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Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in Dogs and Cats

Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in Dogs and Cats

Osteosarcomas are the most common bone cancer in dogs. They often occur in the bones in the limbs such as the radius, femur and humerus. The occur when the cells that grow and destroy bone (called osteoclasts and osteoblasts) start to behave abnormally. The exact reason why this happens is unknown, but there is thought to be genetic as well as environmental factors. 

Unfortunately, in dogs these cancers carry a very poor prognosis because they rapidly metastasise or spread throughout the body as well as causing severe pain and bone breakage. They frequently occur in large breed dogs, but any breed of dog or cat can be affected. Although the prognosis is poor in dogs, the cancer generally carries a better prognosis for our feline friends. 


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Who is affected?

Osteosarcomas are most common in large and giant breed dogs. They can occur at any age but are according to PetSure claims data are frequently diagnosed in cats and dogs aged between 6 and 10 years old. 

According to PetSure data in the 2020 calendar year, osteosarcoma is most prevalent in the following breeds: 





Dogue De Bordeaux


Great Dane






Rhodesian Ridgeback






Bernese Mountain


Alaskan Malamute 


*Prevalence = Total number of unique claiming pets / total number of insured pets across 12-month period. Excludes breeds with less than 500 active pet insurance policies.

Signs of Osteosarcoma

The main signs of osteosarcoma are lameness, pain and sometimes swelling in the affected area. Sometimes this may occur suddenly, and in some cases, there may be an accompanying bone fracture. 

Diagnosing Osteosarcoma 

One of the initial ways an osteosarcoma can be investigated is by X-ray. The abnormal bone often has a distinctive appearance which will make the vet suspicious of osteosarcoma. However, to be certain of the diagnosis, an aspirate or biopsy of the affected bone will often be done. X-rays of the chest are required to check for spread of the cancer (metastasis).

Management of Osteosarcoma 

Unfortunately, the prognosis for osteosarcoma is poor, especially in dogs. Depending on the location, severity and spread of the tumour, either amputation or limb-sparing surgery (where just the affected area is removed and replaced with grafts) may be recommended. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be considered once the affected area has been removed. If surgery is not performed, palliative care may be recommended which will typically include strong pain relief as osteosarcoma is very painful. It is important to discuss with your veterinarian what management option is best for your pet.

How much does it cost to treat?

According to PetSure claims data from 2020 (calendar year), the average, single treatment cost relating to osteosarcoma was $591, with the highest, single treatment cost being $14,261. The overall treatment cost of managing osteosarcoma will vary depending on the treatments that have been recommended and your pet’s response to those treatments.

Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider.


  1. Curran, K, 2015, Vincyclopedia of Diseases, Bone Neoplasia, Accessed on 17 May 2021
  2. Thamm, D, 2017, Medical FAQ’s Osteosarcoma, Accessed on 17 May 2021
  3. Nelson, R & Couto, 2003, Small animal internal medicine, 3rd edition, Mosby, USA

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Kylie Mitchell is a veterinarian with over 17 years experience in animal health and welfare, including in the veterinary and pet insurance industries

She has three rescue cats (Noah, Bei Bei and Meeka), four very old cockatiels and a pond-full of fish.

Kylie's pets

Bei Bei
Bei Bei