Bone Cancer in Dogs


What Now?

Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer in dogs. It can affect any dog and seems to be quite prevalent in larger breeds such as Irish wolfhounds, greyhounds, Rottweilers and great Danes. The cause of bone cancer is not known, although several theories have been postulated. It occurs most often in the long bones, particularly the distal wrist or ankle, or proximal hip or shoulder bones. It can also occur in the skull, ribs, spine and pelvis.

The best defense against this horrible disease is awareness, early detection and treatment. Sadly, many dogs are diagnosed after weeks or months of lameness attributed to sprains, arthritis or other joint problems. In the early stages, routinely prescribed anti-inflammatory or pain medications may provide some pain relief, delaying the diagnosis even further. Persistent lameness may be the only sign of bone cancer. In most cases, the diagnosis can be made by x-rays, but other tests can be done in questionable cases.

If your dog has bone cancer, the next step is to consult with a veterinary oncologist (find an oncologist here). There are many options once bone cancer is diagnosed. In the past several years we have seen huge progress in the treatment of this disease.

Thanks to excellent research, new surgical techniques and various chemotherapy protocols have been developed. There is also a vaccine being studied extensively in clinical trials. Statistically, however, the longest survival rates are still seen with a combination of amputation and chemotherapy. Amputation provides permanent relief of the horrible pain caused by bone cancer. Giant breeds and older dogs can function well after amputation, and most dogs are fully recovered from their surgery within two to three weeks.

Not every dog is a candidate for amputation or chemotherapy. Conservative yet aggressive therapy for non-surgical candidates includes radiation therapy, the use of intravenous or oral bisphosphonates and alternative oral chemotherapy regimens.  

A healthy diet and optimum weight control are very helpful. Acupuncture and chiropractic treatments help to maintain healthy muscles and joints and facilitate adjustment to changes in gait. Holistic medicine is a valuable part of treatment, with the addition of supplements and immune boosters that strengthen the dog’s immune system.

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