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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My name is Sara and my old man Oscar was just diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in his front shoulder. He is an 80lb boxer mix and almost 13 years old. His mobility has been on the decline for over a year now but he started limping badly a few weeks ago. I took him into the vet and first they tried Rimadyl 75mg to treat possible arthritis in his elbow. They also stated that he has significant muscle atrophy in his hind legs. After a couple of weeks on Rimadyl, I decided to take him back in as his limp was still present. That’s when they x-rayed. At first look, they saw a number of bone “spikes” along his back and said his neck had limited range of motion so they suspected nerve pain due to the abnormalities in his spine. The next day, today, I got the worst news, the radiologist noticed the tumor in his front shoulder and diagnosed him with Osteosarcoma.
The vet said given his age and other problems (back problems and hind legs) Oscar would not be a good candidate for amputation. Which in my understanding is the only way to really help the pain long term with this disease. The outlook seems pretty grim unless you treat with amputation and chemo. Oscar is currently taking gabapentin twice a day and Rimadyl once a day for pain management but he is still limping around. He also takes turmeric with black pepper and glucosamine plus chondroitin. I know he’s in pain but he is still following me into every room and is eating and drinking normally. He still gets excited to go on walks. I always offer and he jumps right up for his short walk around the block. So I’m hopeful that his pain is not more than just stiffness and mild discomfort. His walks are slow and he limps the whole way but he seems to enjoy himself sniffing around and leading me around the block.
So my first question is: Do you think the vet is correct in thinking amputation is not an option for my Oscar? (I have an appointment with the oncologist tomorrow so I’m eager to hear what he thinks.) However, I thought it might be helpful to have a few insights from other amputee parents to ask him about. Especially those with dogs that had amputations later in life.
Second: Is amputation and chemo the only protocol people have found success in relieving the pain with this disease and extending quality of life? During my research, I came across Dr. Charles Loops who prescribes a homeopathic treatment that he claims to have success with osteosarcoma for dogs that have had both amputation and chemo, but has also had success with homeopathic treatment alone. My initial thoughts after reading his website were that he has a business of using people’s desperate moments to make some money in a way that won’t bring harm but probably doesn’t really help. However, he does have some great reviews and no terrible ones so it might be worth a shot if Oscar really isn’t a good candidate for amputation.
Any and all advice and/or insights are much appreciated. I’m devastated by the news as Oscar is the best dog anyone could ask for. He’s so loved by not just me but all my friends and family as he has gone absolutely everywhere with me for the past 13 years. All I want to do is the best I can for him and ease his suffering. The last thing I want to do is add to it.
Thank you so much.
So, I hope you don’t mind that I moved your post here, but it’s one of the best places to share stories like Oscar’s, and meet others with senior dogs who have been in your situation. Oscar sounds like such an amazing boy!
I will tell you that you aren’t the first person with a senior dog to question the amputation decision, and that is totally understandable. But here’s what I’ve learned from talking to vets; neither size, nor age, should exclude a dog from amputation surgery as long as they are otherwise healthy. It’s very old school thinking otherwise, and that’s not what you and Oscar need right now. I’m not saying your vet is old school, but in a situation like this, multiple opinions mean everything. I’m glad you are talking to an oncologist. Nice job! Here is a link to a blog post that has some questions you can ask during your meeting:
You may also want to talk to an orthopedic specialist, as they can provide a different perspective than an oncologist. If Oscar’s rear end is so bad that he won’t be a good candidate, an ortho vet will know, and tell you. So if you can swing that third consult, it’s a good idea.
Yes, amputation is the fastest and most surefire way to alleviate the pain of osteosarcoma. But you may also want to discuss palliative care, with stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT), if the oncologist feels Oscar is not a good candidate. Here is Hazel’s story about palliative care with SRT:
Dr. Loops does practice a form of medicine that skeptics say doesn’t have enough evidence to prove it works. But he has quite a good reputation and track record, and among our members as well. We have personally met two dogs who were treated with his protocols and nothing else aside from amputation, and they beat the odds. Here are some stories about him (you’ll have to scroll through a few random search results);
Whatever you decide, it’s obvious that you are making this decision with lots of love. We will support you no matter which path you take, and Oscar will always love you too.
Please let us know how the appointment goes.
5 November 2019
I am sorry to hear about Oscar and wish you the best as you navigate all these decisions.
I wanted to chime in because I also received an osteosarcoma diagnosis yesterday for my boy Samson, Great Pyrenese/Border Collie mix. He is 11 almost 12. I was surprised when the vet balked when I asked about amputation and her only reason was that he is old, he is otherwise healthy save for the pain in his leg, and the cancer I’m sure is lurking, I’m trying to be realistic too, but that has not overtly surfaced anywhere else yet. She insisted that an old dog would not adapt. I dunno, this site seems to have a lot of exceptions to her rule. We are seeking a surgical consult, I feel like someone who has the experience of doing amputations will be in a much better position to give us advice.
Again best wishes to you and Oscar. I try to hold on to the idea that when we make our choices in the best interests for our family, furry or otherwise they are not wrong, though they may be incredibly hard.
18 October 2009
Hello and welcome to you and Samson, your future posts will not have to wait for approval.
Thank you for joining this thread and sharing your story, I’m sorry you got the diagnosis.
You might consider starting your own thread for Sampson so we can learn all about him and follow his story.
I try to hold on to the idea that when we make our choices in the best interests for our family, furry or otherwise they are not wrong, though they may be incredibly hard.
Karen and the Spirit Pug Girls
24 June 2019
Age is always a concern, but not the only deciding factor. My Riot was over 12 when he had his amputation due to osteosarcoma. He’s a GSD/Malamute mix. We opted for chemo as well. He just finished that, and has no visible cancer at this point. He has some mild arthritis in his remaining legs, but they vets did say if it was more advanced, they wouldn’t have done any amputation.
19 July 2016
I’m so sorry about Oscar’s diagnosis. My Isa was a senior – not sure of her exact age (got her at a shelter and they clearly had it wrong) but she was 12 or 13 at (osteo) diagnosis, large girl – lab/rottie mix, 90 lbs.
We didn’t xray her back until after the amputation – and her back was in pretty bad shape, arthritis and I forget what other issues. I have wondered if our vet would have done the amp if he’d seen the x-rays beforehand. Post-amp we did cortisone injections and they helped almost miraculously. She got around great (until the cortisone wore off) and never had a problem adapting to three legs. I got another six months with her that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I second Jerry’s suggestion of an orthopedic vet. If you decide for amputation, sign up for rehab the second the stitches come out! It will make all the difference for Oscar.
Keep us posted. You couldn’t have found a better group of people to help you through this.
Teri, the Roxinator and Angel Isa
Right rear leg amp 7/12/16 due to OSA. Metastatic lesion on her right front leg, January 2017. Joined the Winter Warriors January 19, 2017. Run free my sweet girl.
Thank you, Jerry, for all the wonderful information and hopeful thoughts. I’m so grateful to have found this community which has already shown so much support.
I wanted to give an update on Oscar’s first oncologist consultation as it could bring information and hope to others. The oncologist confirmed that Oscar has a tumor in his right front shoulder that has a 90% likelihood of being osteosarcoma. He took lung x-rays and found no sign of cancer in them. Which is excellent news! After doing a physical on Oscar this oncologist decided amputation followed by 6 rounds of chemo would be the best course of action. I made sure to ask him about arthritis already present in Oscar’s other limbs but he believes Oscar would handle being a tripawd just fine.
The chemo protocol this oncologist suggested was alternating between Doxorubicin and Carboplatin. Starting with Carboplatin, 3 weeks later doing Doxorbicin, alternating between the 2 every 3 weeks for 6 treatments total. He said he chooses to alternate because he sees fewer side effects when alternating and also has success with putting the dog into remission with the 6 treatments. He said that with amputation and this chemo protocol Oscar would pass away from something other than bone cancer when his time came. He said he doesn’t call it cured but remission is highly likely.
Of course, this is exactly what I wanted to hear. I’m now super hopeful that Oscar won’t have the painful journey I imagined when my primary vet broke the grim news to me.
Now I just want to make sure Oscar’s path to remission is the best possible one. I’ve scheduled a consultation with an ortho surgeon for Monday, fingers crossed that he too feels Oscar will have a good life as a tripawd. I’ve also scheduled a different oncologist consultation for Tuesday just to get a 2nd opinion and compare clinics. I want to see which one Oscar and I are most comfortable with as we’ll be spending a lot of time there. The 2nd oncologist consultation will also include another amputation estimate. So, after Tuesday I’ll have 2 oncologist estimates and treatment plans plus 3 different ortho surgeon estimates for amputation.
The first amputation estimate came in over $5000 which even the oncologist that works with the hospital was shocked by. He advised me to contact other hospitals for estimates as he believed the amputation should be around $3000 at most. After calling 12 different hospitals I’ve found most will not give an estimate of surgery cost over the phone and insist on a consultation first. So I went with the best-reviewed one and scheduled the Monday consult with them. The hospitals that gave me at least a rough estimate ranged from $2000-$4000. With one being super low at $1600. However, the veterinarian doesn’t seem to be a board-certified surgeon even though his office claims surgery is his passion. When I asked they said he performs amputations regularly. Another red flag is they don’t staff anyone throughout the night. So I’d have to take Oscar home the evening after surgery or leave him there unsupervised. A 3rd option would be to transfer him to a staffed hospital.
I’ll wait until after the last consultation on Tuesday to even begin making a decision on how to move forward. I just wanted to keep updating throughout this process in case anyone has advice or information to add. Others might find the information helpful as well.
Thank you all for the support and help! Today things seem to have a more positive outlook.
Wow Sara this is terrific news, it made my day! I love that you are getting multiple opinions, Oscar is so fortunate to have you for a mom.
You’re right, over $5k for amputation alone is quite high. I can see that in New York and the SF Bay Area, but elsewhere? Hmm. Although cost varies depending on where you live (see “Costs of Amputation” discussion) generally we see amputation in the $2k-$4k range. It’s important to compare apples to apples with estimates. The $1600 one is likely so low because that clinic doesn’t offer overnight care. With a senior dog, if you can swing the cost of a 24/hr clinic, I would go with that one instead. I would never, ever leave an animal unsupervised at night after any surgery procedure. Most importantly in my book, you may also want to consider the hospitals that are AAHA-accredited. They will cost more, but are worth it in terms of standard of care.
When it comes to treatment procols, it really depends on what the oncologist has more success with. Most will do straight carboplatin for 4-6 sessions but if this onco vet sees greater success, and is confident alternating, then that’s their recipe for success. Did the vet mention the potential for Doxorubicin side effects at all?
Hi Jerry, Thank you for your kind words. Today has been a much brighter day than yesterday.
I agree that the cheap vet does not seem to be a good option. I 100% agree that there should be overnight care whenever surgery is performed, especially one that’s so invasive. I recall a friend years ago loosing their young great dane due to developing a blood clot after amputation during the night when the office was unstaffed. They hadn’t thought to ask and just had assumed someone would be providing aftercare throughout the night. Their story has stuck with me and I always ask about staffed hours.
Thank you for the AAHA-accreditation tip. I’ll add that to my list of criteria for choosing a hospital.
Yes, he did mention that Doxorubicin can have negative side effects such as nausea, tiredness, diarrhea and not wanting to eat. They included medications to combat these side effects in the estimate they wrote up for me. They said I can choose to take the drugs home with me just in case he has the symptoms or that I can call and pick them up should he need them. Whatever I feel the most comfortable with. Oscar has always had a sensitive stomach so I was thinking I’d have the medications on hand if I need them.
Thank you again for all the amazing information and support!
You are so welcome! I have all the confidence in the world that whoever you choose for Oscar will be highly qualified. You do fantastic research!
I’m sorry about your friend’s Dane. At least now that you are in the same situation as far as deciding amputation, his memory will guide you in your choice of clinic.
4 April 2019
Hi Sarah and Oscar,
Just wanted to let you know Brownie is a senior. He was 10 days before his 12th birthday at time of amputation and pulled thru surgery and recovery like a champ! It did take him a few weeks to get his personality back. His amputation alone was 2200.00 which included two nights at the vet. It did not count the testing before surgery. 5k seems a little steep.
We did not do chemo. I just did not feel it was right for Brownie. He stresses so badly at the vet or if I leave him anywhere and just couldn’t do that to him.
His vet told me 3 months survival time without chemo. On Nov 26 it will be 9 months. We did do a few rounds of ozone therapy. It’s the same treatment Lance Armstrong had. I changed his diet and use supplements. As they say every dog is different. And as Sally saids “nobody has a date stamped on their butt”
I hope everything works out for you and Oscar. I think it’s wonderful you are checking out all avenues. Just shows how much love you have for him!
28 July 2019
Hi Sarah (and Oscar) –
Grover and I share some similarities to you guys – so I thought that I would chime in to share our experiences … which is certainly not meant to discredit your veterinarian’s opinion or evaluation.
Grover is a 10 year old 100 lb Great Dane. Prior to being diagnosed with an osteosarcoma in July he already had significant osteoarthritis, angular limb deformities (from when he was a puppy), lumbosarcal disease and cervical cord compression – we kept him active with regular hiking, but he was not exactly your “ideal candidate” for an amputation. We had many discussions with his team – the orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, oncologists, rehab etc. Understandably, everyone expressed concern that he may not be able to be adequately ambulatory on 3 legs, particularly loosing a front leg with his hind end already being weak. I found out after his surgery that many people really questioned our decision to amputate and whether or not we were being selfish. I get it, I really do … but I’m glad that Grover proved them wrong. 🙂
Long story short – the first 3 weeks were rough but today, Grover just hiked up to the top of our favorite butte for the first time post amputation …. which is quite the feat given our goal was simply be able to get up and go potty. He plays with his toys, runs, jumps on and off the beds. He does almost everything he did before surgery. His only “limitation” is that he maxs out hiking wise at about 1 mile 3x per week (previously we did about 4 miles 2-4x/week). But as our oncologist put it, how many 4-legged 10 year old Great Danes are hiking a mile in elevation 3x per week anyways. 🙂
This was a very hard time for us … so much pressure and so many big decisions. I hope you find peace and a team that will support you and fight for you, no matter what you decide.
I wanted to update everyone on what’s going on with Oscar. After seeing the other oncologist who also thought amputation and chemo would be Oscar’s treatment plan we found a surgeon that could amputate that same night. His tumor was visibly large than the previous week and we didn’t want to wait another day getting rid of it.
We are now at four days post-op! He came home late on day two. That first night was a rough one. I “slept” on an air mattress beside his recovery area and hardly closed my eyes. I just stared at him and worried. I worried if his other legs were strong enough to do this. He looked so miserable and weak. When we tried to take him outside to potty he refused to put any weight on his legs. He just kept collapsing on us. It was awful.
The next morning I didn’t attempt to get him up and went about my morning routine. As I was feeding the other dogs I looked over and Oscar stood up and took his first steps towards the kitchen! He had done it all on his own! My husband was able to capture a photo of him standing there. Best photo ever!
The rest of the first day was a little rough. He didn’t want to stand again the rest of the day and refused to put any weight on his legs like he’d done the first night. I think the weather had a lot to do with his mood. It rained non-stop the entire day and into the night.
Well, today was a different day. It was one of those perfect sunny days. We started the day by taking him outside and placed him in the grass. Not even 2 minutes later he got up, walked a few steps and went potty! All by himself! I was there of course in case he needed me but he didn’t. He handled it like a champ! He’s now gone outside and used the bathroom four times today!
It seems like any time we try to help support his weight he gives up on walking. So we just walk beside him and help him stay balanced. We bought a sling but he hates it and won’t move if we try to use it. To carry him outside into the grass we use a baby crib mattress on top of a throw blanket. It acts as a stretcher so that he uses his energy outside to potty instead of to get outside. He’s a big dog at 80lbs and it takes two of us to carry him out. We use the crib mattress as a dog bed because they’re firm and come with a waterproof, washable cover. $60 from Ikea so they’re cheaper than any other dog beds their size.
For his recovery area, we have a gymnastics tumbling mat with a quilt over it, and an orthopedic dog bed with pillowed edges and the crib mattress. He goes from one area to the other several times a day. I believe the difference in the firmness of each area has helped keep him comfortable.
We’re also using ice packs on his incision and other legs multiple times a day. His incision looks great with no bruising nor swelling. We figured his other legs could use it too as they are working extra hard. Especially his front shoulder and leg as he is a front leg amputee.
The best advice we’ve gotten was to stop treating him like a patient, remove the fence we had around his recovery area and just be our normal selves. Removing the fence showed an instant improvement in Oscar’s mood. We’re so proud of how good he’s done with this and look forward to each new day of improvement. I hope his first few days of recovery will help give others the confidence that an old dog can do it. Oscar is 13 and has a whole new chapter of life to live. Thank you to those that posted and offered their advice and support. This website is amazing and I’ll continue to keep everyone updated on our best boy.
Oh and he’s already trying to follow me if I leave the room as he has always done. However, we did not expect him to do this so early and haven’t placed carpet over the tile throughout the whole house yet. We’d only placed it in the kitchen and living room thinking it’d take a week or so for him to need to go anywhere else. Guess he has other plans.
WOW Oscar, you are amazing! Poopin’ and eating and everything? Great job! That is the kind of senior dog recovery story we all hope for, and yes you are proof that it can happen. What a champ!
Yeah I’ll bet those first couple of days were tough. It’s not easy for us to see our doggies like this, all dopey from the meds and tired from the big surgery. But people tend to furget that they would be much worse off after an amputation surgery. You really showed ’em my friend.
I would loooooove to see that photo of you standing up for the first time. Here are instructions for adding images to the forums. Let me know if you would like help.