Bone Cancer in Dogs: A Comprehensive Guide for Dog Owners

Dog going forward and figthing
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Possibly to affect any types of dog, bone cancer is best prevented by awareness and proper diagnosis as well as treatment in the right stage. In many cases, owners believe it is just senile arthritis and muscle spasms and nothing more. This causes elevated levels of tumors that lead to its fatal reasons. From treatment options of chemotherapy to amputation, there are many severe treatments to aid dogs in critical stages of cancer as well.

The information ahead will teach you what bone cancer is, types, causes, and symptoms. There is also substantial information on the diagnosis and treatment of this disease as well as how to take care of a three-legged dog after surgery.

Cancer signs in dogs

A major cause of death in dogs, bone cancer is known to affect the giant or large dogs. Nevertheless, half of the cancer that occurs in dogs is curable if diagnosed early. In order to save your little guy from excruciating pain and subsequent death, you should thoroughly know what bone cancer and tumors are as well as the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Affecting dogs of the ages 7 years and above, bone cancer is known to affect the larger breed of dogs like German shepherd, Rottweiler, Doberman pinscher, Great Dane, Irish Setters and Golden retriever. The highest rate of organ affected is the limbs with a percentage of 75-80! Apart from that, it is also, known to affect the ribs, skull, pelvis and ribs.

Types of bone cancer that can manifest in dogs

Here are some of the most common types:


This is the most common category of bone cancer and it accounts up to 85% of cases that persists in the limbs of the dogs. The surveys report that about 10,000 dogs in the United States are, affected each year with this. This cancer can also extend to a dog’s ribs and skull. The cause of osteosarcoma remains in darkness while many valid theories revolve around cases persistent or high bone-injuries and high doses of radiation.

The effect of osteosarcoma is 20 folds lesser likely to affect smaller dogs against larger breeds.  The main age frame of the patients with osteosarcoma are too little (1-2 years) or too old (7-10).  The disease grows from the inner part of the bones slowly into the outside making a consistent phase of excruciating pain in the dog.

You can read more about this condition in this great article focusing on osteosarcoma in dogs.


The second type of bone cancer that manifests in dogs is quite rare and accounts to 5% of cancerous bone tumors. Known to occur in the skeletal of the axial area like the jawbones, ribs, vertebrae and facial bones, it can also extend to the limbs. Based on their location, there are two division of fibrosarcoma: central and parosteal fibrosarcoma. The major treatment for this type of bone cancer is amputation, resection or other means of limb salvaging.


One of the major known bone cancers that affects dogs is called chondosarcoma, which is accounted as 5-10% of the bone tumors. This disease is usually a cartilage-related cancer and it is not as severe as osteosarcoma. Majorly reported on the flatter bones like that of skulls or ribs, it can also appear on the thighbones (femur).

Symptoms of this cancer form are almost similar to osteosarcoma, and it can be treated by removing the cancerous bones. The implementation of chemotherapies is least active for this type of cancer but recent research has found that an antibiotic called fluroquinolone is known to be a major aggravating toxic substance to this cancer.


Accounting to lesser than 5% of all bone cancer cases, hemangiosarcoma tends to affect the axial skeleton as well as dogs’ limbs at a tender young age. The situation involves a high incidence of metastases and hence, the tests such as echocardiogram and ultrasound of the abdomen will be taken prior to the surgery. The management and treatment involves chemotherapy, doxorubicin consumption or amputation.

If you fear that this is what your pooch may have, you’d do best to read up on hemangiosarcoma in dogs so that you are adequately prepared for the next steps in your dog’s treatment.

Multilobular osteochondosarcoma

Occurring at the sites of periosteum linings, this is a rare cancer in dogs. Some of the areas involved or affected are skulls, pelvis, ribs and palate. All symptoms are dependent on the location of the tumor and hence, computed tomography is the lone option to determine the health of the entire anatomy as well as the health of neighboring structures.

Treatment options for this cancer are radiation or resection. Some of the best diagnosis is, made through recurrence rate of metastasis, location of the tumor and histology of the same.

Joint tumor

The tumors are occurred on the tendon sheaths and bursae as well as the cells of joints in the body. The two kind of synovial type of sarcomas are epithelioid and spindle.  Some other categories of joint sarcomas include histiocytocoma, myxosarcoma and myxoma.

Causes and symptoms

Causes are not an evident or solid theory yet, but it is known that many factors aggravate or result in bone cancer. Causes of bone cancer that manifests in dogs are not certified as genetic or hereditary reasons, but some theories state that genetic reasons put the dog in vulnerable cancerous conditions. Some of the known causes that can lead to this disease are:

  1. Ionizing radiations
  2. Bullets
  3. Internal fixators
  4. Metal implants
  5. Bone transplants
  6. Chemical carcinogens
  7. Foreign bodies
  8. Skeletal anomalies
  9. Chronic osteomyelitis
  10. Repeated bone fractures
  11. Bone infarcts
  12. Plutonium injections
  13. Bone infections
  14. Abnormal growth (cytokine and hormone imbalances)
  15. Genetic reasons

Many genetic reasons account to the reasons as found through research. Research thesis proves that DNA and RNA viruses trigger OSA. In addition, higher blood density of the vessels is a known indicator of OSA as well.

Symptoms are generally akin to other subtle or benign symptoms of a routine pain or fatigue. These symptoms are usually, occurred in the long or twisted bones, skulls, rubs, pelvic or joints in the dog. Often these symptoms are, neglected, thinking that they signal towards just a benign cause. When these symptoms are picked up due to the extreme pain, lethargy and obvious soreness, dog tends to be already in the critical zone.

First symptoms of bone cancer happen due to the spread of metastasis into other organs in the body. If you are a proper dog lover who takes strict and consistent appointments to the doctor, there are greater chances that your dog will be cured from the first advent symptom of bone cancer. On the other hand, if you are well aware of the symptoms and reactions of a dog in pain because of a tumor, then it is highly possible that you can help diagnose and treat your dog with proper medical care at the right time.

Dog at therapy

All or some of the symptoms described will start showing in a cancerous dog. In the due course of neglect, slowly, every symptom on the list below starts to descend. It is necessary to distinguish depression and moaning in a dog due to pain in his cancerous bones, rather than random irritation he has during the day. Following provides all of the documented signs and symptoms of bone cancer in little and large dogs:

  • Swelling
  • Weakness in bones
  • Bulge in the eye
  • Pain when opening the mouth
  • Facial deformations
  • Nasal discharge
  • Dysphagia
  • Hyperesthesia
  • Aggression
  • Irritation
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Pain
  • Slower-response
  • Tender skin
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Inflammations
  • Redness or soreness

Diagnosis methods

All or any improvement of the symptoms is in no way an indication of the reduction of cancer in your dog. On the other hand, it might even become direct, deep, and malignant growth in the dog if neglected for long.

All types of diagnosis for bone cancer require advanced test and observational techniques. The first step is to take your dog to a professional physician who is certified as an expert in his field.

Dog bone XRay

There is a high chance of incapable veterinarians diagnosing your dog without higher tests that the symptom of lethargy in your dog is due to his diarrhea or tapeworms rather than asserting it as the first symptom of bone cancer. If you have a hesitant doctor, wither change him or emphasize that you need the doctor to do one of the following tests, which are, used to determine bone cancer in dogs.


An optional diagnostic for bone cancer in dogs, X-rays are not always reliable. Most of the bone cancer cases in dogs are usually, diagnosed with the help of an X-ray. The inferences of a diseased bone from X-ray are swollen tissues, lytic lesion, speculated looking new bone formations, cortex thinning and fracture in the bones.

All cases of perpetual lameness, swelling and pain in your dog can be, observed with the help of an x-ray. In cases of insufficient evidence from an X-ray owing to the similar inference akin to an infection, biopsy is, conducted.


The next conclusive diagnosis is with the help of a biopsy. When the sign of infection is malignant, the physician prescribes a biopsy. Biopsy helps to isolate the infections organism for an individual treatment with antibiotics. Typically, there are two types of bone biopsy done for bone cancer. They are open-incision and closed needle biopsy.

The open method collects a piece of the infected tissue for precise diagnosis while the latter takes several evidences to observe. The former can involve issues of bruising the bone, seeding of tumor cells on the surgical site and wound infection are some of it. The latter does not involve problems like the previous one.

Bone scan

Occasionally, scan of the bone with CT scans and MRI tends to provide more information, although it is not necessary. For OSA, bone scans search for the spread of the tumor. Some of the advanced imaging technologies include CT and MRI, which can help in determining the rate of vascularised tumor based on pulmonary metastases.

CT scans help to determine the level of cancer in your body. It determines the rate of the cancer that has stretched out and the infection in lymph nodes to know the range of metastasis.
MRI scans use radio waves to outline the tumor and is one of the best ways to determine the tumor.

Blood Tests

A detailed prognosis before the surgery can be, gained by doing a blood test to determine the total alkaline phosphate as well as alkaline bone phosphate.

Treatment for your dog

Earlier the treatment, better it is.  Treatment options are not restricted to one method, but many. In order to conduct the treatment techniques, one should have a clear outline and location of the tumor as well as the effect of the metastasis of the tumor.

  1. Amputation: First method of treatment is through amputating the infected limb for the type of appendicular osteosarcoma. The general recommendation is of an entire quarter of the forelimb to be, amputated. This aids the complete healing of the disease. For lesions of proximal femoral is the lone treatment.
    The thought of your lovely dog losing his leg can be a traumatic thought, but in its actuality, three legged dogs are as capable as the normal ones. Your dog always tolerates it, so you need not worry about him having a traumatic memory of it. Amputation is the most feasible option of treatment for this.
  2. Chemotherapy: This is, conducted by the utilization of drugs, generally after amputation. The chemotherapy is, conducted based on the type of bone cancer that the dog has. Generally given intravenously, chemotherapy is, started 12-14 days after the amputation. The drugs given are doxorubicin, cisplatin and carboplatin. Chemotherapy is, done to protect the dog from contacting any cancerous cells that might have travelled during the amputation. Without the chemotherapy, the chance of survival of the dog is maximum of up to one year.
  3. Limb-sparing surgery: this surgery is, done by removing a bone from the sick limb and replaces it with a bone from a functioning limb by utilizing an implant made of metal. This can also be, done using replacing the diseased bone with a frozen bone from the bone bank. This surgery takes 2-3 hours to complete and the patient is discharge after 4 days of hospital rest. Some of the complications due to the limb-sparing surgery are implant failure, infection and tumor recurrence.
  4. Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is usually, implemented with three doses. The first two doses of radiation are, administered within a gap of one week, while the other two doses are giving within a gap of 2 weeks. The change in the bone density and healing mechanisms start within 18-21 days and continue to work up to 120 days.
    The therapy can be re-administrated to induce relief from the pain to determine and treat the exact stage of cancer. Another kind of specific radiation is usually, considered to improve the pain as well as the discomfort.
  5. Medications: After the radiation therapy and other surgeries, one should continue various other medications to keep the health of the dog in check. For example, after radiation therapy, one should administer the drug pamidronate to decrease the destruction of bones any further.
    After chemotherapy, one should continue the veterinarian consultations without fail to give medicines like doxorubicin. Only through periodical check-up can one provide proper care to the dog.

If these options are something you want to consider, you should definitely read up on our fascinating article detailing dog cancer treatments.

It is true that dogs live for their walks. First thing to remember while taking care of your dog after the surgery is to provide him absolute rest, but continuing to take him for walks. All dogs have the superb quality of adjusting to amputation and other surgeries.  Surveys report that most dogs cope with the loss of one limb without any trouble.

Dog without leg

One must take care of the dog better after the surgery and chemotherapy. As for dogs, they adjust the best to the tripod facility and the lightweight feel better than their previous four-legged ability.  All that you need to keep in your mind is, however she is, take her out, walk with her and make new games for her to play. All that your dog needs the best is the energy, love and care from your side so that she understand that nothing much has changed anyway, apart from the fact that she is healthy, fit and cancer-free now!

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.