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Osteosarcoma in dogs – treacherous and unstoppable

Osteosarcoma in dogs is the most common cancer that occurs in our four-legged friends. I will honestly say that it is a subject that does not come easily to me. In my practice, I have cared for several patients with osteosarcoma after their amputation. It is a difficult path for both dog and owner. Nevertheless, it is important for me to give you comprehensive information about the disease.

It metastasized early to the lungs. Osteosarcoma is a primary bone tumor. This means that the tumor originates in the bone and does not metastasize to it.

Osteosarcoma in dogs – treacherous and unstoppable

When osteosarcoma is detected, it has already metastasized in approximately 20% of patients. A large proportion of affected dogs already have micrometastases. Due to their small size, they are often not yet visible at the time of diagnosis. The tumor metastasizes very quickly and early. Osteosarcoma usually metastasizes to organs, especially the lungs. The lymph nodes can also be affected. The metastases have a sphere-like appearance.

Osteosarcoma usually first affects the long tubular bones, such as the thigh or upper arm. However, the spine, ribs, chest area, scapula, head bones, pelvis and foot bones can also be affected.

What is the cause and who is affected?

It is thought to be hereditary in some breeds. Affected are mostly large breeds like Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds. Rarely are small dogs affected. Osteosarcoma then usually occurs in short and flat bones, for example in the scapula.

Possible symptoms

Since osteosarcomas occur predominantly on the long tubular bones, lameness is one of the first symptoms. It can also occur after supposedly minor traumas such as jumping out of a car. Often, swelling and tenderness already occur in parallel at the site of the tumor.

Affected dogs show severe pain during movement and avoid movement. The general condition also deteriorates. The quadruped has less appetite, loses weight and is powerless.


Because the tumor grows rapidly and metastasizes, the prognosis is very poor. In untreated osteosarcoma, the average survival time after diagnosis is a maximum of three months.

The diagnosis of osteosarcoma

Comprehensive diagnostics for suspected osteosarcoma include the following measures:

  • Examination of the lymph nodes
  • Complete blood test and organ profile
  • X-rays of the bone changes as well as the lungs in 3 planes (if necessary. supplemented by a CT in case of questionable findings
  • Biopsy of the bony change and possibly of the enlarged lymph node

Treatment options

Before treatment is planned, it is necessary to determine what stage of the disease the dog is in and whether the tumor has already metastasized. In the case of osteosarcoma in a limb, not only is the local tumor usually removed, but the entire limb is amputated. Amputation is usually followed by chemotherapy to prevent or slow metastatic growth.

Thus, the prognosis for amputation and chemotherapy is between one and two years. In the case of a mere amputation, the survival time is significantly lower. Physiotherapeutic treatment is recommended after an amputation and also palliative.

What physical therapy should focus on

After an amputation, body sensation and body center of gravity change. In addition, phantom limb pain and paresthesias may occur. In order for a dog to cope well with this, it is important to provide him with physiotherapy. Pain relief for the patient is the top priority. Furthermore, it is important to maintain mobility and musculature. Thus, one should relax tense and overloaded areas of the body.

One should always be aware that the diagnosis of osteosarcoma has poor chances of cure. Nevertheless, physiotherapy can provide good services and palliative care is extremely valuable.

The focus of physiotherapy should always be on freedom from pain and quality of life for the sake of the dog.

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