Overcoming and Treating Osteosarcoma in Dogs by Deborah Shores, DVM

Flickr Photo by William Marlow

What is Osteosarcoma?

Canine osteosarcoma is the most common form of bone tumor in dogs. Although it can affect all breeds, it is typically found in larger breeds, including the Irish Wolfhound, Rottweiler, Greyhound, and Great Dane. (1)

Osteosarcoma is an extremely aggressive cancer and spreads rapidly. It can develop in any bone, but is most common in the areas surrounding the shoulder, wrist, and knee. It starts deep within the bone and progressively moves outward, destroying the bone from the inside out. As the disease progresses, it becomes more painful.

What are the Symptoms of Osteosarcoma?

The most common symptom of osteosarcoma is lameness and pain, sometimes with a swelling or mass. Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, weight loss, and general irritability from the pain. 

Osteosarcoma tends to metastasize (spread) to the lungs and other areas. Unfortunately, a large percentage of osteosarcomas have already metastasized by the time they are diagnosed.

What’s the Cause of Osteosarcoma?

As with all cancers, we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that cancer can arise from a multitude of factors, including genetic predispositions, environmental causes, and diet. For more information on the causes of cancer, please refer to our previous article, Cancer In Dogs.

What are Some Available Treatment Options of Osteosarcoma?

The standard treatment of osteosarcoma is amputation of the affected leg. Amputation resolves the pain in almost all cases. Many dogs function surprisingly well after surgery with only three limbs. 

Limb-sparing surgery, typically used for humans, has been adapted for use in canines. It involves the removal of the tumorous bone and either replaced by a bone graft or regrown via bone transport osteogenesis. Limb-sparing surgery does not work for all cases. It is best for tumors of the forearm (distal radius). Unfortunately, limb-sparing surgery also comes with a wide variety of complications, including infection and recurrence of tumor. 

Another type of limb-sparing that is available is called stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT). This treatment spares the limb from amputation using radiation instead of surgery. It works equally well in many different tumor sites, including the forearm (distal radius), upper arm (proximal humerus), knee (distal femur) and ankle (distal tibia). The after-effects of radiation are minimal but some dogs are more prone to fracture after the treatment. (3)

In addition to surgery, chemotherapy is also used to combat the cancer. Although it is not likely a cure for canines for osteosarcoma, it helps to extend their survival time. Chemotherapy is most often used in combination with amputation or a limb-sparing procedure. 

In a study performed by The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of America in 2004, results showed that amputation with chemotherapy resulted in survival rates of 7-21% of dogs still alive after two years, and 30-62% after one year. The combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy resulted in 50% of dogs alive after one year and 38% alive after two. Limb-sparing surgery and chemotherapy resulted in 63% of dogs alive after one year. The worst survival rate was amputation without chemotherapy, with resulted in 10% of dogs alive after one year. (2)

What are Some Alternative Treatment Options of Osteosarcoma?

It is important to talk to a local holistic veterinarian for holistic or complementary treatment options. Most holistic veterinarians recommend amputation or a limb-sparing procedure and then a protocol to help reduce the spread and growth of cancer cells (metastasis). These plans are specifically tailored to the individual patient using traditional Chinese herbs, classical homeopathy, and vegetables like kale and broccoli and medicinal mushrooms.  Many treatments can also be used with chemotherapy.

Elimay Supplement’s Onco Care contains the herb Artemisia annua. This herb’s active ingredient, artemisinin, has been shown to help slow the growth of osteosarcoma cells. This herb is often used after amputation or limb-sparing procedure. (4)

Because the typical prognosis of osteosarcoma is usually only a few years or less, your greatest goal as your dog’s owner is to keep him as comfortable and happy as possible. Palliative treatments, such as anti-inflammatories and narcotics can be prescribed by your veterinarian and will provide temporary relief. The use of homeopathic remedy Arnica montana and acupuncture can be also provide pain relief.  Physiotherapy can also improve your dog’s quality of life by strengthening the remaining limbs and muscles after amputation. 

Elimay Supplements offers a few products including Chemo Detox and Onco Care  help support your cancer patient. Chemo Detox was created for dogs specifically undergoing chemotherapy. It’s unique blend of herbs supports cleansing, elimination of toxins and immune support. Onco Care is designed for combat abnormal cell growth (cancer). It’s combination of powerful herbs helps to support healthy cell growth.

(1)      Dobson, J. 2013. Review Article: Breed-Predispositions to Cancer in Pedigree Dogs. Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. p. 5, 11-12.
(2)     Milner, R. 2004, July 31. Osteosarcoma: The Nemesis of Large Breed Dogs. University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine 8th Annual Dog Owner’s & Breeder’s Symposium Proceedings. Sourced 27 August 2013 at: http://rrcus.org/rhodesianridgebackhealth/Documents-PDFs/Osteosarcoma.pdf
(3)    Ryan, S. 2011. Limb Sparing Options: Surgical & Sterotactic Radiotherapy. ACVIM Proceedings. Veterinary Information Network.
(4)    Palmquist, R. 2012, February 26. Owner Wants to Try Artemisinin for Canine Osteosarcoma. Veterinary Information Network Vet-to-Vet Alternative Medicine Board.

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