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Amputation Decisions
(Contributed by: Laura Silvester, Arizona)
(Excerpt from Fall 2007 issue of GCNM News)

General Silvester Recovering

One of the most difficult decisions a greyhound companion can be faced with is to amputate or not to amputate a limb after receiving a diagnosis of osteosarcoma. When it comes to making the decision, time is of the essence. Itís a good idea to understand what lies ahead and know what to consider.

Diagnosis: Make sure you feel comfortable with the veterinary care received and that a thorough examination has been done. If x-rays are available, request to see them and get an explanation. Itís important to know if the cancer has spread to the lungs or any other areas of the body, so additional tests or x-rays may be necessary. You need a thorough understanding of the situation. If you do not fully understand the information to this point, ask questions until you do.

Options: Your vet should outline all options available and the pros and cons of each. There may be a best option based on the exam results, or there may not be. Amputation can relieve pain and give your greyhound a wonderful new life. There are many success stories. But this does not mean itís appropriate in all situations. At this stage, try to stick to the facts and keep your emotions calm. Write down all options and as you learn more, make notes under each option of both the facts and your thoughts.

Gather Information: If amputation is viable, ask for recommendations about a hospital and surgeon. Check references, accreditations, and experience. Useful information can also be found online; I found the Greyhound Companions of New Mexico website (www.gcnm.org) to be particularly helpful. You can also join a web support group/message board such as Circle of Grey (www.circleofgrey.com) to discuss your thoughts and feelings with others in the same situation. Be diligent when making decisions, and gather information in a timely manner.

With information in hand, focus on your greyhoundís personal situation. The following are important things to consider.

Health: After amputation, there is more stress put on the remaining legs. The dog needs to be strong enough to bear this weight. If there are signs of arthritis or any other joint weaknesses, your hound could have difficulty with only three legs. If itís a front leg amputation, your hound will need to thrust his/her neck upwards in order to hop. After recovery, many dogs actually find this movement easy. But if there is any stiffness or arthritis in the neck, it can be difficult or painful. Your hound should be in good physical condition to adapt to the new way of moving.

Age: Age can be relative in greyhounds depending on their health, lifestyle, and background. You could have an 8-year-old who had a rough life and seems very old. Or you could have a 10-year-old that is very healthy and active and acts like a 3-year-old. Regardless of age, the young at heart have an edge to make it through recovery due to their physical and emotional strength.
The reality is that an amputation will only buy a certain amount of time, so the potential remaining life of your hound should be a consideration. Some amputations may only get three to six months of life extension, while others have gone as long as 2 to 3 years. No one will be able to give you a personal guarantee of the future, so you must resolve not to know.

Personality: If your greyhound has a lot of life spark and loves to sing and dance, s/he will most likely want to get back in the game after surgery no matter what. This personality type is extremely self-motivated and continues to work at something until it happens. They may experience less emotional stress during recovery due to their internal fire and focus. On the other hand, the passive personality may require more outside influence and motivation from you to cope with recovery. This personality could also be prone to more emotional episodes and even some depression. You will want to recognize and know that your hound may need extra emotional support. Knowing your houndís personality will help understand how s/he may react. Prepare to respond appropriately.

Time off Work: Your greyhound will need your help during the first few weeks both physically and emotionally. It is important to carefully monitor your hound to make sure the wound is healing properly and that s/he is eating, drinking, and eliminating. There may be outbursts of pain. Managing medications on schedule for infection and pain is extremely important. Itís best to take off one to two weeks from work, or, if not possible, schedule your life so there is someone with your hound at all times during this period. After the first couple of weeks, your hound will be well on the way to relearning life and you will get back to a more normal schedule. Realistically, evaluate your ability to be present or arrange for care during recovery.

Finances: Although no one wants it to be a financial decision, finances must be addressed. The cost of amputation surgery can be expensive. And added to the surgery will be costs for x-rays, tests, follow-up appointments, chemotherapy, and medical supplies. Prior to making your decision, get a comprehensive estimate from your hospital and surgeon that covers everything involved. You need to know if you can manage the finances of not only the surgery, but the recovery as well.

Lifestyle: Evaluate your lifestyle to determine what would highly impact a 3-legged dog. If you live on the third floor of a condominium complex with open concrete stairs, this would be a safety issue for an amputee who could stumble occasionally. Your dog may also have a harder time balancing in a vehicle or swimming. Although dogs can rebound wonderfully from an amputation and do most everything they previously did, itís important to consider your current lifestyle and any new challenges for the amputee. Ensure that your lifestyle can support changes that an amputation could bring.

The Final Decision: You may go through all of the steps above and still not know what to do. At this point, the best thing is get quiet and spend time soul searching and connecting with your greyhound. Your heart will know. If not, go with your gut instinct. You know your hound better than anyone Ė calm your emotions and trust your true feelings.
Above all, remember that there is no right or wrong answer, and there is no easy path. Do not let anyone pressure you in either direction. Regardless, know that you may have moments of doubt. This is normal and happens to almost everyone. The most important thing is to stay calm, think through the information, and just do the best you can with the information you have.


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