A very difficult diagnosis in dogs is Osteosarcoma. It’s painful & an aggressive form of bone cancer that has an affinity for growing within the leg bones of large & giant-breed dogs.
While we have the ability to improve quality of life for a period of time, a cure is not possible. By the time a dog begins limping, microscopic cancer cells have already spread, typically to the lungs or other sites. At some point these tiny clusters of cells will grow into tumors that will ultimately become life ending.
Lameness is typically mild at first but progresses over time. The level of pain can change quickly, from mild to severe if the diseased bone suddenly develops a “pathological fracture”.
Diagnosis is suspected based on characteristic changes seen on x-rays or CT of the affected body part & definitive diagnosis is made via bone biopsy.
Once the diagnosis of osteosarcoma has been made, consulting with a veterinary oncologist is the best next step. Surgery is the key component treatment for osteosarcoma. The most commonly treatment for osteosarcoma is amputation (surgical removal) of the affected limb.
For some, amputation may seem like a “radical” next step. However, those experienced with 3-legged dogs know that most of them adapt quickly & amazingly well, both physically & emotionally, to their newfound “tripod” status.
In order for amputation to be successful, the other 3 limbs must be strong, sturdy & free of other significant disease.
Osteosarcoma is a dreadfully painful disease ! A primary goal is elimination of that pain with restoration of a good quality of life. Amputation has the ability to accomplish both objectives.
Is amputation the right choice for every patient?
No ! The elderly dogs who has been a couch potato, because of severe arthritis in multiple joints, is unlikely to adapt well to life as a three-legged dog. Conversely, the older dogs who has been a lean, mean, running machine will likely be back to all of the usual tricks soon after surgery.
If ever you consider amputation for your dog, it’s crucial that you & your vet have a conversation to determine if amputation makes sense !