Osteosarcoma in Dogs: The Truth About Amputation

Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer that affects the bones. It’s most common in large and giant breeds like German shepherds, Saint Bernards, and boxers. Osteosarcomas can affect any bone in the body, but they’re most common in the limbs. However, they can appear anywhere on your dog’s body, including its head and rib cage. 

Signs of Osteosarcoma in Dogs

Tripod dog uses wheelchair to explore

The signs of osteosarcoma depend on where it appears, but they can include:

  • Lameness or discomfort when walking or moving
  • Swelling around the affected area
  • A change in your dog’s normal gait (how they walk)
  • Pain when you touch or move the affected area

Osteosarcomas spread quickly through your dog’s body, which makes them difficult to treat successfully. If your vet suspects your dog has osteosarcoma, they will perform blood tests and imaging tests to determine whether there are any other areas affected by cancerous cells as well as to determine whether it has metastasized (spread) beyond its original location. 

The next step your vet will likely recommend, especially if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body, is amputation of the affected leg.

Lab missing a back leg uses dog wheelchair for balance

Amputation is often recommended because the cancer has spread to the bone, and no other intervention can be done. The goal of amputation is to remove all of the tumor because it can continue to grow even after being removed from the body.

The surgery takes about 2 hours and involves removing the entire leg at the shoulder joint, including some skin and muscle tissue. The surgeon will then clean out any remaining cancer cells in and around the bone with a special tool called an ultrasonic surgical aspirator. Any dead or damaged muscle tissue will also be removed. Depending on size, the wound will then be closed with sutures or staples.

Your dog will need to stay at the hospital overnight following his surgery so that he can receive antibiotics and pain medications around-the-clock until discharge. He may also require additional pain medication as needed for up to two weeks following his discharge home from the hospital.

Dogs with Three Legs Have Just as Much Fun

Amputee dog uses Walkin' Wheels wheelchair

A dog who has lost a leg can be a bit wobbly at first, so make sure that there are no stairs or other hazards in the house that can cause him to fall down them. You may also want to install ramps so that he can get outside easily without climbing stairs. If your dog walks slowly or gingerly on his three legs, then consider getting him some special boots, like Walkin’ Traction Socks, that will protect his paws from getting hurt when walking on slippery surfaces like tile floors or hardwood floors (these boots are usually made from rubber).

Many dogs actually do better with three legs than with four. Having one less leg means they may not run as fast, but they generally don’t have any problems playing as any other dog does once they have healed from the surgery and regained their balance.

Some owners might notice that their dog’s gait is more like a “gallop” than a walk, but this is normal because dogs use their back legs more when they’re missing one front leg, and the same if they’re missing a back leg. If your dog seems uncomfortable, talk to your vet about options for managing the problem while still allowing them to keep their natural gait.

Join a Support Group

Before or after your dog has its leg amputated, you can join a support group and connect with other dog owners who have gone through similar experiences. Tripawds is an excellent resource for dog owners who have a dog that has undergone amputation. They offer discussion forums, blog articles, and e-books to help you get through your dog’s limb loss and help them on their journey back to full mobility.

Guest Author:
Drake Dog Cancer Foundation

The Drake Dog Cancer Foundation is committed to all facets of dog cancer, with an aim to prevent dog cancer via education and provide actionable advice to families who are currently on the dog cancer journey.

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