Bone Cancer in Dogs
FAQs about Amputation
My dog has bone cancer in a limb … Is amputation an option?
Amputation provides permanent, definitive pain relief. It does not cure the cancer, except in extremely rare cases. The first way to attack this disease is to address the pain. In many cases, amputation actually prolongs life because, without it, the pain will eventually become unbearable and lead to a very difficult and final decision.
This disease is aggressive and ruthless. The pain of bone cancer is probably the worst pain ever. Many dogs are stoic, and don’t show how much pain they really have. Others will stop doing their favorite things, develop a limp, sleep more or show a change in appetite. The pain from bone cancer will whittle away at your dog’s spirit, while the cancer whittles away at the bone. There is a risk of fracture through the cancerous bone, which is excruciatingly painful. The quality of your dog’s life will slowly decline due to pain.
Pain medications alone are just temporary until the pain becomes too strong or you decide on an alternate plan. There are several options for pain medications, which should be discussed with your veterinarian. Amputation alone can bring back quality of life.
Fighting cancer is not about “How much time will my dog have?”… It is about “How much quality time will my dog enjoy?”
How do I know if my dog is a candidate for amputation?
Amputation is a major surgery. Your dog must be healthy enough to undergo any major surgery, not just an amputation. Ask your vet to assess the surgical risk and set aside the cancer diagnosis for a minute. Consider your dog’s overall health. Does your dog have a heart, liver or kidney condition or neurologic problems? Does your dog have arthritis in his joints or spine? Is your dog overweight? If the answer to these questions is YES, then your dog may be at higher risk for complications during or after surgery. Discuss your dog’s health issues with your vet. First you must decide if your dog is a good candidate for any surgery. No surgery is without risk, but the overall risk versus benefit picture is important to consider.
If your dog is overweight, start a diet now. If your dog has arthritis issues, consider consulting with an orthopedist. Don’t assume your dog is arthritic because of age or breed. Dogs carry approximately 60 percent of their weight on their front legs. A dog with severe arthritis of the unaffected hip or knee may have some difficulty after surgery. Each case is different. Some dogs are not bearing any weight on the cancer leg and are getting around fine. Tying the affected limb up to assess gait is not a fair or accurate way to determine if your dog will do well on three legs.
Breed, size, age and weight alone are not reasons to avoid amputation. Many older, large and giant dogs have successfully undergone amputation.
Which blood tests and x-rays should be done before surgery?
If possible, blood tests to evaluate kidney and liver function, a urine test and a complete blood count should be done before surgery. A chest x-ray should be done as well, to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lungs.
What if the cancer has spread to the lungs? Is amputation still possible?
It depends on your dog’s overall health, the size, number and the location of the metastases and how much pain your dog is experiencing. Amputation is for pain relief and, despite official statistics, it is possible for a dog to experience quality time for a while, even when the cancer has spread to the lungs.
Can my vet do the amputation? What do I need to know?
Many primary care veterinarians are quite comfortable with amputation surgery. Others might refer to a general surgeon or orthopedist. The most important thing is that you have an excellent relationship with your vet. There is no room in the management of this disease for pessimism. “Putting the dog down” is not the only way to manage this disease. Find a vet you can talk to and work with. (Click here for Questions to Ask the Vet about Surgery.)
What does the amputation site look like?
Look at pictures ahead of time if you can. There will be a large incision and there may be some bruising, which is normal. Sometimes there is a dressing over the wound. When you first see your dog, you will be emotional. Be happy to see your dog … He/she will be happy to see you. Remember, dogs don’t have psychological issues with amputation.
After a few days, the bruising will start to fade. The stitches or sutures usually come out 10-14 days after surgery, at which time most dogs are back to normal activity.
How can I prepare for the amputation? How long is the recovery period?
The average recovery time is usually between 10 and 14 days. Speed of adjustment post-amputation is not associated with body weight, age, front or rear amputation.
Most dogs are up and moving about the day of surgery or the next day, depending on the dog.
The pain relief is so obvious that some dogs will literally be running around, even though they will require supervised rest to allow proper healing. Some dogs experience side effects to pain medications, but most recover without incident. At 4 weeks, the great majority of dogs are fully adapted to their new tripawd status.
You may need to use a sling or harness to help your dog walk and negotiate stairs. Some dogs do well with ramps. Some dogs develop bruising or drainage from the wound. (Click here to read about Bruising and Seromas.)
Many dogs are completely back to a normal activity level by the time the sutures or staples are removed.
How will my dog adjust to the amputation?
The front limbs bear approximately 60 percent of the dog’s weight and are responsible for most of the stopping phase of the gait. This means, with a front limb amputation, the remaining front limb will bear approximately 50 percent of the dog’s weight. Front limb amputees may have more difficulty maintaining their balance early on after surgery when trying to stop.
The rear limbs bear the remaining 40 percent and are responsible for the movement phase of the gait. This means, with a rear limb amputation, the remaining rear limb will bear approximately 25 percent of the dog’s weight. Rear limb amputees may have more difficulty gaining speed.
Won’t my dog be embarrassed? I don’t want my dog to lose his/her dignity.
Dogs don’t see things the way we do. They know something is different, and they adapt. In fact, rate of adjustment is actually faster with a positive reaction from the family. They shift their weight, balance their tails and move on. They learn how to climb stairs, relieve themselves, chase tennis balls, swim, jump on the couch and everything else they did before the amputation. They don’t lie around wondering about their appearance.
Your dog may not be as fast, and may need some help jumping into the car, but he will still be the same dog you have always loved. Allowing your dog to live a quality life, no matter how short or long, without pain, is a very dignified thing to do.