Bone cancer is a deadly disease that every dog owner should watch out for. It needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Here’s what you need to know about bone cancer in dogs. 

Rottweiler Diagnosed with Bone Cance

Hi! Would you help shed some light on bone cancer in dogs? We have a thirteen-year-old Rottweiler who was just diagnosed with bone cancer in her two left legs.

She is having a challenge getting up and around but still has an appetite. How do I tell if she is in too much pain? She is on Tramadol for pain, but it doesn’t appear to be helping much from my end.

Any suggestions on how to help her with her pain? We don’t want her to suffer. She appears bright-eyed and not grumpy, just not very happy. Her nub doesn’t seem to be doing too much wagging these days.

Any help is greatly appreciated!

Many Blessings to you and Cesar Millan!!!
Debbie Moore Johnston

Cesar’s Team Weighs in with Advice

Dear Debbie,
I understand your dilemma. With cancer in two limbs, pain control is the only real help you can give, but you want to make the right decisions about the quality of life for your friend. As long as your dog seems to be enjoying her life, these are the medications I use to control long-term pain in my patients.

Neurontin is excellent for controlling long-term pain, and it is safe even at higher doses, using multiple other medications. As long as blood work allows, she should be on an NSAID such as Rimadyl or Duramax. Tramadol is excellent in combination with the other two drugs for short-term control of immediate pain. You can use Morphine and butorphanol, but they are not my choices. I’m not too fond of the combination drugs such as Percocet because they do not allow dosing flexibility.

I would also recommend that you pursue alternative pain control modalities such as acupuncture. I hope that you can control her pain for a long time.

-Dr. Weaver

A dog with bone cancer at the vet getting treatment.

What is Osteosarcoma?

Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that arises in the bone, forming osteoblast cells. Osteosarcoma accounts for more than 95% of all bone tumors, and can spread throughout the body.

What Causes Bone Cancer in Dogs?

The etiology of this cancer is unknown, but there appears to be a genetic component based on common breeds. Microscopic injury to bones in young growing canines, metallic implants, and trauma are other possible reasons.

Symptoms of Bone Cancer in Dogs

Some symptoms of bone cancer you should look out for regarding your dog are:

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Growth of a mass on the dog
  • Respiratory distress
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Limping or lameness
  • Discharge from the nostrils 
  • No appetite

When to Take Your Dog to the Vet

Because bone cancer has a high propensity for spreading to other organs and causing deadly problems, including loss of appetite and respiratory distress, seeing indicators of the disease in your dog should always be addressed immediately.

To give your dog the most significant chance at maintaining its quality of life, keep a close watch on its overall health and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you notice any of the symptoms listed above, even if they are minor.

The Osteosarcoma Diagnosis Process

Every dog is unique, and a variety of factors impact your dog’s prognosis including age, weight, and the tumor’s location. If your dog has osteosarcoma, your veterinarian will devise a treatment plan that will coordinate therapies and assist your dog reach the best possible outcome.

To rule out other causes of lameness, your veterinarian will take an X-ray and do a physical and orthopedic examination.

Any problem areas discovered on the X-ray will be biopsied to acquire a precise diagnosis and decide the best treatment strategy for your dog.

X-rays, a computed tomography (CT) scan, blood tests, and a urinalysis will examine your dog’s overall health and identify if the cancer has spread.

Advanced CT imaging is frequently advised for osteosarcoma tumors of the limbs because it gives a veterinary surgeon more information about whether surgery is doable and how much surgery is needed to obtain a good outcome.

A dog with symptoms of bone cancer won’t eat its food.

Bone Cancer Treatment

Dogs with bone cancer that are detected and treated may survive for another 1 to 6 years. Unfortunately, a bone cancer diagnosis is never easy, and even when treated with surgery and therapy, it typically proves deadly. People are researching new cures and techniques all the time, so hopefully someday we’ll make more progress.

Because osteosarcoma tumors are so aggressive, the most typical treatment is amputation of the afflicted leg followed by chemotherapy to address metastases. While amputation isn’t the best option for all canines, otherwise healthy dogs can get along on three legs. Depending on the tumor’s location and whether it is relatively tiny at the diagnosis, limb-sparing surgery—where the cancer is removed and the bone is replaced with another bone (either from your pet or from a bone bank)—might be a possibility.

However, the risk of complications, notably infection, is considerable with this type of surgery. Stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT) can be helpful when surgery isn’t an option owing to tumor placement. It can also be used as an alternative to amputation in dogs with osteosarcoma that hasn’t damaged much bone. High radiation doses focus on harming and killing osteosarcoma cells in this sophisticated, exact kind of radiation treatment. Chemotherapy is still required in the future. SRS/key SRT’s benefit is that it can deliver massive doses of radiation with sub-millimeter accuracy.

Traditional radiation therapy and pain relievers are examples of palliative care, which seeks to make your pet more comfortable but does not provide a cure.


Frequently Asked Questions About Osteosarcoma in Dogs

What is the Life Expectancy of a Dog With Bone Cancer?

Unfortunately, dogs with bone cancer do not have a lengthy life expectancy, especially if the illness has spread. Dogs with limbs amputated and then given chemotherapy can live for up to a year. After therapy, some dogs have been known to survive for up to five or six years.

Are Certain Breeds More Likely to Develop Osteosarcoma?

Although there is a chance for all dogs, the most likely to develop this disease are Rottweilers, Scottish Deerhounds, Wolfhounds, Greyhounds, and Golden Retrievers.

What’s the Future of Osteosarcoma Treatment for Dogs?

The AKC Canine Health Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other organizations are working to uncover risk factors, causation, and potential novel targets for bone cancer treatment. At the 5th Genes Dogs and Cancer Meeting in 2009, two groups presented gene-based signatures that might classify dogs depending on the response to therapy or overall survival outcomes.

Further research might lead to predictive testing that would allow dog owners to make informed treatment decisions based on the likelihood that their dog’s tumor will react, or not, to standard surgery plus adjuvant chemotherapy.

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