Sad Reality of Having an Elderly 3 Legged Dog

Hello everyone, while I won’t get into what I personally have been up to since moving I did want to give an update on my dog Chloe.


Quick history on how Chloe lost her leg: Chloe was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma in her back left leg in July 2010.  Due to large tumor and being intwined to her leg ligaments, amputation was the best option. Local lymphnodes indicated the cancer had not spread and we had been living cancer free for the past 3.5 years.

The not so fun update:  About two weeks ago before I moved north to start a year long fellowship (unfortunately she won’t be living with me due to last minute offer of this position, she will be staying with my mom for now), she developed a large round lump on her right front paw (literally within a few weeks). It felt more solid than her other lipomas and wasn’t discolored (her fur looks normal growing over it).  Last Friday (her 13th birthday) I took her to the vet for an early yearly checkup (usually in May) to aspirate the lump. I figured it wouldn’t hurt just to do a full senior exam (physical, urine, poop, blood) since we were already there.

Diagnosis #1: During the physical exam, the vet diagnosed Chloe with a heart murmur grade 2/3ish.  He wanted a chest xray to see what might be the cause.  The xray revealed she has a large heart for her size (but we already knew that in the emotional sense 🙂 ).  The vet explained that she could have always had a heart murmur (grade 1) that wasn’t discernible till now as a congenital thing or has a genetic predisposition for developing one in her older years.  While there is nothing to be done for a heart murmur (if her’s got worse medications would be an option), I do have to monitor her for any unusual sneezing, coughing, increased resting respiratory rate, early fatigue in a routine walk, and loss of appetite or fluids.  Last night I started a baseline for her resting respiratory rate and will do for another few days to get an averate. I recorded 16 breaths per minute which is a good sign since it normal for any dog. However, if her norm increases to above 30/minute, it means her murmur has progressed in a bad way.  The good news is that she is otherwise allowed to continue her regular routine walking around the block (1/2 mi) every day and taking naps.

Results of tests: Good news is that the bloodwork came back saying that she is still a healthy dog for her age. Bad news is that the lump has a good chance of being malignant.

Surgeon Consultation 

This evening I was on speaker phone with my mom and the surgeon regarding Chloe’s potential surgery.  After examining her (they took her to another room) the vet surgeon outlined these options:

1. Maximum Tumor Removal with Open Wound: excise as much as possible with 1cm margins and leave open wound that would take ~2months to heal. Best option if no follow-up with radiation, since radiation cannot be performed on an open wound (anywhere from another 2.5-8 grand). Highly aggressive surgical approach.

2. Some Tumor Removal with Wound Closure: excise a large portion of the tumor with enough left over skin to close the wound. Best option for follow up radiation treatments.  Conservative surgical approach.

My mom said she is willing to manage the open wound if I chose that route and considering the extraordinary cost of radiation, I’d rather cut off as much as possible now and give her the best chance in that scenario.  Also, the vet surgeon had a cardiologist listen to Chloe’s heart murmur and diagnosed it as a grade 4-5.  The vet surgeon said that they perform surgeries on dogs with that grade heart murmur all the time and it is just a matter of changing the procedure.  She did recommend having Chloe getting an echocardiogram in order to diagnose the cause to get a better idea of how to proceed during surgery, which they did this evening as well.

Results of that test was that it was ok for surgery. Apparently she has some atrial valve leakage, so we need to watch for coughing etc like I outlined before. Good news is that the cardiologist says Chloe doesn’t need meds for as of right now, only if it gets worse.

The Decision

Chloe will be going in for surgery tomorrow for option #1 and depending on her recovery, might be able to go home tomorrow (Friday) evening. Biopsy results will be available about 5 days after her surgery, so late next week.

My Thoughts

When faced with the possibility of cancer again, I had initially prepared myself to do nothing. What would the chances be that it would be another semi-treatable cancer like her previous? Apart from her heart murmur (which dogs can live normal lives with for years), she is healthy and has a good quality of life.  I want to minimize the amount of times she has to go to the vet/major procedures and can’t afford radiation, so I’m hoping that either 1. Biopsy reveals its benign.   2. Biopsy reveals low grade tumor with prognosis of ~2yrs since it will likely grow back. 3. Biopsy reveals low grade tumor and all microscopic cells were removed during surgery (nothing grows back).

Part of me wonders if the tumor will come back or not, but if it does, I’ve already decided its not worth playing a cat and mouse game trying to keep removing it.  This will be the one shot and if it works, great, if not, well as long as she is still healthy and happy, that’s all I can ask for. Its hard to know how long she would live in either situation, whether the tumor wouldn’t impair the time she had left or if removing it actually had a life prolonging effect (in a quality way, not just quantity).  If she still had all four legs, I would amputate again in a heartbeat since it has been over 3.5 years since her other (likely) exact same type of tumor appeared.  I’m convinced that the biopsy will be reveal the same as before, a low grade peripheral nerve sheath tumor, and that she must have a genetic predisposition for this type of soft tissue sarcoma (possible).

It’s sad to think about her life now on a shorter timeline, but I do have to remind myself that I have been able to give her every dog’s dream for the past 3.5 years she’s lived with me during grad school.  We have been able to spend most of every day together since I lived close to campus, she’s been my travel companion even on errands (since weather is so moderate along the coast) and has enjoyed countless hours walking along the beach. For every medical issue we’ve encountered, I can let her go knowing I’ve done all I can to make sure she’s gotten the best care.  She’s been spoiled with lots of obnoxious squeaky toys, treat balls and love.  Its hard to deal with the fact that she is getting old and won’t be around forever, but I know my mom will take wonderful care of her until I can find a different living situation (if she lives a lot longer).   I’ve told Chloe during our time in grad school that she has to live a healthy life until she is at least 15 and then is allowed to go to her final rest.  Fingers crossed this is benign or low grade/non metastasizing and allows her to keep on enjoying senior life on three legs.

Hugs to all you folks who have lost a beloved pet.  Chloe has been the first pet I’ve developed such a close bond to and I don’t like to think about her not physically being here any longer. I’ll keep you all updated as events unfold. Thank you all again for being such a wonderful community to be a part of, through the good times and otherwise.

Here’s a video celebrating last year’s ampuversary. I hope I can make at least one more this July for her 4yr ampuversary.


4 thoughts on “Sad Reality of Having an Elderly 3 Legged Dog

  1. I am sorry to hear about Cloe. I hope everything goes well with the surgery and I’ll pray for a speedy recovery. I can only imagine how hard this time is for you too. Hugs friend.

  2. Chloe is so lucky to have a dog mama like you!! Rip is only 9, but I am already struggling thinking about as she gets older and the difficult decisions that are going to come from it.

    Sending you and Chloe lots of positive thoughts through this time!! xoxo

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