Bone cancer is fortunately a rare occurrence in dogs. However, when it does it occur, the problem is serious because by the time a dog owner notices any limping or swelling, the cancer has progressed and spread, usually to the lungs.
Bone cancer, called osteosarcoma, is the most common bone tumor in dogs. It tends to occur more in the middle-aged larger-breed dogs, commonly in Rottweilers, although it can occur as early as 2 years of age. It is hypothesized that chronic low-grade trauma can cause it.
All bones are susceptible, with the most common one being the wrist area of the front legs. Typical symptoms include limping and swelling. These symptoms can also be caused by trauma, fractures, autoimmune diseases and infections. Some of these dogs may also be lethargic and not eating well.
A blood panel on a dog with this cancer might show an elevated alkaline phosphatase (alk phos). A diagnosis is usually made by taking a radiograph. There are telltale signs to indicate cancer as opposed to an infection of the bone called osteomyelitis. Sometimes, a biopsy or a CAT scan is needed to make the diagnosis.
The bone will be very painful, and aggressive pain control is needed. In most cases, amputation of the cancerous limb is needed to control the pain. We use the laser at LBAH to significantly minimize bleeding during the surgery and postoperative pain and swelling. Chemotherapy is also used to extend life.
Laser treatment, administered by these veterinarians, help to control bleeding. Photos courtesy of Long Beach Animal Hospital (LBAH).
Once diagnosed, most dogs do not live more than four months with amputation alone—10 months if amputation is combined with chemotherapy. This is because of the later stage of diagnosis and the malignancy of this cancer.
This emphasizes the need to bring your dogs in for an exam at any sign of a problem, especially the large-breed ones that are prone to this disease and are also stoic. Radiographs will be needed, and if they are normal and routine rest and medication do not improve the situation, they will need to be repeated one to two months later to see if there are any changes indicative of osteosarcoma. CAT scans and bone scans might also be needed at this time if the problem persists.
The first radiograph indicates an early stage; the second shows cancer.
To learn more about how we use the laser for surgery like this at LBAH, please follow this link.