but then with so many other things thrown in there it really makes things tough. Oh, and just so you know you’re not alone, another member’s dog just did the same kitchen counter antic with Rimadyl and thankfully he was OK too).
OK, so a few thoughts….
Try not to be so hard on the specialty clinic (I’ve heard some great things about that particular one so I’m a little biased to start so take this for what it’s worth). All of us get sticker shock when we see what they charge for what seems like the same procedure as a primary care vet. What we’ve learned is that specialists cost more because you’re 1) paying for their advanced knowledge about the condition being treated and 2) their clinics usually have more modern equipment and protocols which help avoid a lot of post-op issues. If we can afford what they charge they are always worth it in my opinion, it’s like the difference between asking your own family doctor to perform a heart surgery versus having a cardiologist do it.
When the budget is exceptionally tight, having your own general practice vet do it is better than not if they have the track record and modern facility/protocols. We wrote this post about finding a vet for amputation surgery, please check it out before making a final decision.
Now, about whether or not to amputate, it sounds like Kitna has a lot of spunk left in him and as long as you’re confident in his ability to bounce back and have confidence in the vet who does the procedure, he sounds like he is a good candidate for surgery. Cancer aside, what did the vets think about him being a candidate for life on 3 legs?
So I think I ought to clarify a bit. The staff at AVC have been wonderful, and I am sure that they are quite skilled, I just wish I could afford to get the mass removed through them. Removing the mass would probably be the best option for us, but we can’t afford it. So all of my disgruntlement with them comes from their high-prices, not from the staff or the skills of the veterinarians that work there. I do also wonder if perhaps they aren’t tacking on some extra stuff that would be nice to do, but isn’t strictly necessary, like 3 sets of x-rays. Why would x-rays need to be done (for $130 a pop) when we are removing a mass from his leg and not fiddling with any of his bones (aside from the leg) or internal organs? The estimate they gave me had probably about 15 line items on it, and the one that I got from Mountain View had 5. I realize that if I were to get the mass removed with AVC that it would be a more extensive process than a biopsy and so that could be the reason that they had 15 line items on the estimate. But it appears that they were charging for each anesthesia drug individually whereas Mountain View charged for them in a lump. It is interesting to me to see how different veterinary practices will price things. 🙂
With regards to my primary vet, here is a copy of an e-mail that he sent me:
“The hardest part with this to me is Kitna’s age. There is a saying in this business that, “Age is not a disease.” However, I personally would not amputate my own dog’s leg at this age in a large breed dog. Recovery would be much easier in a younger dog, but front legs are much harder than back legs regardless of the age. Yes, everything else looks good in the testing, but it is never a guarantee; they are only able to sample a couple of very small areas compared to the overall sizes of the liver and spleen.
I can’t tell you enough how grateful I am for Dr. Benson. He has been so kind and has been so willing to e-mail back and forth with me about my concerns. I have never met another vet like him. He hasn’t mentioned charging me a consultation for all of these e-mails he has been sending me. I feel like I should pay him for his time lol. Hope that helps answer your question.
(P.S. I’m so happy I’m not alone with my naughty dog lol! I am now firmly against making dog medicine taste good. I would rather struggle with them than have them overdose on a medication because it tasted good!)
I gotcha there, and totally, completely understand where you’re coming from about the specialty clinic. Dr. Benson sounds like a great vet, you are very lucky to have him on your team.
Hello to Kitna and Mom,
So sorry for what you’ve already been dealing with, but I would add my reassurances for an older dog bouncing back from amputation. I was dead set against amputation to begin with, specifically for an older dog, but I’ve changed my tune completely. My Maggie is 12 year old (shepherd/collie mix) and had a growth on her front leg first needle biopsied indicating a possible nerve sheath tumor, then paid a pretty penny for a specialty vet’s office to do surgery which we thought, up until she was on the operating table, would be able to remove the tumor. When they sedated her and did xrays and scans before surgery, they found the tumor was too invasive of the tendons and bones to excise it. They gave us the option of amputation there on the spot, and I was not AT ALL prepared to OK that, so they just took enough for a better biopsy. The tumor was aggressive and even as she healed from the biopsy we could see it was growing more. We got 3 opinions in very short order and scheduled the amputation 2 weeks later. Second surgery at the specialty vet’s office for another whopping charge. I could be kicking myself for not doing the amputation right off the bat, but we didn’t have all the information to make such a big decision. I also didn’t even realize that my local vet could have done both procedures for less than half…but what’s done is done. I have no doubt the specialists are fantastic at what they do, but I also feel we would have gotten more personalized attention from our local vet’s office, so I wouldn’t have any hesitation to skip the specialists if you feel your vet has a good track record, etc.
To address the age issue, Maggie is 12 and acts her age, she had slowed down quite a bit in the last couple of years and has slight arthritis in her back legs. I too was very concerned about her ability to adjust and compensate for losing a leg, however she is now 2 months post-amputation and I’m amazed every day at how great she is doing! I will say that she took about 3 weeks (as opposed to the “average” 2 weeks many people mention) to fully bounce back after surgery and really be acting like herself. She also has not yet gotten comfortable going up and down lots of stairs – she’ll take the 3-4 in and out of the house, but has only twice gone up the full staircase inside. This very likely has nothing to do with age but rather temperament or that fact that I’m a terrible worrier and make her afraid of things unnecessarily. Those are the only 2 things she has struggled with at all. She RUNS. She CHASES SQUIRRELS. She also lays around A LOT, and sleeps A LOT, just like before. 🙂 We go on very short walks, but she has never been happier. Looking back, I now know that she was in pain from the tumor growing undetected for at least 8 months before we noticed a slight limp and had it checked out. All of my concerns about adjusting to life on 3 legs, and some worries during her recovery (yep, I’m a worrier) were gone within a few weeks, and I am so relieved that we went ahead with the amputation and got that crappy cancer off of her. Yes, she’s an old dog…maybe she has 6 months more time with us or maybe 6 years…but it’s absolutely worth it to rid her of that pain for whatever amount of time she has left. Honestly, she still mostly lays around and sleeps a lot, but she’s 20 times happier and more peaceful than she had been with the tumor.
Sorry to go on and on, but I know how much some of the personal stories helped when I was trying to make this decision. Oh, something else my vet said as we were talking it over – any side effects like arthritis, they know how to deal with, dogs can be on low doses of pain medication for the rest of their lives if need be… not like cancer which will just keep attacking and causing more pain.
I wish you the best with these tough decisions. You’re in the right place for information and support.
Cindy and Maggie
PS – I posted a picture of Maggie jumping at a tree trunk after a squirrel, on our blog (“Maggie in Missouri”) and I almost cried with joy when she did that the first time, because I thought this old gal would NEVER be able to do that again. I feel like she has a new lease on life.
I completely agree with Jerry. Cindy, that was very helpful! I was able to locate your blog and I found the pictures of Maggie. 😀 She looks very happy! I’m glad that she is recovering so well. And I completely understand about being a worrier, Cindy. I am one as well, although it’s not so bad now that I am on anti-anxiety drugs. 🙂
I’m planning on speaking to my husband about what he thinks we should do next this weekend. (Since he works nights and I work days we don’t see each other much during the week). Hopefully we can come to a final decision and stick with it lol. I had thought that I had made a final decision a few weeks ago, but then I looked into clinical trials and things kind of spiraled out of control haha.
As Jerry wisely mentioned, do take into consideration Kitna’s – and your – personality when deciding on treatment, too. I also looked into LOTS of other options at first. One of the other possibilities we were given with Maggie was to do radiation to try to shrink the tumor. However, that would have entailed 5 or 6 trips to the vet and being anesthetized each time, and some possible side effects. Maggie is high-strung and hates medical visits. I am high-strung and would have stressed out about any side-effects, or even just the uncertainty of not knowing whether an alternative treatment was working. When Maggie’s people aren’t happy, she’d not as happy. For us, the idea of dragging treatment out over several months seemed like more that we could bear putting her through. It was a lot to wrap my head around at the time, but we came to the conclusion that amputation was actually the LEAST traumatic treatment option for our particular situation. When I was still really undecided and needing a third opinion, I was lucky enough to get a last-minute appointment with a top oncologist at a teaching hospital, and after spending almost 2 hours with Maggie he said that if she were his dog he would amputate and not go through any drawn-out treatments, based on her personality and what would be less stressful for her. Some dogs are totally chill about going to the vet and things like that, but not mine! So that’s definitely something to consider in your case.
I’m glad you had a chance to read about Maggie’s surgery and recovery, since I think she’s probably a typical older dog (not one of those super-dogs whose people describe them as still acting like a puppy! – she’s an old biddy and she knows it!). The only real change since her amputation is that we don’t go for long walks anymore, but now she gets MORE short walks and I’m sure she prefers that anyway since it’s all about the excitement of knowing you’re going for a walk!! – now she gets to experience that several times a day. 🙂 And I’d chalk some of this up to all the attention she’s been getting at home, but I honestly think she’s happier and more content now that she had been for quite some time. Hey, if I get to lay around most of the day when I’m in my 80s, without any significant pain, and with happy people around me who I know love me, I don’t think I’ll complain too much.
Do keep us posted on your decision. You obviously are putting your heart and mind into it and will make the best decision for Kitna based on what will improve his quality of life the most. And that you and your husband can live with, emotionally and financially… we did take this into consideration too, because I think happy people = happy puppies, and vice versa. 🙂
Hugs and tail wags from Cindy and Maggie