Diagnosing Dog Bone Cancer

Dog bone cancer is also known as canine osteosarcoma. It affects larger breeds and studies reveal that pets that weigh more are likelier to develop bone cancer. Osteosarcoma is also fairly common in male pets. Although the cause of bone cancer is not yet established, bone fractures or trauma can cause the growth of cancer cells in the limbs. Since dog bone cancer is a progressive disease, pets should be tested promptly to attain a correct prognosis. The symptoms of bone cancer are mostly related to the location where cancer cells develop, and are generally exhibited when the cancer is in the advanced stage.

Symptoms of Dog Bone Cancer:

  • Localized swelling
  • Pain
  • Discomfort or difficulty walking
  • Inability to use affected limbs
  • Lethargy

Effects of Canine Bone Cancer

Although canine osteosarcoma is likely to develop in any bone, tumors or cancer mostly develop in the limbs or legs. This type of cancer is called appendicular osteosarcoma. Once cancer progresses, it causes severe internal swelling, bone damage and fractures. Bone fractures that result due to cancer are carefully considered during the diagnosis of osteosarcoma.

Diagnosing Dog Bone Cancer

In order to diagnose osteosarcoma, the vet will perform an x-ray to determine internal changes to the bone, tissues and tumor formations around the affected area. Pathological fractures may also be detected from a radiograph. The x-ray of dogs suffering from bone cancer reveals certain characteristics, such as damaged bone or lytic lesions. In addition to an x-ray, the vet will conduct a biopsy to rule out fungal or bacterial infections and confirm osteosarcoma.


If the radiograph doesn't confirm the presence of cancer, a sample of the dog's bone will be extracted in order to perform a biopsy. The two types of bone biopsy are open incisional biopsy and closed needle biopsy. The open incisional biopsy has several disadvantages and hence the closed needle biopsy is preferred. The closed needle biopsy provides a small sample of the dog's bone.

Although biopsies serve as a more reliable diagnostic aid, pets that have to be amputated are spared clinical biopsies to prevent complications and avoid pain. In most cases, a vet is likely to perform a biopsy when several bone lesions are detected in an x-ray. Studies also reveal that most conclusive testing is possible after obtaining several bone specimens.

Other Tests

In addition to these tests, the vet will perform additional tests to check for metastasis to the lungs. Initial x-ray's cannot be solely relied on, as the cancer may be too small to detect in preliminary lung x-rays. Tumors that are located in other parts of the body may also be subject to fine needle aspirate testing. Blood test (CBC) and urine testing may be performed to rule out underlying health conditions.

Treatment of Dog Bone Cancer

The treatment for dog bone cancer involves surgery or limb sparing procedures. Since cancer can spread easily to other parts of the body, amputation of the limb may be necessary. Incisional biopsies may also lead to complications, which can only be treated with amputation. Along with amputation, chemotherapy is usually administered. The type of chemotherapy protocol used is based on the severity of osteosarcoma. Although pets may be treated with surgery and chemotherapy, most dogs succumb to the cancer in a few months.

There aren't any measures to prevent canine osteosarcoma. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is necessary for pet survival.