By Genevieve Rajewski
Tyson could win an award for stoicism. Osteosarcoma, a common bone cancer so painful that medication doesn’t provide much relief, had invaded the 7-year-old Rottweiler’s left foreleg.
“Tyson used to love to go for walks, but slowly, he stopped going out,” recalls his owner, Rachna Khanna of South Glastonbury, Conn. “One day, we noticed he was limping. we thought maybe he had twisted something and took him to the vet to get an X-ray. That’s when they found a lump and the cancer in his limb.”
Amputation is the accepted treatment for this aggressive cancer. Dogs do not experience the same psychological trauma that people do after losing a limb, and most can race around happily enough on three legs. But amputation challenges dogs that already have mobility issues caused by severe arthritis or neurological disease, for example. And such heavyset giant breeds as St. Bernards,Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees and Mastiffs often struggle after losing a forelimb because dogs bear most of their weight on their front legs.
Tyson had ligament tears in each knee, and Khanna and her husband hoped to save his leg to avoid even more stress on his already-unstable joints.
Their research into alternatives led them to the Cummings School’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals, one of three veterinary hospitals in the country that offer a novel limb-sparing surgery for dogs. Earlier this year, Tufts orthopedic surgeon Michael Kowaleski, operated on Tyson, removing the cancerous bone and replacing it with a custom titanium implant. The procedure can be more successful than a bone implant or graft because there is a lower risk of infection, and dogs regain mobility quickly.
Tyson is once again going on walks and playing with his two younger canine housemates. “He still has a bit of limp,” says Khanna. “But he’s healthy and looking good, and we are so happy the cancer is gone.”
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of the Tufts Veterinary Magazine.