The story actually starts before “the story”; because we have over a decade-long history with greyhounds and their idiosyncrasies I think it’s important for you to understand our perspective. Two of our greyhounds have had corns for most of the 8 years they’ve been with us, so we’ve gotten used to their odd gaits and predisposition to limping — at least as “used to” a greyhound limping as someone who’s previously had two with osteosarcoma can be. We know all too well that you cannot ignore a “new” limp, lump or bump for too long. So a few weeks ago when Petey, our 75lb 9-year-old, started to have a more pronounced limp on his back left foot, we took notice even though it was a foot that had corns. One of his toes was a little swollen. Maggie, our 2nd cancer dog, had osteo in one of the small bones in her foot, which looked a little like this. By the next day his entire foot and lower leg were swollen. We rushed him in to get an x-ray. Our vet had the same thoughts we were having — it looks like osteo. But the x-rays came back negative. Ultimately we concluded that his foot got infected after we hulled one of the corns on that toe (sorry, corn hulling is a whole separate story). We put him on antibiotics and Rimadyl and the swelling went away within a few days. Whew.
Then, later that same week, Galena, a.k.a. “Lena”, our 10-year-old wisp of a greyhound, suddenly cried out in pain when walking down the two steps from the kitchen to the side door to go outside. She had a pretty big swollen area on her front right “shin”. It wasn’t there an hour earlier and she hadn’t been acting like she was in any pain up until that point. Sudden swelling. Sudden pain. Once again, it fit with the traditional “osteo” symptoms we’d experienced before. Except, upon closer inspection, it was a soft tissue lump, like fluid under the skin, not the hard lump of a bone tumor. We assumed it was a bruise, likely caused by the overly exuberant and boney tail of our other 10-year-old girl, Isabelle. So we decided to try arnica gel and cold packs to help reduce the swelling, then wait and see. Luckily that swelling went down within a day or two.
Almost exactly a week later, on Tuesday evening, Lena started limping on her left front leg, even holding it up and going intermittently lame. This is where her story begins. There was no obvious swelling or bruising. So I checked her paw for any foreign objects and started gently manipulating her joints.
[Note: At this point I think it’s important to call out that I am not a veterinarian and I am not recommending that anyone try to diagnose their dog’s injuries by following my example. We’ve seen many injuries and physical exams over the years, so I kind of know what I’m looking for. Also, our hounds are unusually trusting of me: they’ve let me trim their nails, change their bandages, clean their wounds and even pull some stitches without much fuss — my wife, Suzie, even uses a dental scaling tool to clean tarter off their teeth, so I feel pretty comfortable doing a little triage myself. It’s also important to note that even the most loving dog can accidentally bite you in reaction to you doing something it doesn’t like. If you want to perform any kind of exam on an injured dog, the best thing to do is put a muzzle on him/her so there are no incidents either of you will be sorry about. Also, keep your head away from theirs even (especially?) when they’re muzzled… when examining one of our boys years ago I got complacent because he was muzzled. I was messing with his front paw, which put my head close to his, so when he jerked I got a face full of muzzle and was rewarded with a black eye for my carelessness.]
Okay, back to Lena. As I manipulated her leg, she wasn’t very reactive. I messed with her toes, bent her “wrist” and “elbow”, and even rotated her shoulder. It was at this point she whined. Shit. So I started to feel her shoulder to see exactly where it was tender. Right then she screamed, loudly.
[If you aren’t familiar with the “Greyhound Scream of Death” (GSD), count yourself lucky… It will make you jump out of your skin every time you hear it. Banshee’s run from the sound of a GSD. It’s a loud, soulful scream that, if you are the cause of it, will make you think you’re killing your pup. Greyhounds are smart and will sometimes use the GSD as a tactic to get sympathy or just to get you to stop something they’re not fond of, like when you’re trimming their nails. This was not one of those times.]
When I lightly touched her shoulder she gave me her best GSD right in my ear (yes, my head was that close to her face and, no, she wasn’t muzzled — I never said I was a fast learner). I tried working my way around her shoulder but every time I got near the top of the humerus, she screamed. Damnit. The long bones are the most common spot for osteo to attack. The humerus is a long bone. Having had two other scares within the past week, we tried not to panic. I iced it down and we decided to see how she was in the morning.
The next morning she was still limping and still screaming when I touched her shoulder. Not a good sign. We were supposed to leave the next day on a four day trip to our annual conference, The GreytEscape. Not wanting to be away from home with an undiagnosed injury, I called our vet and got an appointment a 1PM. Rule #1 when you suspect it’s cancer: don’t wait.
Our vet did a physical exam and when she got to her shoulder Lena screamed and the vet gave us “the look”. Now, to be honest, she also gave us “the look” when we had Petey examined the week prior. So when she took Lena back for x-rays, we tried to convince ourselves this was another false alarm and we waited. It felt like an eternity. She had x-rayed both front legs and her torso (to get the lungs). Oddly, her left leg appeared to be okay to us non-radiologists … There may have been something that possibly could be, just maybe a concern, but there was no obvious tumor growth or anything so significant that would make us immediate freak out. But the right leg, the one she was not limping on or showing any pain symptoms with, had some oddities: white squiggly lines near the top of the humerus. That had us all concerned as well as a little puzzled. So we sent the rads (that’s doctor-speak for x-rays) to both the radiologist and to Dr. Couto for review.
Then we went home to finish packing for the conference. Suzie would be vending as Skinny Hound Designs and I was vending for GHI. That means there’s a lot to pack and we tried to use that as a distraction while we waited.