What is Osteosarcoma in Dogs: Everything you Need to Know

by | Nov 12, 2021 | Dog Health

Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer in dogs. It comprises approximately 95 percent of the total dog bone cancer cases in the United States. This malignant tumor formation in the bones can bring tremendous pain to your pet. Moreover, it can spread rapidly throughout their body, making early detection and treatment vital to prevent it from worsening.

This article will discuss all the things you need about canine osteosarcoma and allow you to identify whether or not your dog is suffering from this condition. It includes its causes, signs, diagnostic methods, and various treatment and management options.

What is Osteosarcoma in Dogs?

Osteosarcoma is the abnormal growth of malignant tumors in a dog’s immature bone cells. This is a serious condition that can quickly multiply and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. It commonly affects the following areas:

  • Femur (above the hind knee)
  • Hips
  • Radius/ulna (above the front knee)
  • Ribcage
  • Skull
  • Tibia/fibula (below the hind knee)
  • Toes

In rare cases, it can also affect the mammary glands and muscles. There’s a higher chance of survival if the cancer is detected early. After all, this means they are still viable for surgical intervention. By amputating the cancerous limb, the rest of the body will not be infected. If diagnosed too late, it can put your dog’s life at risk.

What are the Causes of Canine Osteosarcoma?

As of the latest research, there has yet to be a direct link identified to cause the disease. Instead, it has been attributed to a multitude of factors such as environmental and genetic factors.

Meanwhile, some studies have shown that dogs that have experienced a blunt bone injury are more likely to have this type of bone cancer.

Is Osteosarcoma Hereditary in Dogs

Researchers have also yet to identify whether or not osteosarcoma is hereditary. While any dog can develop this condition, it has been shown that large and giant dog breeds such as the ones listed below are more prone to getting this disease:

  • Boxer Dogs
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Greyhounds
  • Irish Setters
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Saint Bernards
  • Scottish Deerhounds
  • Weimaraners

What are the Signs of Osteosarcoma in Dogs?

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to detect the onset of this condition as soon as possible, so your dog can receive prompt care. Listed below are the early signs of osteosarcoma in dogs that you need to keep an eye on:

  • Sudden lameness or limping
  • Swelling in the jaw, legs, ribs, or spine
  • Inflammation in the affected area
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in the bones or joints
  • Reluctance to walk or play
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Discharge from the nostrils

Once your dog shows any of these signs, seek help from your vet immediately. Since the disease can spread quickly, it’s better to take precautionary measures instead of waiting for it to worsen.

How is Canine Osteosarcoma Diagnosed?

The diagnostic process begins with a physical and orthopedic examination. Your vet will inspect the affected limb or area for a distinct swell that is red and warm to the touch. They may also ask follow-up questions about the other symptoms that your dog may have experienced.

To take a closer look into the affected area, your vet may utilize radiographic images taken from different angles. This helps them find any sign of the condition such as an abnormal mass in the region. There will be missing pieces of bones or fractures present in some cases, especially if the affected bone is weak.

After checking the x-ray images, your vet may also conduct a biopsy to confirm the presence of the tumor. This will help them formulate a definitive diagnosis. Your vet may also request other diagnostic tests such as blood tests, chest x-rays, CT scans, and urinalysis as precautionary measures. These additional tests can verify if the cancer cells have spread to the other parts of the body. 

How is Osteosarcoma in Dogs Treated?

The goal of the treatment process is to control the primary tumor and address its secondary spread if it happens. The best remedy for your dog should include a specialized plan that coincides with other cancer treatments that it’s been getting.

The plan requires a thorough discussion of all possible treatment options and their side effects. Your vet can direct you to a veterinary oncologist who specializes in these types of conditions. Before your appointment, inform yourself about the available osteosarcoma treatment options using our list below.


In most early cases of canine osteosarcoma, it’s best to cut the malignant tumors off from their source directly. This means amputating the affected limb. This procedure is almost always pursued as long as it’s safe and viable for the dog. Fortunately, most dogs can adjust well after the amputation process. However, it’s important to note that this option is not viable for dogs with severe arthritis or a concurrent neurological problem.


A series of chemotherapy sessions often follow a surgical procedure. This procedure kills the remaining cancerous cells to prevent them from spreading throughout the other body parts. Moreover, it helps reduce the side effects of bone tumors.

Keep in mind that in the case of osteosarcoma, chemotherapy is done in conjunction with amputation and not on its own. 

Titanium Implants

If amputation isn’t viable, your vet may recommend metal implants instead. Its purpose is to restore your dog’s normal mobility in the soonest time possible.

This treatment option will remove the tumor and replace the missing bone parts with a titanium implant. It’s often done on the distal radius, the lower front limb above the dog’s wrist joint. They will fuse the joint with the bone and metal formation to help your dog walk properly. After the procedure, proper maintenance is vital to avert the risk of tumor relapse and metal infections.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation treatment is another effective alternative if surgery is no longer a viable option. While it doesn’t directly target the malignant cells, radiation therapy helps alleviate some of the pain your dog feels. In just two sessions, your dog can experience pain relief that can last for several months.

Management and Aftercare

Managing your dog’s bone cancer is vital in the entire treatment process. After a successful amputation, your vet will discuss a pain management plan to help your dog return to its normal functions. It may include restricted physical activity, inflammation and pain relief medication, and appropriate postoperative pain therapy.

It’s also important to monitor the condition of your dog consistently. Aside from regular check-ups, your vet may also require follow-up tests such as red and white blood cell counts and chest x-rays to ensure that there’s no remission of the malignant cells.

Help Your Canine Companion Cope with Bone Cancer

Canine osteosarcoma is an extremely painful condition with a poor prognosis if not treated immediately. Thus, it’s important to discuss all available options with your vet specialist comprehensively. By equipping yourself with knowledge about the condition, you can make the best choice for your furry friend.

Browse the TPLOinfo blog for more tips and advice about your dog’s health.

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