Saturday, January 8, 2011

Would you cut off your dog’s leg?

Yesterday we had a lecture on osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone. Osteosarcoma is not a good cancer, guys. It is liable to occur in younger dogs, it is extremely painful, and no matter what you do, it is almost certainly going to come back.

But there are things you can do to reduce or remove your dog’s pain, and to get more time with him (as much as a few years, sometimes). Because this tumor is so painful and aggressive, you really want to cut it out. But that is awfully hard to do as it usually appears in the long bones of the leg. So the surgical answer is almost always amputation of the limb. Alternatively, you could just do a course of chemotherapy to knock it back for a while, and deal with the pain using analgesics.

Who would want to cut off their dog’s leg? Chemo + painkillers is the obvious answer, right? And yet it is not. Chemo is much less effective than surgery, so you will have less time with your dog if you choose this option. And oral painkillers just don’t seem to help very much with this tumor, so your dog’s quality of life is likely to be pretty poor during that remaining time.

Amputation is actually a pretty good option. It just removes all the pain. And dogs do great with three legs. Dr. Glace said, with his typical deadpan delivery, “Some people say it’s like they don’t know they have lost a leg. That’s stupid. Dogs aren’t that dumb. They know they’ve lost a leg.” But they don’t care about it the way we do. They relearn to walk and then they do fine. Three legs is still one more than most of you have. I have seen three-legged dogs (“tripods”) in a flat-out run. No problems.

Dr. Glace says he won’t amputate a leg from one of the truly giant-size breeds (Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, Newfoundland), but noted that he amputated a leg from a mastiff (those are very big dogs!) a few months ago and the dog did extremely well. To test if the dog would manage successfully on only three legs, he employed the high tech test of picking up one leg and making the dog walk around the room on the remaining ones. Success.

The biggest problem, Dr. Glace says, is that owners really don’t want to amputate their dog’s leg. There is something viscerally upsetting about it. It’s one of those situations where your instincts might lead you wrong, leaving your dog with less time to live and more pain. Personally, I can report that I saw a tripod running an agility course, and she did just fine, even over the jumps. I direct you to this blog post about Serena, an agility tripod. Go tripods!


  1. My good friend found a poodle with three legs on the street and kept her. That dog is doing fantastic. I have not found anything she can't do.

  2. I don't know if you caught this post over at Hoof and Paw, but CyborgSuzy just adopted a tripod dog that came in to her clinic with a shattered leg.

    Successive posts show little Samus doing just fine on only three legs.

  3. Oh, very cool! I didn't even know about that blog, but I'll check out older posts.

    (I like to think that my new dog is half border collie. But who knows.)