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Symptoms of Dogs with Bone Cancer

Cancer Diet, Elderly Dogs, Osteosarcoma

Dog bone cancer, typically affects large and giant dog breeds, generally arising in middle aged to elderly dogs. Most dogs develop this form of cancer when they are 6 years or older. While any bone can virtually be affected by cancer, the limbs are affected 75 to 85 percent of the time, according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center . Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer affecting dogs and when it affects the limbs, it is known as “appendicular osteosarcoma”. If your dog was diagnosed with bone cancer, you may want to learn more on what to do for a dog with bone cancer and the treatment options.

Causes of Dog Bone Cancer

Unfortunately, it is still unknown what exactly causes bone cancer in dogs. However, there are several theories being postulated. Since this form of cancer heavily affects dogs on the larger side, early rapid growth may be a culprit. Because there is a history of it occurring in dogs with metal plates or pins used to repair fractured bones, chronic irritation may play a role, explains veterinarian Jeffrey Philbert, in an article for PetPlace.com . Interestingly, a study on 3218 dogs demonstrated that dogs that were neutered before a year of age had significantly higher chances for developing bone cancer.

Symptoms of Bone Cancer in Dogs

When bone cancer affects the limbs, dogs may become lame and the affected limb may swell. The lameness may be intermittent at first, but as the cancer damages the bone, the dog may be limping continuously. Affected dogs are usually in pain, will appear to be less active, more likely to sleep and there may be loss of appetite. Often, the limb fractures with minimal trauma. Because this type of cancer tends to metastasize (spread) to the lungs, (secondary bone cancer) dogs may also start coughing and having breathing difficulties.

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Other less common types of bone cancer may affect the pelvic bones, shoulder blades, vertebrae, skull and facial bones. In these cases, affected dogs may exhibit trouble chewing, trouble swallowing, facial swelling and nasal discharge if the cancer has developed in the skull or facial bones. Cancer in the ribs may be suspected when a hard lump is found on a rib.

If your dog develops any of these signs it is imperative to seek out veterinary care and rule out bone cancer by having x-rays done. Most forms of bone cancer can be diagnosed with x-rays, as the cancer leaves characteristic signs of the ”bone being eaten away”. A chest x-ray is also recommended to determine the presence of lung metastases.

How to Help Dogs with Bone Cancer

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for bone cancer in dogs. However, its progress can be slowed down to prolong the dog’s life. The top priority is relieving the dog’s pain and this is accomplished with effective pain medications. Other options are surgery, where the tumor is removed, however this means the leg must be amputated. Pain is effectively relieved when the limb is amputated, however amputation is worthless if the cancer has already metastasized. Some owners may elect to have limb-sparing surgery done, where the bone with the tumor is removed and replaced with a bone graft from a donor bone, however this option is limited to a few veterinary surgical referral centers.

Chemotherapy is often recommended in conjunction with surgery. When the two are combined, there are higher chances for slowing down the progress of the disease, since chemotherapy will delay the formation of new cancerous cells. Radiation therapy may help reduce the pain. Diet, may play a role as well since a good cancer diet may help minimize the nutrients that “nourish” cancerous cells.

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Younger dogs diagnosed with osteosarcoma tend to have shorter survival rates and more aggressive forms of cancer when compared to older dogs. Prognosis is also worse for dogs whose x-rays already show visible signs of metastasis to the lungs. Unfortunately, 95% of dogs already have metastatic disease upon being diagnosed with bone cancer, explains veterinary surgeon Daniel A. Degner on Vet Surgery Center (see references).

How to Prevent Dog Bone Cancer

There is not much that can be done from a preventive standpoint, since the causes for bone cancer in dogs are still poorly understood and still currently being studied. Since there are breed predispositions, any breed line with a history of osteosarcoma should be evaluated carefully before being allowed to breed.

Obviously ensuring a dog’s body and mind stay in good health is imperative. The immune system is the dog’s first line of defense when it comes to battling diseases. A good diet is very important as well in preventing cancer in dogs. But most of all, being observant of any changes in the dog’s behavior may provide the advantage of early detection. The earlier dog bone cancer is diagnosed, the better chances of longer survival times.