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Bone Cancer in Cats and Dogs

The Types, Symptoms, and Treatment Options for Bone Cancer

By Madeleine Burry. November 16, 2012 | See Comments

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Bone Cancer in Cats and Dogs

Bone cancer in cats and dogs usually means surgery and chemotherapy. Read about the symptoms and treatments for bone cancer in pets.

Primarily afflicting dogs, with relatively rarer occurrences in cats, a bone cancer diagnosis generally necessitates surgery with a course of chemotherapy to follow. As with any cancer diagnosis, the cause is unclear, although larger breeds of dogs, and possibly of cats as well, seem to have a greater likelihood of occurrence. German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, and Golden Retrievers are among the breeds of dogs that tend to be diagnosed with bone cancer more frequently.

Symptoms and Diagnosis:

Many of the symptoms of bone cancer resemble arthritis — you may notice your cat or dog limping, having trouble with formerly easy activities like jumping onto the bed or going up and down stairs, and avoiding exercise. With cats, a lack of interest in food is also a common symptom. Because the causes of bone cancer are unknown, there is no prevention strategy.

If you notice symptoms of lameness or swelling around the joints, take your pet to the vet. Your vet will check for tumors and other symptoms associated with bone cancer; a biopsy will be necessary, as well as a thorough physical, and potentially x-rays of impacted areas, and a check of the pet’s blood count.

Types of Bone Cancer:

There are many types of bone cancer that can afflict cats and dogs, but the most common forms are:

Osteosarcoma:

This type of bone cancer, commonly occurring in femurs, frequently metastasizes throughout the pet’s body, and can often be deadly.

Chondrosarcoma:

This fast-spreading cancer forms in the cartilage between joints and bones, particularly flat bones such as ribs or the ones found in noses.

Fibrosarcomas:

A rarer form of bone cancer, fibrosarcomas or FSA, often occur in the jaws or ribs of pets.

Synovial Cell Carcinomas:

Found in joints, this cancer is easily mistaken for lameness.

Hemangiosarcoma:

An uncommon form of cancer, hemangiosarcoma generally occurs in young dogs, and has a low survival rate.

Of these variants, the most commonly contracted for dogs is osteosarcoma. Abbreviated as OSA, this cancer can be found in any bone, but especially in limbs. Lameness and swelling are very common symptoms.

Treatment Options and Prognosis:

The main form of treatment when cats and dogs get bone cancer is surgery to remove the cancerous area. With osteosarcoma cancer, which generally occurs in femurs or other long bones, amputation of a leg is very common. Surgery is the best way to completely eliminate the tumor, which decreases your pet’s pain.

Determining whether surgery is the best option for your pet will depend on a few factors, including your dog or cat’s ability to get around on only three legs and your family’s comfort with the surgery. For most pets, it is relatively easy to adapt post-surgery, but some breeds can be less adept at moving around with a missing limb.

When surgery isn’t an option, regardless of the reason, localized radiation in the cancerous area can be a helpful treatment. Bone cancer is a highly metastasizing type of cancer, so a round of chemotherapy typically follows the surgery to make sure to catch any malignant cells that have spread.

While the chemotherapy can occur at any point, scheduling it for after the surgery is recommended. Even with thorough treatment, including surgery and chemotherapy, bone cancer will shorten the expected lifespan of a pet drastically. Without cancer drugs for dogs or cats, their lifespan will be even shorter.

After treatment, it will be important that your pet rests in a stress-free environment. After a few weeks, your pet can ease back into exercise and movement, getting used to maneuvering with a missing limb. Your veterinarian will have prescribed pain medication to alleviate your pet’s pain following surgery. A few months post-surgery, a follow-up visit to the vet is important to see how your pet’s recovery is going, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of the surgery, and see if any metastasis has occurred.

More on Types of Cancer

Mast Cell Cancer in Pets
Lymphoma in Cats and Dogs
Histiocytosis in Pets

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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