Veterinary Highlights: Limb-Sparing Surgery For Bone Cancer

This is the kind of thing I love to read about. I understand why the amputation of the affected limb makes sense. But seriously, chopping off limbs doesn’t really qualify as a treatment to me, sorry.

Whether amputation is a good option would also have to depend on which limb had been affected and overall condition of the dog.

Veterinary Highlights: Limb-Sparing Surgery For Bone Cancer
Removal of a front leg would be harder for a dog to cope with than losing a hind leg. 

That is because normally dogs carry about 60% – 65% of their weight on the front legs; and only 35% – 40% on the hind legs. You can see that the front bears a much larger workload. This workload may even increase if there is an orthopedic issue in the hind legs, such as arthritis, bad hips or knees. That’s why dogs with bad rear legs have such a broad shoulder appearance.

Jasmine’s shoulders also got much wider during her orthopedic challenges. Now, with the hind legs functioning properly, the shoulders have returned to their normal proportion.

Dogs already suffering from arthritis, and have a hard enough time getting around as it is, could also suffer greatly from losing a limb.

That’s why in some cases amputation simply isn’t a good option.

Limb-sparing surgery is designed to remove cancer while avoiding amputation.

Only the diseased part of the bone is removed and replaced with a bone graft, or the remaining bone is re-grown (bone transport osteogenesis).

Now that is some seriously cool stuff.

Related articles:
Primer on Bone Cancer

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

  1. Hi Jana. I came across your website via Blog Paws, great work! Just wanted to add some input about this story, since coping with dog leg amputation is my area of expertise. As the co-founder of, the world’s largest support community for amputee pets and their people, we get asked a lot of questions about what dog is a good candidate for amputation versus limb sparing. And like you, we aren’t vets, so we turn to veterinarians for their opinions about these topics. Here’s what we know based on the experts we’ve interviewed since 2006:

    1) Limb spare is an option typically when the tumor is located low on the limb, and when the parent 1) has the financial resources to cover the cost, upwards of $10k if all goes well, and 2) has the willingness to see the dog through limb spare recovery, which can take months. In the case of bone cancer, which typically has a prognosis of 6-12 months, this is something most folks are not willing to do and understandably so. But for the right dog and the right parents willing to take a leap of faith that the dog will outlive the prognosis (as our dog did, and many others do as well), limb sparing is a great option that can truly help extend quality of life for whatever time the dog has left.

    2) Amputation is definitely treatment when no other logistically feasible or financially do-able options are available. Nobody wants to chop off a leg if they don’t have to. But when it comes to bone cancer, it is the fastest way to get rid of the horrific pain of slowly disintegrating bone. And also, for many pet parents, the reality is that limb sparing is prohibitively expensive. Amputation is about 1/2 the cost. Many people feel terrible and guilty for making that choice not to pursue limb sparing IF it’s an option, but we remind them that the most important thing is that if they have the ability to help their dog get out of that awful pain, that’s all that matters.

    3) Finally, when it comes to limb loss, both front and rear leg amputations pose challenges. Yes, the front end does carry more weight. But rear leggers also have challenges that front leggers don’t face, such as upward propulsion. I have personally parented both types of amputee dogs and seen this myself.

    The world’s leading veterinary orthopedic surgeons have told us that when it comes to amputation, neither size, nor age, nor which limb is affected, should exclude a dog (or cat) as a candidate for surgery, as long as the animal is otherwise healthy. Even dogs with osteoarthritis or conditions like wobblers can do well on three legs with the right care and parenting. We see it all the time.

    I encourage you to visit our community at, and if you would like to review our e-books about caring for amputee dogs, just let us know!

    Thanks for allowing me to share our thoughts. See you in the Blog Paws group!

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