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Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat

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Need advice on whether to amputate leg or just go with pain management.
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27 January 2011 - 6:49 pm
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Just found out that McKenzie my 11 year old chocolate lab has bone cancer in her calcaneus. She has had fibrosarcoma 3 times and had each spot removed starting a year and 1/2 ago.  We always new that spreading was a concern but per her CT scans they always had looked good.  A week ago she woke up not standing on her back leg and we took her to the vet and they thought arthritis, so we started her on meds, with no improvement with her using the leg.  Three days later the leg was swollen and that's when we got the diagnosis of bone cancer. I was wondering if amputation should even be a consideration. I went to a specialty vet and she stated she was a good candidate. I am being selfish by wanting the surgery or is it a rational decision.  I don't know much about amputation and was wanting to get feedback from people that have gone through this. The vet stated we could do pain management only also. I thought the diagnosis of cancer a year and 1/2 ago was hard this is worse to have to decide to amputate her poor leg:(



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20 May 2009
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27 January 2011 - 7:58 pm
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I am so sorry about McKenzie's diagnosis.  Making the decision to amputate is a very personal decision and I would never presume to judge what anyone else decides to do.  For me though making the decision to amputate Emily's leg was easy.  Bone cancer is so painful.  Also, by removing the cancer and having chemo done we felt like it was giving Emily the best possible chance.  Things don't always work the way we hope for and we lost our girl ten months after amputation but I am confident we made the best decision for us.  It a personal decision best made by you and your vet and surgeon.  For you to have to go through another cancer is unimaginable.  You love McKenzie best and you will make the right decision.


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.

Calgary, AB
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30 January 2010
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27 January 2011 - 9:12 pm
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Sorry to hear about McKenzie's diagnosis. Tai was 8 when she was diagnosed with osterosarcoma in her front right leg and, like you, we were given the option of pain management or amputation. The option came with a stern warning that pain management would likely only be effective for a couple of weeks and in that time a fracture of the bone with the cancer was highly probable. Amputation would give Tai the best odds of having quality of life. We went ahead with the amputation and within two weeks post amp Tai was back to doing most of the things she loved ALL WITHOUT THE PAIN!!! After a couple of weeks she could easily outrun me and jump in and out of the car, after a couple of months she was swimming and digging holes in the garden. Her life was undeniably altered but her "quality of life", which is what we all strive to achieve, remained. Keep us posted on your decision.

Laura and Angel Tai

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

Member Since:
24 September 2009
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27 January 2011 - 9:25 pm
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Cindy, we are so sorry to hear about McKenzie's diagnosis. It sounds like she is under good care right now and you're talking to all of the right doctors. Usually, we tell pawrents that if a vet believes a dog is a good candidate for amputation, that's a great sign. But if it would help you feel better, get a second opinioin and see what another doc thinks.

We chronicled the amputation experience in our book, "Three Legs and a Spare," and it really shares the ins and outs and what to expect with life on three legs. You can also check our "Required Reading List' to see other articles and points of view about amputation.

The pain of bone cancer is horrible. Yes, you can do pain management , and even try something like bisphosponates to control pain. However, amputation is the only thing that will get rid of the pain permanently. It won't get rid of the cancer, but most dogs will feel 100 pawcent better even whle recovering from surgery, the pain from the tumor is that bad. There are risks from surgery, like anything, so you have to consider that. Things can and do go wrong, but fortunately, not that often. And while we have had pups who, sadly, don't get to beat the odds and live as long as anyone would want, for the most part, pawrents are glad they made the amputation decision because it dramatically increased their pup's quality of life.

Another interesting thing you may want to check out is our Downloads Blog Amputation and Cancer Care Survey Results. You'll see a lot of perspectives from others who have been there.

I hope this helps. Thank you for being here, we're here to answer any questions, or just give a shoulder to lean on. Good luck. Let us know what you decide.

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

Mount Pleasant, Ia
Member Since:
27 October 2010
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27 January 2011 - 9:31 pm
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Cindy I have to agree with Debra and Laura, the decision to amputate is a highly personal one and whatever choice you make is right. I do know thagt the reason I decided to go with amputation with Cooper is because his attitude towards life even at age 9 showed me his determination to live. He was not deemed a good candidate for amputation due to his age weight and back legs being a little weak, but we decided to go ahead with it. We dont regret it a bit, he is back to his normal self and out of pain and we dont have to worry about the bone in his bad leg shattering. This is an excellent place to come and talk to others that have been through this before to help you through the fear and stress of making that decision. We all know that whatever you end up doing will be the right tbhing for both you and McKenzie. Please keep us posted!



Coopsdad/ Kenneth Blackburn

the monkeydogs only THINK they have invaded the tripawd state

My heart lives at Rainbow Bridge
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28 November 2008
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28 January 2011 - 8:40 am
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I will share with you the things the vet told us that helped make our decision.  Bone cancer is incredibly painful and the only way to stop the pain is to amputate.  Trouble wan't the perfect candidate because she was overweight and being a bully breed, carries a lot of her weight up front.  His advise to us was to do the surgery and immediately begin a program to get the weight off.  We were lucky.  Somehow she knew she had to shed the pounds.  With very little modification, she cut back on the amount of food and dropped 14 pounds by the time her chemo was compled.

The next bit of advice he gave was about the chemo.  Her pathology report came back wth the cancer completely contained, and no visible signs of lung mets.  With these two facts he recommended chemo.  I wasn't so convinced.  I had watched my dad suffer through chemo and didn't want my poor little three legged dog to suffer that way.  The vet and my husband finally convinced me to give her one treatment.  If she didn't do well, we didn't have to continue.

Trouble had very few side effects with chemo and now 26 months later, I am so glad I gave her that chance.

This is a very personal decision you are having to make.  Make your decision based on what you know in your heart is the best decision for McKenzie.  There are no wrong decisions.

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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9 March 2010
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28 January 2011 - 9:27 am
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I can't speak from experience of having to make the decision to amputate or not, as our little guy was already a tripawd when we adopted him. I do have to comment though, on you asking if it's selfish for you to want to amputate the leg - and it's absolutely isn't! I think a lot of people have the opposite feeling - we as humans struggle much more with the concept of amputation than dogs do, I promise! If you decide this is the best thing for Mackenzie, she won't even notice her leg is gone before long - you'll be amazed at the things she can still do with ease. As everyone has said, it all comes down to quality of life, and you know your Mackenzie best and which option will offer her the best quality of life.

Pontiac, IL
Member Since:
13 April 2010
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28 January 2011 - 12:08 pm
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Cindy -

We have been in your shoes and know that the "decision" is a difficult one.  Others have said what I have thought but I will share our experience with Ginger, just so I can put my 2 cents in too.

Ginger started limping and off to the vet we went.  X-rays were taken and we were sent to a specialist.  She was diagnosed cancer, there is still some debate if it was osteosarcoma or fibrosarcoma, but whatever cancer is cancer.  We got all the options from our oncologist, Dr. Greene, and then set off to make the decision.  As you, we struggled with how she would do, how she would look, if she could handle such a dramatic change in her life, etc.  We discussed it for hours, held her long and tight hoping for her to answer us and researched the Internet.  Thus, finding this website - which was amazing.  It was truly a gift to know that "we weren't alone."  As that is how we felt.

Ginger's oncologist said that Ginger was a great candadite for the surgery.  Mainly because of her attitude and obvious love for life.  We had some concerns, as Ginger was 9 years old pushing 10, a little over weight, or a little "chunky monkey" as we now lovingly refer to it, and had a previous ligament strain in her remaining "good" back leg. 

Dr. Greene said that she had a dog, about Ginger's age, that was a grumpy, lazy, moody dog and that she would probably not amputate his leg if it ever came to it, just because of his disposition.

She also told us that Ginger was in great pain because of the cancer, but was being a great actress and wasn't showing us.  She said that once the leg was removed, so would the pain. 

Ginger had her right rear leg amputated and we went through 6 rounds of chemo.  There were a few rocky days in the past 10 months but know we made the correct decision for Ginger.  She is doing everything she did before - climbing stairs several times a day, jumping up on the furniture and running around in the back yard. 

You know McKenzie the best - so whatever decision you make, know it will be the right one for her.

Please keep us updated on McKenzie, cause we will all be wondering how you are both doing.

Ginger's Mom - Annie

Member Since:
16 January 2011
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28 January 2011 - 12:33 pm
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Cindy –

I am so sorry you and McKenzie are having to go through this – after I reading your story, I wanted to share something with you….

I am picking up Riley this afternoon from the vet as she had her front left leg amputated yesterday (Jan 27, 2011)

It was not an easy decision - There were lots and lots of tears and soul searching….I decided not to meet with the surgeon yesterday (cuz I was a such a mess) but he did call me right after the surgery and what he said made me realize I had made the right decision……..

What he said was "When I clamped off the nerve going into the affected area on Riley's leg, she let out a huge sigh – he said she was in so much pain that even with the pain meds and being under anestesia she was still holding onto the pain"…."He said once she relaxed, the surgery was a breeze and she did great".


I thought the pain meds were taking away her pain, but all they actually did was just take the edge off….the pain must have been excruciating for her and we had no idea what she was going through……


I know the next couple of weeks are going to be extremely hard – but I realized the decision to amputate was the right one for Riley….

Atlantic City
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16 October 2010
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28 January 2011 - 1:18 pm
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There is no right or wrong answer when whatever you decide is done out of love for McKenzie.  I can tell you that we decided to amputate after understanding that surgery is the only way to end the intense pain of OSA permanently and without any illusion that this would be a cure. Also the pain from the surgery is a fraction of that they are now experiencing.  I can also tell you that Alex recovered in two days from the operation and is enjoying life one day at a time.  Three plus months now and he is the same happy boy doing everything with his pack that he did before.  If it all ended today, I would say this has been 3+ months of quality time I would have never had w/o the surgery...  Check out Alexei's blog (green ball on my toolbar) and see many of the same concerns you are now experiencing.  Bless you and McKenzie.

28 January 2011 - 1:48 pm
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I didn't have a difficult time with the decision to amputate, but can understand how overwhelming that can be. Isabelle was diagnosed the day after she showed any indication of pain. The severe pain from bone cancer, was not something I felt I could allow & I didn't consider pain management an option for her. What I can offer is: The five months since her amputation have, without a doubt, been the best of our life. She didn't miss more than two days & hasn't looked back.

When we were sitting at the hospital, waiting for someone to take her into surgery, an older man came over & sat down with Isabelle. He started telling her about his own struggle with cancer & how he had palliative surgery. He told her that even though he knew his cancer would someday be terminal, his life was still good and he wouldn't trade the past few months for anything. He sat with us until they came to get her. My velcro dog, who turns into a donkey, anytime someone tries to walk her away from me, turned on her back, gave me a paw, licked my nose and walked off, never looking back. If I wasn't positive before, I certainly was then.

Best of luck with your decision. You know Mackenzie best & will make the right choices for her.


Greater Western Washington area
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25 August 2010
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29 January 2011 - 6:08 am
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Hi Cindy,

Like the others I think it really depends on you.  My Sammy was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma and we had decided to do the amputation.  However, before the surgery had occured his leg fractured.  He was in such intense pain, that there was nothing that they could give him at the hospital to stop the pain.  His leg fractured on a Saturday and his surgery didn't happen until Monday.  He went through non stop crying and pain through the weekend.

I will always feel that seeing him hurting like that took any guess work or second thoughts out of the equation.  It also made it become real to me.  His road has been bumpy, but he is very happy now and I love each and every moment I have with him.

Elizabeth and Sammy

Diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the right front leg 8/23/10,

leg fractured 8/27/10,

leg amputated 8/30/10


I couldn't begin to say how special Sammy is to us.  Living and laughing with and loving this wonderful boy is priceless.

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