Spinal Tumors in Dogs
Spinal tumors are relatively uncommon in dogs, with 90 percent of spinal tumors occurring in large breed dogs. Some of these tumors affect the bones of the vertebral column, while others arise from the neural tissues of the spinal cord itself. Spinal tumors are typically slow growing and can progress over weeks to months. Selecting the best treatment for you and your pet is critical as these slow-growing tumors may need more time than others to respond to treatment.
Does My Dog Have a Spinal Tumor?
Many pet owners will notice a change in their dog’s behavior as the first indicator of a spinal tumor, although some pets will not display symptoms until late during the disease.
“Mico’s mom noticed that he was slightly dragging both of his hind legs, wearing down the middle toenails on both and limping on his left front leg.”
Signs and Symptoms of a Spinal Tumor
If your pet displays these signs or symptoms of a spinal tumor, have your pet examined by your primary care veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Changes in Movement – Have you noticed a change in your pet’s activity level and what they are comfortable doing? Do they appear lethargic? Are they reluctant to lower their head to eat or drink out of a bowl?
- Changes in Coordination – Does your pet have a sudden reluctance to jump onto furniture or go up or downstairs? Are they having difficulty getting up or laying down?
- Weakness in Limbs – Has your pet exhibited weakness in one or more limbs? Displayed dragging of one or more feet or started limping recently? Do their muscles appear to be wasting?
- Pain in Your Pet – Have you noticed your pet appears to be in pain? Do they exhibit signs of sharp pain or have localized pain?
- Neurologic Changes – Does your pet have any neurologic symptoms like depression, decreased appetite, trouble urinating or defecating, or sudden paralysis?
Diagnosis and Staging
Diagnostic tests for spinal tumors can include one or more of the following:
- CT scan and/or MRI
- Chest X-rays
Treatment Options for a Spinal Tumor
A spinal tumor diagnosis can be scary, but there are treatment options available for your pet. The best course of treatment should be determined by the tumor location, type, and grade with a goal of minimizing the symptoms of the tumor as quickly as possible.
Surgery for a spinal tumor can be complicated based on the tumor location. If the tumor can be fully removed without impacting the functionality of the spinal cord, surgery is a good treatment option.
Chemotherapy is used to treat spinal tumors that have already spread or have a high risk for spread. A variety of treatment protocols are available incorporating multiple drugs; specific recommendations will vary depending on tumor type.
Palliative therapies such as antibiotics and painkillers can help maintain quality of life but do not slow progression of the spinal tumor. Corticosteroids are often used to decrease swelling and discomfort and improve quality of life.
Before the introduction of stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT) in veterinary medicine, conventionally fractionated radiation therapy (CFRT) was the most common type of radiation prescribed. CFRT can be used alone or follow a surgery to remove a spinal tumor where some cancer cells remain. CFRT can treat the tumor in ways surgery or chemotherapy can’t and in many cases is the recommended course of treatment, but there are also disadvantages including multiple anesthetic episodes and prolonged courses of treatment.
Stereotactic Radiation (SRS/SRT)
At PetCure Oncology, our centers offer CFRT as well as the newer and more advanced forms of radiation therapy like SRS/SRT. The main advantage of SRS/SRT is that it delivers high doses of radiation with sub-millimeter precision. This means:
- Maximum damage to the tumor and minimal collateral damage to healthy tissues nearby
- Fewer treatment sessions compared to CFRT—patients require only 1-3 sessions, which means fewer anesthetic events, less risk, and less disruption to your schedule
- Potential for quicker recovery with fewer side effects
- Ability to treat tumors previously considered untreatable with radiation
- PetCure Oncology’s radiation oncologists are experienced using SRS/SRT to treat dogs with spinal tumors
Spinal Tumors in Dogs: Life Expectancy, Survival, and Prognosis
Prognosis varies by case, tumor type, and tumor location. As with any cancer, the earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances that treatment will be successful.
Meet Our Spinal Cancer Pet Heroes
Meet our inspiring Pet Heroes that have fought a spinal tumor. We invite you to read their stories. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, contact our Pet Advocates at (833) PET-HERO or your local PetCure Oncology center. Our team members are ready to help answer your questions.
Reviewed by: Dr. Glenna Mauldin DVM, MS, DACVIM
 Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology. Spinal Cord Tumor Canine. https://www.vsso.org/index.php/education-new/cancer-information-new/cancer-in-dogs-by-tumor-type-new/9-education/436-spinal-cord-tumors-canine