Primary Chondrosarcoma of the Spine, Jake’s Story

When pawrents learn that their dog has bone cancer, they often second guess their decisions leading up to the diagnosis. They find themselves wondering “Why didn’t we see it? Maybe we should’ve done this…or that…” Many wonder; if we knew he had cancer sooner, would things be better?

Sarah was one of those pawrents. She and her 5 year old Portuguese water dog, Jake, recently came to us through Tazzie, a mutual friend in Canada. Sarah posted in the forums, looking for advice when Jake’s spinal bone cancer became dramatically worse.

She and Jake had walked a long road up to the bone cancer diagnosis. His behaviors exhibited possible diagnoses ranging from a ruptured disc  to arthritis. When cancer was finally discovered, Jake wasn’t an amputation candidate because the cancer (later inconclusively diagnosed as chondrosarcoma) was in his spine.

Sarah found little information online about bone cancer in the spine, and unfortunately we too made the same discovery. Sadly, in just eight weeks, Jake’s health rapidly declined and the intense pain was too much to bear. After a bone biopsy was taken, he could hardly walk and suffered from bouts of intense pain. Sarah released him from his pain on December 12th, just two days later.

Afterward, Sarah told us that she was completely unprepared for the way in which bone cancer in the spine presents itself in dogs. It was distressing not to find even an ounce of hope or ways to cope.

But Jake’s death will not be in vain. Sarah wrote the following summary of her experience, to help anyone else who might find themselves with a dog suspected of having spinal bone cancer. We are grateful for the time she took to help others in this way.

Please read on to learn about the symptoms, behaviors and progression of this devastating presentation of bone cancer.

Swim on, Jake, you will never be forgotten . . .

Primary Chondrosarcoma of the spine – Jake’s Story

by Sarah Crook

Written in the hope that reading it you will be more prepared to cope with this awful disease than I was. The progress of the disease from no symptoms to death took 8 weeks. The cancer was located in the C7 vertebra (lower neck).

Early signs (first two weeks):

  • A stiffness that developed after 15 to 20 minutes walking. Jake woke up in the morning seemingly fine – the stiffness was only obvious with exercise and occurred even with moderate exercise, like leash walking. Round the house Jake’s activity seemed normal and the stiffness was not apparent (this pattern seems unlike what I have read about arthritis where the dog wakes stiff, then it gradually wears off).
  • A reluctance to go up/downhill that I noticed when walking Jake off-leash. Jake still followed but lagged behind.
  • A cautious approach to going up/down stairs especially after a walk when he had stiffened up
  • Cautious approach to getting in and out of car – fairly subtle. Just a hesitation before jumping and a preference to climb in rather than jump..
  • A reluctance to stretch his head down to eat or drink. Backed off and barked at his food bowl until I raised it up.
  • Very subtle – I only thought of this in retrospect – sometimes a slight unsteadiness when he cocked his leg for a pee.

Middle period (middle four weeks):

  • After 2 weeks Jake was seen by a vet who physically examined him and found stiffness in his neck and a reaction (growl/snap) when upper back was pressed hard. Soft tissue injury was suspected and Jake put on Metacam and restricted exercise.
  • On Metacam he seemed livelier around the house and more playful – but the stiffness and stiff-legged gait still continued when exercised and as things progressed, would start after only 5mins. A video clip taken at this time shows his normal walk when setting out, then the stiff-legged ‘walking on eggshells’ gait that he would suddenly adopt; and his cautious approach to going down a step.
  • After 14 days of Metacam and no obvious improvement, Jake was put on Robaxin – a muscle relaxant. Robaxin made him much WORSE. He was clearly uncomfortable in the house – standing looking miserable, seemingly afraid of sitting or lying down (as if he thought it would hurt – which it probably did). His back legs became noticeably weak and he hard difficulty climbing upstairs (ataxia). I was especially aware of him being restless through the night (prior to this he slept well) – he would sleep for a few hours then wake apparently in discomfort and take 5 or 10 minutes to lever himself up and settle into a new position. Later, I found out from the oncologist that this was not unexpected – Jake’s muscles would have been protecting the painful part of his spine, and with the muscle relaxant they could no longer do this.
  • After 5 days took him off Robaxin and the vet put him back on Metacam. Ataxia lessened, slept well again, things seemed to improve – but in retrospect he did not recover to pre-Robaxin level. Jake started doing ‘girlie’ pees and if he tried to cock his leg consistently lost his balance. I later learned the weakness in his back legs and the uncoordinated gait (‘ataxia’) that developed were the result of the tumour and/or associated inflamed tissue compressing the spinal cord.

End Phase (last two weeks):

  • Increasing unsteadiness of back legs so took Jake once more back to his vet. Same stiffness in neck and sore place on upper back. Blood samples were taken to rule out the slight chance of a tick born disease and vet referred Jake to a surgical specialist and a neurologist.
  • Surgeon examined Jake and suspected ruptured disc – recommended MRI.
  • Neurologist examined Jake and suspected lesion in lower neck and upper back (either two separate ones or one big one) Recommended CAT scan.
  • Cat scan showed tumour in C7 vertebra about 2x2cm in size, and a biopsy was taken. I met with an oncologist and decided to have one radiation treatment to see if it would reduce the pain and inflammation. If not, I would have him put to sleep.

Last Two Days:

Jake came home on a Thursday afternoon after having the CAT scan and bone biopsy the previous night. He was on Perkocet but a couple of hours after getting home had a bout of severe pain – later I thought this episode must be similar to ‘breakthrough’ pain suffered by human cancer victims.

He had two more of these attacks on Friday night and then early Saturday morning, in spite of having started on stronger pain relief (morphine and Gabapentin – and more Metacam, although he deteriorated so fast I never got around to adding this to the cocktail) and they all followed the same pattern – 5 to 10 minutes of increasingly fast panting, signs of acute pain (groaning and struggling to his feet to stand hunched over, head hanging, tongue lolling) lasting 10 – 15 minutes; 20 – 40 minutes of gradually winding down (I could get him to sit on my lap and would rub him and try to calm him). On Saturday I decided enough was enough, it was too late to try radiation therapy, and I had him put to sleep that afternoon…

In retrospect

  • I am not sure if I wish I had asked for an X-ray early on and found the tumor sooner. Early diagnosis would have meant when he could still run around I would not have been limiting his exercise and keeping him on-leash all the time… and there would have been time to plan treatment such as radiation therapy. However, the bone biopsy would also have been done sooner and maybe even early on the consequences (huge increase in pain and decrease in mobility) would have been the same as below – see next point.
  • I would not have had the bone biopsy done without much more careful consideration – I blame this for the rapid deterioration in Jake’s condition at the end – hugely increasing the pain and causing increased inflammation that severely impacted his mobility and comfort level: he could hardly walk when he came home his back-end was so uncoordinated and weak.
  • I would have asked the oncologist for pain meds. to deal with the ‘breakthrough’ pain (if indeed that was what it was). If there aren’t any effective drugs to deal with it, I would have at least discussed what I could/should do if these attacks happened.
  • I would have had the consulting oncologist leave a prescription for stronger pain medication with an 24hr animal clinic in case Jake suddenly got worse in the night or at the weekend when she could not be contacted.
  • I would have got the contact details of a call-out vet who could come and put Jake to sleep when Jake’s own vet clinic was closed….

Jake’s own vet and the specialists he referred me to were consistently caring and conscientious. Both contacted me this week after I wrote to them raising some of the issues I mention above. They spent nearly an hour going through things with me, so I think they deserve credit for this, especially my vet, as he must have known the length of time in getting to a diagnosis would be a tricky subject to discuss.

Not a happy end to a bright and loving creature. If you are facing the same I know reading the above will be distressing – but I hope it will help you make the right choices for your pet.

Best wishes, Sarah

Osteoarthritis Help for Your Amputee Dog

Jerry was our first dog, and even after his leg amputation in 2006, we knew zilch about canine rehabilitation (known as “physical therapy” in the human world). It’s only recently that we’ve become aware of this life-changing therapy, and we want to start sharing what we are learning with all of you.

Connecticut-based “Wizard of Paws,” Dr. Debbie Gross Saunders was brought to our attention by our friend, renowned dog behaviorist and trainer Sarah Wilson.

Dr. Saunders is a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner who is well regarded in the performance sports dog world. She is one of the founders of the first and only university based program in canine rehabilitation – University of Tennessee’s Canine Physical Rehabilitation Program. Along with her therapy services, she teaches  and has a variety of DVDs to help dog parents practice safe and effective therapy at home.

Dr. Saunders was kind enough to send us a copy of her newest video, “Osteoarthritis and Your Dog” for review.

Osteoarthritis and Your Dog: What it is, and How to Help

Osteoarthritis is a painful, degenerative condition that affects dogs of all ages. When one of these arthritic dogs is told that a spare leg  has to be amputated, pawrents agonize over the amputation decision more than others. They wonder:

Can a three legged, arthritic dog have a good life?

After watching Debbie’s video, we think that for most dogs, consistent therapy exercises like the one in Dr. Saunder’s video will go a long way in providing a great quality of life as a Tripawd.

The first half of the video will hit you with a lot of information. Be sure to have a notepad ready to take notes. Although we wished it had informational graphics to study, Dr. Saunders does a fantastic job conveying what we need to know about osteoarthritis if your dog receives an osteoarthritis diagnosis.

The rest of the video is an awesome instructional guide to performing canine massage and range-of-motion exercises at home. Dr. Saunders discusses why these exercises are important, and how to tell if you’re working your dog too hard.

She also gives tips to great therapy products that we like, such as Bella’s Pain Pack. Lastly, she kindly provides cost-saving ideas for making your own therapy exercise tools at home.

Catch a glimpse of “Osteoarthrits and Your Dog,” here on the Wizard of Paws You Tube Channel.

Tracy Snow-Cormier, pawrent to Tripawd Maggie, and Tripawds Supporter, is a fan of Dr. Saunders, and loves this DVD. Tracy says that  “I had an interest in Debbie’s new DVD because I have one of my dogs with start of arthritis in her wrists. I wanted to have a safe way to exercise and strengthen her, and know that I wasn’t going to do further damage to her wrists.”

About the DVD, Tracy says that

“The low cost to do most of her exercises for the dogs is great. From doing basic obedience flatwork to doing theraball work, to low cavaletti work. It is easy for someone to do the exercises with your arthritic dog with very little cost…with the exception of the treadmills!”

We think you’ll find “Osteoarthritis and Your Dog” just as informative and useful. If you order it on Debbie’s website, let us know what you think!

Surgery Drug Recall Warning for Ketamine, Possibly Butorphanol

Tripawd Codie Rae told us about a huge Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recall for the veterinary surgery drugs “ketamineand another rumored recall for the drug “butorphanol.”

Ketamine is used for everything from teeth cleaning, to amputation.

As many as five cats have died as a direct result of contaminated ketamine, but thus far, the ketamine recall has been completely botched by the FDA.

Much like the pet food recalls of previous years, this mishandling has resulted in mass confusion in the veterinary world over what specific dates, lots numbers, etc., are actually being recalled.

Thousands of vets might unknowingly have the contaminated versions in their practices.

The Veterinary Information Network, a resource for vets, wrote this article about the poor job the FDA has done with the recall.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the drug butorphanol is also rumored to be on the recall list, but the FDA hasn’t released anything about it.

For more details, you can read this article in the Pet Connections Blog. Also, this article in the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the recall, and specifics about the broken link of trust between veterinarians and the FDA. These reporters know more about it than we do, so be sure to read these articles.

Remember, anytime your animal companion is going to be anesthetized, always know what drugs will be used. When we read the book “Vet Confidential,” we learned some nasty things about ketamine:

“This drug, which is similar to PCP (also known as Angel Dust), causes allucinations, which I worry may be an alarming axperience to the animal.”

The author, Louise Murray DVM, says she limits the use of ketamine in all procedures, for this reason.

We encourage you to become informed by reading books like Vet Confidential, and getting the specifics about all aspects of your pet’s surgical treatments.

Canine Chiropractic Options for Newbies

The following Guest Blog Post was generously written by Calpurnia’s Mom, TC Wait. To submit your own guest post to Tripawds, contact us today.

Odaroloc Sled Dog PikaI have always been somewhat uneasy with the thought of chiropractic practice. Somehow the thought of someone manipulating my spine just gives me the willies. I am the first to admit, however, that I don’t know much about it, so when my Aunt told me she was using a canine chiropractor for her rescued greyhounds, I decided to educate myself about it. The world of veterinary medicine is continually evolving and with that evolution, holistic practices are also becoming more frequently found. Maybe my dogs, including my tripawd Calpurnia, would get some benefit to adding chiropractic work into their health care.

I did some online research and found Dr. Debbie O’Reilly, who has been adjusting animals since 1996 and is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Dr. O’Reilly is also a practicing human chiropractor and runs the Vibrant Energy Healing Center in Littleton, CO. She was happy to answer my questions, and even came to our house to evaluate a dog that was having some issues.

Pika is a new dog to our pack. She has been showing some weakness and poor gait on the right side (both front and rear legs) that my vet and I have thought may be related to an old neck injury (possibly from a rough birth or something). Poor Pika was coping as best as she could, but when it came to pulling in harness (something she LOVES to do), her gait definitely showed signs that she became painful from it.

In addition to Pika, I had targeted our front leg amputee, Calpurnia, as a potential for chiropractic work, since she is getting older (she is going on 14 now) and front leg amputees are sort of forced to rotate the good shoulder down to walk. That has to have some sort of spinal implication. I decided to have work done on Pika first, since some dogs are sore for about 24 hours after an adjustment. I figured being sore when you are 2 years old on 4 legs would be easier than being sore when you are 14 and on 3 legs.Tripod Sled Dog Calpurnia

Dr. O’Reilly arrived at our house and patiently answered more of my questions. She then introduced herself to Pika, who is pretty shy. I was surprised at how Pika seemed to understand that Dr. O’Reilly was there to help, and since I think that you can tell a lot about a person from how animals react to them, this was a good thing. After watching her gait and stance, Dr. O’Reilly was able to determine a couple of areas that she thought were not aligned correctly and went about doing an adjustment.

The adjustment itself was pretty quick. Dr. O’Reilly started at Pika’s pelvis and used her hands to move up the spine, vertebrae by vertebrae, testing the alignment and flexibility of each joint. In places that were out of alignment, she used a firm pressure to bring them back to alignment. She did this all the way up to the back of Pika’s neck. It was hard to really see what she was doing because it was so fast!

After the treatment, Pika needed to remain quiet for about 24 hours. No running, playing, or jumping. This is to help keep the corrected alignment in the spine, and also because she might have some muscle soreness following the treatment, sort of like after a deep-tissue massage. Some dogs will need a pain reliever or arnica post-treatment to help with the soreness (the chiropractor will tell you what to do). Pika would need to have a follow-up treatment, possibly including some acupuncture work, in 2 weeks, then probably monthly after that.

I asked Dr. O’Reilly about adjusting Calpurnia, who is a natural busy-body and felt she needed to be involved “assisting” with Pika’s treatment. Dr. O’Reilly felt Cali’s spine for a bit, then laughed and said “Calpurnia is FINE. There is nothing wrong with her spine.” Apparently, whatever spinal twisting is going on with Cali’s missing leg is not causing any incorrect vertebrae alignments. Dr. O’Reilly was impressed at how well Cali was doing and attributed her good health and agility to her overall physical condition and light body weight. All those years of running on a sled have had a good long-term effect on the old girl.

So, here are some tips and thoughts for other “Chiro-Newbies” that may be considering a canine chiropractor that I learned through this experience.

  • A canine chiropractor can be considered anytime a dog is not performing at 100% (seems out of sorts or just not “their normal self”, reacts to petting, starts holding up a paw, standing not quite right or holding their head off to one side, or anytime the dog has been involved in a accident either due to play or work). Typical issues that Dr. O’Reilly is asked to help with include “everything under the sun” ranging from injuries, post surgical care, and limping/lameness, to lick granulomas, sloppy sitting, and internal medicine disorders. Canine chiropractic works hand-in-hand with veterinary medicine. Sometimes Xrays or drugs are necessary as well as physical therapy.
  • When looking for a canine chiropractor, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. An animal chiropractor can only be a chiropractor or veterinarian certified in animal chiropractic. The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association certifies all veterinary chiropractors. The website lists their certified doctors by state. There are many people out there calling themselves animal chiropractors, but they are not vets or chiropractors and have not gone through the AVCA approved programs. I have heard some horror stories about crippling injuries stemming from chiropractic treatments gone wrong, so I would recommend doing your research before letting a doctor adjust your dog (or yourself). In Colorado, canine chiropractors also need to be licensed by the state.
  • Some animal chiropractors offer other holistic treatments that you can ask about. Dr. O’Reilly also has a Diplomate in acupuncture, does massage and swim therapy, and can use “muscle testing” to check for allergies and recommend supplements.

At Pika’s follow-up exam, Dr. O’Reilly was happy that progress had been made in her spine. I had been noticing that Pika was using her back leg more effectively around the yard. Dr. O’Reilly did some acupuncture in Pika’s lower back, followed by another chiropractic adjustment. We will do follow-up treatments monthly through the start of our fall training to see how she is progressing.

The B Brothers Help You, Help Tripawds

Beezer and BoomerMy pawrents were devastated when the vet said I had lung mets. It was like reliving my cancer diagnosis all over again.

That’s when our friends Joel and Ross, Moose’s Dads, pointed us to “Overcoming Fear and Guilt When Canine Kids Get Sick.”

This powerful essay, written by Denver lawyer Doug Koktavy, helped Mom and Dad by finally convincing them that blame, fear, anger and guilt are a waste of precious time when living with cancer.

An Excerpt from “On Fear

© Doug Koktavy

“. . . I realized my fear of the disease was the fuel that was being used against me. Devilishly clever, my biggest enemy was not the disease, but me. I was the power source being used to generate the very negative energy destroying my own being and wasting a special day with my beloved dog.

This paradoxical contradiction was glaring. I had thought the growing presence of disease was causing my mounting fear. In fact, just the opposite was occurring. My daily increasing fear was causing the disease to grow and become more powerful. I decided it was high time to start working for me and the Beez, not against us.”

Doug’s story brought tears to my pawrents eyes, and his straightforward coping pointers gave them the motivation they needed to get on with life.

His essay is one of the most powerful tools around for coping with serious illness in our animal friends.

Now, Doug has turned his essay into a full-length book called “The Legacy of Beezer and Boomer: Lessons on Living and Dying from My Canine Brothers.” The book details how his two special boys helped him make the most of their time together.

The Legacy of Beezer and Boomer” includes lessons about:

  • Listening to our pets
  • Gaining a new perspective on our pets’ end of life care
  • Dealing with anticipatory grief
  • Conquering guilt and fear: living in the present
  • Developing a Presence Plan
  • Finding humor in the worst situations
  • Understanding our place in the circle of life

help grieving support for loss of loved pet

We love this book. Our favorite holistic vet, Dr. Marty, agrees:

“Not only is it so well written that you become a bystander observing the story from within, but the compassion for the vital connection we share with this wonderful kingdom oozes out of and between the lines.”

–Martin Goldstein, DVM, author, The Nature of Animal Healing, and host, Ask Martha’s Vet, Martha Stewart Living Radio

Author Doug Koktavy

Proceeds Benefit the Tripawds Community

With this book, big-hearted Doug has set out to accomplish two impawtant things:

  1. Help you cope with your best friend’s terminal illness, and
  2. Help companion animal groups by donating forty percent of the proceeds for each book sold.

For every copy of “The Legacy of Beezer and Boomer,”  purchased here, Doug will donate $10 to Tripawds! We are so excited about his generous offer to help us maintain this community.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Doug about his book and this is what he had to say about The Legacy of Beezer and Boomer. Check out our video interview above, then be sure to head on over to BeezerAndBoomer.com, and get your copy today!

Thank You Dr. Lucroy!

Our recent Ask A Vet chat with Dr. Michael Lucroy was a big hit with Tripawds members! The discussion was informative and continues with this chat transcript topic in the forums.

Click to Enlarge Oncology Vet Chat with Dr. Michael LucroyMany thanks to Dr. Lucroy for providing some insightful answers and interesting ideas about the diagnosis and available treatments for canine cancer. Especially interesting to note was his discussion of NSAID use prior to amputation for cancer dogs…

‹oncovet› Starting on NSAIDs (Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Previcox, etc.) will make dogs with arthritis and early bone cancer more comfortable.  If bone cancer is there, using NSAIDs first simply delays diagnosis.

He also had some excellent advice for those dealing with possible spinal metastasis in their pups…

‹oncovet› Spinal metastasis do occur in osteosarcoma.  About 5% to 10% of dogs will have metastasis at diagnosis.  Almost all dogs develop them later.  The use of chemotherapy tends to increase the risk for bony metastasis.  In the spine, we generally have fewer surgical options, so we go for pain control.  That often means radiation therapy in combination with pamidronate or similar bisphosphonate drugs.

Other issues addressed included the use of Artemisinin and Metronomic therapy for fighting cancer and treatment options for subcutaneous metastasis, or subq mets. More information can be found in the transcript and Dr. Lucroy’s new book, The No Nonsense Guide to Cancer in Pets, or his veterinary oncology blog.

Stay tuned for the next live chat, or drop by to see if anyone is online now. You can usually find my pack hanging around the chat room most evenings but we can’t always be there, so schedule your own anytime!

Book Review: The No Nonsense Guide to Cancer in Pets

There have been a number of pawesome dog health books reviewed here at Tripawds, like Vet Confidential, Speaking for Spot, and the Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

Today, we are hoppy to announce our review of the very first book we’ve received that’s written by a board certified veterinary oncologist: The No Nonsense Guide to Cancer in Pets, by Dr. Michael D. Lucroy.

Recently featured in the Tripawds Downloads blog, The No Nonsense Guide is an easily understood, yet comprehensive look at everything a pawrent needs to know when they first learn their pet has cancer. This book will take you from Point A, where your vet suspects cancer, to Point B, by helping you determine how you want to treat it.

Take a minute to get grounded in the facts and download Dr. Lucroy’s 60-page e-book for $29.97. It’s a great starting point for talking with your veterinary professional, coping with what lies ahead, and learning the basics on any treatments that you choose to pursue.

Don’t Miss Live Chat With Dr. Michael D. Lucroy!

Come chat with Dr. Lucroy in the Tripawds Live Chat this Saturday, November 21 at 5:00 p.m. PST (8:00 Eastern). Members must be logged in to participate.

Dr. Lucroy provides basic cancer definitions for the layperson, outlines diagnosis procedures from least invasive to most, and gives an overview of all standard conventional treatment approaches. Dr. Lucroy doesn’t advocate for any one type of treatment or another, he just lays it on the line and explains the procedures, risks, side effects, and benefits.

In a neutral approach, he also educates readers on how to assess alternative and complimentary medical approaches, and discusses how you can find scientific evidence (if it exists) to back up alternative treatments that interest you. You’ll also learn how to effectively work with your conventional medical team, should you choose to pursue alternative and complimentary medicine for your Tripawd.

Dr. Michael Lucroy, DVM DSOne of our favorite chapters is “How? How Did My Dog or Cat Get Cancer?”, which discusses many of the risk factors that can cause cancer, which ones pawrents can do something about and which ones are out of our hands because of genetic predisposition, etc. The chapter can go a long way in alleviating the guilt that many of pawrents have felt, thinking we might have done something to cause the illness.

As a gift for purchasing the book, readers will receive a six-page bonus supplement of detailed questions about each kind of treatment, to ask your veterinary team.

A portion of the sales of each book will be donated to the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation’s cancer research fund.

Dr. Lucroy is a practicing oncologist at the Veterinary Specialty Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was formerly Chief of Clinical Oncology at Purdue University. He completed his oncology residency at the University of California at Davis, is a graduate of Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, and is a distinguished author, speaker and editorial board member of the American Journal of Veterinary Research and the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. You can read his blog at http://oncodvm.blogspot.com

Does Good News Make You Feel Guilty?

At Tripawds, many of us are three legged dogs because we are battling cancer. Sometimes it seems like we go through periods of time in the Tripawds Discussion Forums, when all we hear is sad news about our friends’ cancer battles.

We all know that life has its ups and downs. We would not exist without both good and bad. Life and death are the yin and yang of the Universe. We dogs try not to focus too much on this though, and strive for that perfect balance of living in the moment.

But humans, on the other hand, don’t often see life like we do. Many struggle with the conflict at Nature’s core. Occasionally we hear from Tripawd pawrents who feel guilty about sharing the good news they have, when there’s a glut of “bad news” in the Forums. When the current mood of discussions is somewhat somber, these kind pawrents feel as if they shouldn’t shine a light on their own tripawds who are doing well.

Silly humans, don’t you know we need your pawsitive energy and happy thoughts here all the time? And when tears are being shed and it seems like life can’t get any darker, that’s when we need your pawsitivity most!

Tripawds Blogs members and guests alike want to read about your tripawd’s triumphs and stories about overcoming obstacles, getting strong, and finding joy in life. These are the happy things that keep us all going when life gets ruff, and help newcomers see the pawsibilities of life on three legs.

Try to be more Dog and remember, life is too short to walk around with angst and feelings of guilt. Share all your experiences and thoughts, whether you view them as good and bad, happy or sad. Please spread the love as much as pawsible, there will always be someone looking for uplifting inspiration.

Canine Prosthetics: Pardon My Faux Paw

The following guest blog post was generously contributed by Meg Sligar, dog mom to Three Legged Max. If you would like to help out by contributing a post, please contact us today.

Three legged MaxWhen most people find out I have a three legged dog, their first question is “Have you made a leg for him yet?” That’s because I’m a prosthetist—I make artificial arms and legs for people. It’s a rewarding profession with new challenges each day. So, when I was looking for my new best friend, it was only natural that I had my eye out for a three legged dog.

Searching PetFinder.com I found a terribly distorted picture of a small brown and black tripawd named Max listed as “special needs.” Oh, he has special needs alright, but it’s not because he’s missing a leg—he just LOVES attention! He even blogs! For the past two years, Max has been my main man and the reason I can’t wait to come home after work.

Have I made a prosthetic leg for him? No, and I doubt I ever will. Max lost his leg when he was hit by a car, and while he does have a short residual limb, or stump, there really isn’t enough left to control a prosthesis. The majority of dogs who lose a leg have it amputated at the shoulder or hip level. Prosthetically, there isn’t much that can be done for them. Besides the fact that it would be very difficult to design a socket that would suspend well on such a short stump (if any stump remains at all), a prosthesis would have to include 2-3 joints—ankle/wrist, knee/elbow, and possible hip/shoulder.

Prosthetic limbsThat’s a whole heck of a lot of artificial joints and a dog would have a hard time trying to control them. Even for humans using a prosthesis, that’s a very difficult level of amputation to fit effectively. For dogs, it’s just not practical. In fact, a prosthesis would most likely slow them down and possibly cause injury.

Dogs typically adjust very well to life on three legs, and that’s why I haven’t pursued trying to design something for Max. From my experience, the smaller the dog, the better he’ll do on three legs. Fortunately for Max, his half German Shepard Dog self is also half Shiba Inu, so he’s on the small side.

I do think about a prosthesis sometimes, though, because I wonder in the long term how he’ll be. He’s 9 years old now and gets around just fine, but the stress on his front leg is high. I’ve read that dogs carry 60% of their weight on their front legs, so that’s 60% on one leg and 20% on each of the others. He’s got the typical front-leg tripawd stance where he puts his one front paw on the ground directly below the center of his chest, instead of to the side (human amputees do the same thing, bringing their good leg in to midline for balance).

Now, there are some tripawds out there who are only missing a paw. If the dog has his amputation below the “elbow” or “knee”, then a prosthesis may be a good idea. Either a plastic or carbon socket would be easily suspended on such a long stump. Also, a prosthesis at this level can be functional and easy to use. From my interactions with these low level amputee dogs who don’t have prostheses, I’ve noticed that they tend to stumble more, not knowing exactly what to do with the short leg.

Three legged Max If you’re considering a prosthesis for your tripawd, I suggest getting him fitted as soon as possible (after healing) after surgery. Just like with people, the longer he waits for a prosthesis, the less likely he is to use it. And unlike people, you can’t just tell him how to use it and expect him to follow directions. You can’t say “go ahead, put weight on it, you can trust it.” Well, you can, but chances are he’s not going to listen. It’ll take some practice, but he can adapt to a prosthesis the same way he can adapt to life on three legs. . . at his own pace.

The most important thing when fitting a dog with a prosthesis is to pay close attention to his skin. Skin breakdown can be a problem for human and canine amputees. You have to pay close attention because your tripawd can’t just say “it hurts” like a person can. Vigilance is absolutely necessary.

And you have to consider whether you will be able to leave the prosthesis on your dog when he’s out of your sight. Will he eat it? We have several people each year come in to get new leg braces because their dog ate them—plastic must smell mighty good! Do you want your dog to have a “sometimes foot?” Remember his safety is the priority.

If you’re willing to take the prosthetic journey with your best friend, a good place to start is to contact a local prosthetist. Many prosthetists would be willing to take on a canine patient, and several already have. Just call and see if they’re interested.

If you can’t find anything locally, there are a few companies out there that specialize in pet prostheses, and you may be able to get it done by mail. OrthoPets is a Denver based company that does just that. They also make orthoses (braces) for dogs with various limb injuries. You can check out one of their patients, Andre, in the September 21 issue of People Magazine. Poor Andre got caught in an illegal trap and chewed two of his paws off to save his life. He now has two prosthetic feet! I haven’t worked with them, but from what I’ve heard, they do good work.

I’ve been asked about carts, as well. In my opinion, if your dog’s only health issue is the one missing leg, there’s no need for a cart. It would only make him dependent on the cart, when he could have adjusted fine without it. But if the tripawd has injury or pain in any of his other legs, especially the one opposite the amputated leg, then a cart would be something to consider. If Max starts to have problems from overuse syndrome as he gets older, I just may have to rig something up for him.

Just think about what would make your dog happiest—maybe hopping around on three legs is the way to go, maybe a cart, maybe a prosthesis. If I ever come up with a shoulder/elbow/wrist prosthesis for Max, I’ll be sure to let you know.

The Argus Institute at Colorado State

This is part three in a series about our tour of Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Care Center. Don’t miss part one and part two.

Tripawd pawrents are all too familiar with the reactions they get when they tell family and friends that their pup has cancer, and they’re ready to do what they can to fight it. If the word “amputation” comes into the conversation, reactions can be downright hurtful.

  • “You’re being selfish! Why would you do that to a dog?”
  • “Dogs aren’t meant to live like that!”
  • “You should put him out of his misery right now.”

Most Tripawd pawrents have heard these kind of reactions from well-intentioned humans. Their opinions hurt, leaving us feeling abandoned in an overwhelming new world of canine cancer.

But we are definitely not alone. On the Internet, pawrents can turn to the Tripawds Discussion Forums, and the Bone Cancer Dogs list, among other places. And in the greater world, we can find help at Colorado State University’s Argus Institute. During our recent visit to CSU’s Animal Cancer Care Center, we learned about this incredible organization.

As part of the CSU James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the Argus Institute is staffed with professional clinical counselors who can give information and emotional support to pawrents facing hard decisions surrounding their animal’s health care.

Each year, over 1000 people talk to counselors on the phone and visit in person, all of them seeking ways in which to cope with their animal companion’s illness, from understanding the diagnosis, to making end-of-life decisions.

Whether you are in the first days of learning about your Tripawd’s diagnosis, or are grieving over his loss, you don’t even have to be a client at CSU’s vet hospital to participate. Anyone can receive counseling services just by contacting the Argus Institute them or calling 970-297-1242.

Although the telephone consultation service is free, donations to this non-profit organization are greatly appreciated.

If you’re not quite ready to talk to a human on the phone, the Argus Institutes’s website has a wealth of information about Coping with Sick Animals, Pet Loss Resources, Children and Pets, and more.

The Pet Hospice Program

If you are lucky enough to live within 30 minutes of the Argus Institute, you can also get help through the Argus Institute  student-run “Pet Hospice Program.” As the first of its kind in the nation, the program supports families who are coping with their pet’s terminal illness.

CSU’s veterinary school student volunteers act as case managers for clients. They work with local veterinarians to provide clients and companion animals with in-home palliative care at no additional cost. Families can receive visits weekly, or sometimes even daily if necessary.

Case managers provide in-home nursing care, assess the animal’s comfort, and give support and educational resources to help the family in assessing quality of life, and ultimately, making end of life decisions as well. After each visit, the veterinarian is given a full report from case managers.

In addition to the hands-on assistant for pawrents, the Argus Institute helps in other ways too, by helping our vets to become better communicators. To learn more about this program please visit the Argus Institute website.

Teaching Vets How to Talk to their Clients

Research has proven that when vets and clients share in the decision-making process together, improved medical outcomes tend to follow. Yet, most vets enter the profession with little or no formal training in client communication skills.

The Argus Institute seeks to bridge this gap, by teaching veterinary professionals how to make the emotional support of their human clients as much a priority as the medical care of their animal patients. At CSU, communication training has been a part of the core curriculum of all veterinary students since 2006.

Through seminars, studies and hands-on workshops, the Argus Institute teaches vets and vet students to how to be better listeners and communicators, be more empathetic, ask open-ended questions of their clients, and have a better understanding of their client’s perspectives.

As companion animals play an even bigger role in our lives, the non-profit Argus Institute will be there to help us and our vets become better communicators with each another. No matter where you live, we hope you will keep this exceptional organization in mind when you are seeking information and support for your Tripawd’s medical situation.