Canine Osteosarcoma is a form of bone cancer in dogs. This cancer accounts for 85% of the veterinarian diagnosed bone tumors, making it the most common bone tumor. Bone tumors typically manifest in large and giant breed dogs, initially in the limbs. Sometimes the tumor originates in a place where an earlier injury occurred.
Warning signs include limping, especially progressive lameness, and swelling. Cancer weakens and destroys the bone as it progresses.
Canine Osteosarcoma Progression and Treatment
This is a primary tumor, which means that cancer originates in the bone and then moves elsewhere in the body by way of the bloodstream. It is extremely aggressive and painful.
The cancerous cells tend to metastasize first to blood-rich cells, such as those present in the lungs. Frequently, by the time your pet manifests visible symptoms (limping, swelling) cancer has already spread to the lungs. Repeated coughing is a sign that it may have invaded your dog’s lungs.
Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The traditional surgical option is amputation. Recently a few universities have been performing limb-sparing procedures. This usually involves removing the tumor and strengthening the limb with a bone graft. Whatever surgical option is chosen, it must be combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to be effective. Surgery removes the main tumor, but if cancer has metastasized to the lungs or spread elsewhere in the bones, it will only continue to advance.
Radiation and Chemotherapy in Dogs with Canine Osteosarcoma
Chemotherapy is very effective at killing any remaining cancer cells present in the dog’s body. Chemotherapy is the process of injecting or administering orally a combination of drugs designed to target cancer cells. Most dogs won’t suffer any side effects from chemotherapy when it is administered properly and by a board-certified veterinary oncologist.
Chemotherapy drugs kill cells that grow quickly, such as cancer cells. (Other fast-growing cells include those in the hair follicles, which explains why chemotherapy can cause hair loss in humans.) The idea is to kill the cancer cells without permanently damaging healthy cells.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy will be offered in lieu of surgery. However, their objective is to try to control tumor growth, thus resulting in some pain control for the patient. Palliative chemotherapy or radiation are not intended to cure the disease.
Pain Management for Osteosarcoma
If your pet isn’t a candidate for amputation, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, then pain management becomes paramount.
Veterinarians have a range of narcotics available to control pain in your pet. As with humans, these drugs may inhibit a dog’s responses. He or she may sleep a lot or seem woozy or dazed. If this is the case, the veterinarian may suggest delivering the narcotic through the dog’s skin, in the form of a patch. This method has risks of its own but can significantly enhance the quality of the dog’s day-to-day life.
Seek Medical Advice Quickly
It is likely that by the time you take your pet to the vet to investigate a limp that cancer has already spread to the lungs but may not be visible on any x-rays yet. Once diagnosed, pet parents who act quickly, and on their best possible research and medical advice, such as amputation and chemotherapy could head off this fatal disease and lengthen their pet’s otherwise healthy life by years.
According to Petcureoncology.com-
“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 [stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT)] 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. The median survival time for dogs with amputation alone is about three months”.
We have customers of Walkin’ pets that have had their dogs survive up to 6 plus years after treatment/s. This survival result will obviously vary situation-to-situation.
The one thing that will be obvious to all pet parents is mounting veterinary bills as you move through your medical options. (All is not bleak! See pet insurance coverage below).
Will Pet Insurance Cover Canine Osteosarcoma Costs?
Understanding that 1 in 4 pets over the age of 10 are diagnosed with a form of cancer at some point in their life, it makes sense to have pet insurance. Most Pet Insurance policies will cover procedures and treatments for a variety of cancers, including osteosarcoma. Costs will differ depending on your geographical location and the advancement of your pet’s cancer.
Range of treatment costs are:
- Consultation fees: $150 – $250
- Chemotherapy: $200 – $650/dose
- Radiation: $1,000 – $6,000
- Amputation: $1,000 – $2000
In a case where it is wise to have your pet’s limb amputated, most insurance companies and policies will cover the surgery. Consult with your pet’s policy to understand your coverage. Inform the insurance provider of your pet’s prognosis as you move through this difficult process, submitting your veterinary bills to the company as you go.
Pre-Existing conditions are NOT covered by any pet insurance policy. If you have a pet insurance policy when your pet is diagnosed, all the better!
Mobility Devices for Amputee pets due to Canine Osteosarcoma
- Harnesses and slings
- Splints and Leg Support
- Boots and Braces
- Orthotics or Prosthetics
According to 365 Pet Insurance dot com:
“Although many mobility devices are recommended due to amputation, many other conditions might require mobility devices.
- Neurologically deficient limbs
- Elbow dysplasia
- Weak joints
- Recovery from surgery
- Shortening of muscles
A major concern for pet owners is if pet insurance will pay for mobility devices. Many pet insurance companies will cover the cost of the mobility devices if they are medically necessary. Pet owners do not have to purchase a special policy or add-on policy to have this coverage because it’s covered under the basic health insurance plan. Each pet insurance company may be different in terms of which type of mobility device they will cover. They will not cover a mobility device for cosmetic purposes.
Plans with Specific Language Regarding Amputation – Some pet insurance companies will cover amputation as well as mobility devices if certain conditions are present or requirements are met.”
Support Groups for Pet Parents of Pets with Osteosarcoma
Join an online support group! There are many avenues to find support, shared hope, and inspiration. Facebook and virtually all social media sites will have groups for pet parents to join. Or start your own page! There are many inspiring stories of our furry kids that have survived osteosarcoma and lived healthy lives beyond cancer and treatments.
Linked here is a website that began as a result of their Facebook page: Bone Cancer Dogs-
On this page, they share a study on a 2018 Osteosarcoma Vaccine clinical trial with links to participating clinics around the U.S. Check with your local Veterinary Oncologist or primary veterinarian to see if he or she knows of a local study.
THERE IS HOPE and it is important to not give up if your pet is not giving up. There may be veterinarians that do not come across enough successful cases of bone cancer to have full knowledge of positive outcomes. Maybe amputation is not right for your pet … It is important to see an Oncologist to find results and possibly different options. There is a wealth of information available to you.