Osteosarcoma in Dogs


Overview of Canine Osteosarcoma 

Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer that typically arises in the bones of the limbs, or the appendicular skeleton. Less commonly, it may occur in the bones of the spine, pelvis, and skull – the axial skeleton. Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer, and it is estimated to occur in more than 8,000 dogs in the United States each year. Osteosarcoma occurs very rarely in cats.

The cause of osteosarcoma is largely unknown. It is most common in large-breed dogs (over 50 pounds), so its development in some animals may be related to rapid early growth with resultant increased weight and forces being placed on the bones. It has occurred at fracture sites where metal plates or pins were used to repair the bone, suggesting that chronic irritation may be associated with development of this type of cancer. Rarely, it can occur in areas that have been exposed to radiation therapy.

Male animals are affected at the same rate as female animals. Most dogs are 6 years of age or older when they develop this tumor; however, it does occur in animals as young as two years of age.

This is a highly metastatic, meaning it spreads to other parts of the body, and life-threatening form of cancer and usually causes lameness and general debilitation of your pet during its development and progression. Average life expectancy in dogs that receive treatment in the form of amputation, or surgical removal of the leg, and chemotherapy is 10 to 12 months. Without treatment, life expectancy is usually two to four months. When this cancer affects the axial skeleton, the prognosis is usually worse but is dependent on the site and on the type of surgery and follow-up care. Some animals with tumors of the lower jaw can do well for a year with only surgery.

What to Watch For

Signs of Osteosarcoma in Dogs may include: 

  • Lameness
  • Pain of any of the bones
  • Broken bone with minimal trauma
  • Swelling of a limb
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance or reluctance or inability to exercise normally

    Diagnosis of Osteosarcoma in Dogs

    Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize osteosarcoma and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include the following:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination
  • Radiographs (X-rays) of the affected bone
  • Radiographs of the chest/lungs to look for metastasis
  • Complete blood cell count (CBC)
  • Biochemistry profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Biopsy of the tumor
  • Bone scan, which is a specialized type of X-ray that looks for spread of the cancer to other bones
  • Treatment of Osteosarcoma in Dogs

    In addition to administration of pain medications, treatment for osteosarcoma may include the following:

  • Surgical removal of the tumor, which usually involves limb amputation
  • Chemotherapy, usually done in conjunction with amputation or limb-sparing procedures
  • Radiation therapy as an alternate form of palliative treatment for pain relief in very select cases
  • Limb-sparing surgery, a type of surgery where the bone containing the tumor is removed and replaced by a donor bone. This procedure is performed only at limited veterinary surgical referral centers.
  • Home Care and Prevention

    Your veterinarian can prescribe pain medications to make your dog more comfortable. You may be asked to administer pain medications to your dog until definitive therapy can be done, but do not give your dog any pills that have not been prescribed or recommended by a veterinarian. At the time of surgery a narcotic pain patch may be placed on the skin. These patches release a constant level of pain medication that is absorbed through the skin.

    You should limit your pet’s activity to prevent further pain and to reduce the likelihood of a pathologic fracture, which is an abnormal breaking of the bone due to the cancer weakening it, prior to definitive therapy. Your dog should not run, jump or play during this time and you should watch him carefully or give him assistance when he is climbing stairs or getting in and out of a car.

    There is little that you can do to prevent bone cancer from occurring in your pet because the cause is poorly understood. Have your veterinarian evaluate your pet for any lameness that develops. Most forms of lameness are likely to be associated with arthritis or injury to ligaments and tendons. If your dog is not getting better with rest and anti-inflammatory drugs, radiographs of the affected region should be taken to exclude the presence of a bone cancer as a cause of lameness.


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