We recently had a family adopt our three-legged Shepherd, Axel. Usually it can be quicker to place special needs animals, believe it or not, as they are the ones that really tug on heartstrings. But he was a lot of dog and took a while to find a home. It’s the first time we’ve had a three-legged dog up for adoption and it was interesting to see how well he managed with just three limbs.
Coincidentally, my Golden Retriever, Brandy, has recently been limping. Never a good thing since we know that most animals are stoic and hide injuries, so they don’t become prey, until it’s pretty severe. After several sets of x-rays, two bone biopsies and a consultation with an oncologist, it was determined that he has osteosarcoma, a bone cancer - although this is atypical, of course! Nothing with my animals is clear cut or simple – have you experienced that? Each test is “inconclusive,” which is why we had to repeat the bone biopsy! To complicate matters, because the bone with the lesion on it was weakened, he also fractured it. Of course, that happened right before the holiday weekend! Isn’t that always how it happens?
The standard recommendation for this type of cancer is amputation and chemotherapy. With amputation they figure you can buy 4-6 months of time and with the chemo, if all goes well, the prognosis is 10-12 months. Everything has a cost and when you add to the surgery cost the pain medication, antibiotics, x-rays, bandaging and other supportive care it can quickly mount into thousands of dollars. Since osteosarcoma is a very aggressive cancer, it’s always assumed that it has spread somewhere even if you choose to amputate so even something that drastic is not considered curative.
I started reading up on amputation and what it means to a dog. Since they live in the moment, they seem to adjust to losing a limb fairly easily and the only pain is from the surgery itself, which is relatively short term. This assumes they are otherwise good candidates for the amputation. It’s important that a three-legged dog be kept slender to avoid straining the remaining limbs. It’s also important that they not have dysplasia or arthritis, as that would interfere with their ability to balance on the remaining legs. Losing a front leg is harder on a dog as they carry up to 60 percent of their weight up front. Axel had lost a back leg and was super lean; Brandy’s lesion is on a front leg, unfortunately, but he is also a good weight.
So, we have a couple of big decisions to make. Do we just have the tumor cut away and the leg supported with rods to try to save it? Do we amputate and hope that it buys him some quality time? Do we also treat with chemo? We still have to find out costs and discuss options with the surgeon. Fortunately, we do have pet insurance on Brandy, however there are a lot of exclusions, so we need to get clarification on that as well. In the meantime, Brandy has a big bandage on his leg so he’s already hopping around like he can’t use that limb. Might be good practice for what’s to come. I’ll keep you all posted!
Calling all young animal lovers! Learn about animals and pet care at our Kidz ‘n Critters Summer Camp for kids entering 2nd through 7th grades. One week of fun, learning and spending time socializing with shelter animals. Details and registration form at www.rpanimalshelter.org or at the shelter.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.