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amputation for older dog
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amputation for older dog

Our dog has an amputation scheduled for her front right leg, due to bone cancer.  She is 9 years old, but apart from the bum leg, she is very healthy and active, (the cancer has not affected her behavior, energy, or appetite- just her mobility with the one leg).  My neighbor was shocked when I told her we have an amputation scheduled, (since my dog is older).  Also the diagnosing Vet told me he would not recommend amputation of a front leg on a large dog.  Is kind of upsetting, as my dog is still so full of life, but the leg has just become lame, and is too painful to live with the leg. I read an editorial in which a woman scolded pet owners for extending the life of a pet as she felt it was easier to on the pet to have it put down rather than to have to go through treatments or surgery.  I want to do the right thing for my girl.  She's like a child to us- the thought of ending her life (rather than amputating) seems terrible to me.  But then I certainly don't want to put her through an amputation if that's too hard on an older dog.   I'd especially like to hear from anyone who has experience with an older dog undergoing a front leg amputation. Thank you.  
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675347_tn?1365464245
I can only give an opinion as I have not experienced this same situation. Others may disagree with me. But here goes...

Nine years, in my estimation is not a seriously 'old' dog. Yes, it is 'senior', but depending on breed (some breeds have longer life-spans than others) is not so ancient.
I had a dog that lived to 14. My dog now is 11 and has more energy, general fitness, and good health than many younger dogs. Let's say, if I had to choose whether to try such a major surgical solution, right now, for my dog, I would do it, based on her condition.

There are three options, the way I see it. Leave the cancer (which is unthinkable. If you leave the cancer, she will probably die of it, and it will be excruciatingly painful.) Or have a go at giving your dog a new lease of life. And the third option is euthanasia. But as your dog seems so full of life and does sound fit and ok generally, it might be worth trying. It will not be easy. Rehabilitation afterwards will involve you I should think, in nursing care, and support for your dog as she 'finds her feet' again.

It is difficult, as you know it will be hard for her, and she is not exactly a youngster any more. And yes, major surgery is a shock to the system. Yet dogs are amazingly resilient, they often recover much faster from surgeries, because they have not got the same mind-set as humans. They do not stop to reflect on their plight, or have the inclination to self-pity.

The vet will do pre-op bloodwork I would think, to make pretty sure your dog is fit for the surgery. If there's a green light.....well, the final decision has to be up to you.

My thoughts and best wishes are with you and your dog.

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172023_tn?1334675884
I had a large Doberman who had bone cancer at the age of 8.  It was a bit different than your situation in that it was a rear leg, and admittedly large dogs do better with a rear leg amputation than a front.

It was a painful and difficult situation for us.  We decided we would give it a try.  Death by euthanasia is obviously a final solution, and one we felt we could use if amputation and chemo were intolerable to our beloved boy.

The first weeks were rough.  The university where he had it done had taught us to towel walk him.  He needed constant nursing care.  He could never be left alone.  I work nights and my husband works days, so this worked out well.  Someone had to walk him with the towel multiple times a day.  A suppository had to be used frequently as he had trouble with his bowel movements.  He did have pain that was (we felt) well controlled and he improved markedly in the pain dept after the first 2 weeks.

We did feel during the first week home that we had made a dreadful mistake.  I called the university oncology dept several times asking if they thought he should be put down.  They told me to give him a month, at minimum and were great working with the pain aspect.

By 2 weeks out we felt he would indeed recover and regain a good quality life.  But it was a rough 2 weeks.  I must stress your dog cannot be alone for probably more than an hour.  We had to constantly keep our dog from licking his stitches.  The wound opened anyway and became a messy, draining, stinking problem that required antibiotics for weeks.  We had to become inventive with dressings.

Our dog lived 3 and a half years after amputation and chemo.  We were told with ampuation alone, we could expect 9 months to a year.  Our boy never did have a recurrance of his cancer.  He died of an unrelated heart problem that Dobermans are prone to.  
If the cancer recurs, it will be in the lungs more than likely.

Now...Am I glad we did it?  Yes, I am.  Would I do it again if one of our current dogs had bone cancer?  Reluctantly, my answer would probably be no.  
The statistics for osteosarcoma are dismal.  It is about 98% fatal.  Our dog beat the odds, but had chemo as well as a study drug that I have no idea if its in general use or not.
I feel he suffered greatly during those 2 to 3 weeks, and I'm not sure I'd put another dog through that.

But...we had a wonderfully happy 3+ years with him on 3 legs.  He ran, played, ate, and in general had a great life during that time.  At the time, we were glad we did it.  But it took an enormous amount of time devoted to him, to his meds, to endless bandage changes, to pottying, and a lot of crying when we saw him suffer.  I'm just not sure that I could do it again.

I'm afraid I haven't been much help to you with my jumbled rendition of what happened to us.  Its such a personal decision.  Remember always that euthanasia is available should his course take an unfortunate turn.  If you choose to do it, though...do it and give him a month at least.  

Best of luck,

Peek-
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172023_tn?1334675884
I forgot to say that it was about a month before he could walk well unaided.  Again--I have no idea what it takes for a dog to become mobile after a front leg amputation.  I'm assuming your vet can give you an idea about that.
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Avatar_f_tn
Thanks for the great responses.  I wrote to you privately as well, Peek.  And thanks to Ginger for the good reasoning approach.  
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441382_tn?1329196690
From the way you have described your dog, I would go ahead and have the amputation done.  Nine years is not old if the dog is still healthy (aside from the cancer), and dogs, as well as cats, normally bounce back quite well from amputation surgery.  Animals don't have the psychological ramifications of an amputation to deal with like humans do.  They just readjust themselvesl to the fact that they only have three legs instead of four and go about their lives.

As Ginger said, you have three choices.  You can let her live as long as she can with the cancer, but that will involve terrible pain for her, and probably sooner than later.  You can euthanize her, which seems a shame in a dog that still has a good time living and isn't acting like an old dog to begin with.  Or you can have the amputation done and give her a few more years of happy life with you.  If it were my dog, I would have the surgery done.  I have seen quite a few older, large dogs become tripods, and all did amazingly well.  

Ghilly
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Avatar_f_tn
Thank you Ghilly. I'm feeling better and better about amputating.  Peekawho's dog lived 3+ years- good years- following her dog's amputation, (with osteosarcoma).

My vet doesn't take the shoulder blade in front leg amputations, as she feels this is unnecessarily aggressive/hard on the dog.  I know most vets do take the whole blade to leave a flatter surface, (lessens chance of bone poking through I think).  Do you have any insights into leaving/taking the shoulder blade. If leaving the shoulder is not apt to cause problems, I'd prefer the easier surgery- but just don't know if it's apt to cause problems or not. Thanks. dogmom192
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441382_tn?1329196690
I'm not a vet, so I really don't know what is behind their decision to remove the shoulder blade or leave it other than the usual common sense type things, such as whether or not there is anything questionable looking about the shoulder blade in x-rays or MRIs, in other words, if there are any spots on there that could indicate that the cancer may have started to spread.  In a case like that, it would be better to be safe than sorry, and just take the bone right then and there instead of having to do yet another surgery down the road.  It would also, I would imagine, depend upon the structure of the dog itself with regard to its breed.  Some dogs have a fairly flat shoulder blade, but, for example, a bulldog, might have a more prominent shoulder blade because of how their front legs are kind of bowed and not at all straight like most dogs.

Other than that, I really don't know what to say about this issue other than to trust your vet and trust your OWN instincts.  If, when your vet is discussing the surgery with you, there is something about it that you just don't get a good vibe about, you are completely within your rights to seek out a second and even a third opinion and then go with either the one you feel more comfortable with, or go with the majority in the event you get three opinions.

Ghilly
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