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What You Should Know about Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer) in Dogs

osteosarcoma rottweiler image

A type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma is the most common type of primary bone cancer in dogs, accounting for over 95% of all bone tumors. Other types of bone cancer are chondrosarcoma, fibrosarcoma, and hemangiosarcoma. “Primary” refers to cancer that starts in the bone versus spreading (metastasizing) into the bone from somewhere else.1

The cause of osteosarcoma in dogs isn’t well understood. Certain dog breeds are more prone to developing it. Scottish Deerhounds are genetically predisposed to osteosarcoma, and it occurs frequently in other large-breed dogs, especially Rottweilers. Large or giant/tall dogs are also at greater risk, as are middle-aged to older dogs.

Does My Dog Have Osteosarcoma?

Osteosarcoma can occur in any bone in a pet’s body, but in dogs, most tumors appear in the front limbs near the shoulder, wrist, and knee. Osteosarcoma is extremely aggressive, and it spreads quickly to other parts of the body, making early detection and treatment vital.

Signs and Symptoms of Osteosarcoma in Dogs

The symptoms of osteosarcoma in dogs can be subtle, and they may include:

  • Lameness that doesn’t go away and swelling of the affected bone; these are the most common symptoms when a tumor affects a limb
  • Swelling or a mass; this is often the first sign of a tumor in the skull, jaw, or ribs
  • Difficulty eating if a tumor affects the jaw
  • Neurologic signs, such as seizures or a wobbly gait, with the skull or spinal/vertebral tumors
  • Breathing difficulties or lameness with rib tumors
  • Loss of appetite and lethargy
ACVS-radiograph-osteosarcoma-in-dog

Source: ACVS.org

Diagnosis and Staging Osteosarcoma in Dogs

To diagnose osteosarcoma, veterinarians typically follow these steps:

  • First, your vet will take an X-ray and perform a physical and orthopedic examination to rule out other causes of lameness.
  • To obtain a definitive diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan for your dog, any problem areas identified on the X-ray will be biopsied.
  • Chest X-rays or a computed tomography (CT) scan, blood tests, and a urinalysis will be performed to assess your dog’s overall health and determine if cancer has spread (in 90–95% of dogs, the tumor will have already metastasized at the time of diagnosis; osteosarcoma most commonly spreads to the lungs).2

Advanced CT imaging is often recommended for osteosarcoma tumors of the limbs because it provides better information for a veterinary surgeon to determine if surgery is possible and the extent of surgery necessary to achieve a favorable outcome.

Learn about the signs and symptoms of cancer in pets →

Learn more about making a treatment decision for pets with cancer →

Treatment Options for Osteosarcoma in Dogs

Because osteosarcomas tumors are so aggressive, amputating the affected limb followed by chemotherapy to treat metastasis is the most common treatment. While amputation isn’t the right option for all pets, otherwise healthy dogs can function quite well with three legs.

Limb-sparing surgery—in which the tumor is removed and the bone is replaced with another bone (either from your pet or from a bone bank)—may be an option depending on the tumor’s location and whether it is relatively small at the time of diagnosis. The complication rate for this type of surgery, particularly infection, is relatively high, however.

When surgery isn’t an option due to tumor location, stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT) can be beneficial. It can also be an alternative to amputation for dogs in which the osteosarcoma hasn’t destroyed a great deal of bone. This advanced, highly accurate type of radiation therapy focuses high doses of radiation to damage and kill osteosarcoma cells. Follow-up chemotherapy is still necessary.

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 conventionally fractionated radiation therapy (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 osteosarcoma

Palliative treatment, which aims to make your pet more comfortable but doesn’t provide a cure, can include conventional radiation therapy and drugs to reduce pain.

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Osteosarcoma in Dogs: Life Expectancy, Survival, and Prognosis

The prognosis for pets with osteosarcoma depends on the severity and spread of the disease and on the treatment you choose.

Dogs with limb osteosarcoma that receive SRS and chemotherapy have a median survival time of about one year, similar to the survival time for dogs treated with amputation and chemotherapy. Up to 16–28% of dogs are alive at two years.3

The median survival time for dogs with amputation alone is about three months.4

Meet Our Osteosarcoma Pet Heroes

Here are a few our inspiring Pet Heroes that have fought bone cancer. We invite you to read their stories. If your pet was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, contact the nearest PetCure Oncology location near you. You can also ontact our Pet Advocates at (833) PET-HERO. Our team members are ready to help answer your questions.


“Bone tumors in cats and dogs,” acvs.org, https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/bone-tumors.
“Osteosarcoma in dogs and cats,” petcarerx.com,  https://www.petcarerx.com/article/osteosarcoma-in-dogs-and-cats/2842.
3 “Osteosarcoma: when amputation is not an option, part 2,” dogcancerblog.com, https://www.dogcancerblog.com/blog/osteosarcoma-when-amputation-is-not-an-option-2/.
“Bone tumors in cats and dogs,” acvs.org, https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/bone-tumors.
4 “Fact sheets: stereotactic radiosurgery,” vetmed.ucdavis.edu, http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vmth/small_animal/oncology/fact_sheets.cfm.

Meet the heroic pets we’ve treated →

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