bone cancer

Bone cancer is common in dogs. Holistic therapies, when used with conventional treatments, give these pooches a better chance at beating the disease.

When Georgina took Tinker to the vet because the elderly Pomeranian cross was limping, she was not expecting the diagnosis to be osteosarcoma. “I thought for sure it was just arthritis or a sprain, so I couldn’t believe it when the vet told me it was bone cancer. I thought it must be a mistake.”

But the vet was right. Each year, over 8,000 dogs are diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in dogs. It typically occurs in middle-aged and older dogs, and is more prevalent in large and giant breeds, although smaller breeds and mixes can also be afflicted. In 75% of cases, the dog’s limbs are affected; the remaining 25% occur in the skull, ribs, spine, scapula, pelvis, jaw bones, digits and nasal cavity.

Potential causes of bone cancer

The causes of canine osteosarcoma are unknown. Current theories include repeated minor traumas to the bone, prior radiation, genetic predisposition, possible exposure to certain unknown viruses, alterations in cell molecules, presence of metallic implants, and other possible factors or combinations thereof.

Signs to watch for

Because so many cases occur in the limbs, one of the most common early signs is a limp or slight favoring of the affected side. Guardians often report that the limp developed fairly suddenly, and in some cases is associated with physical activity such as running or fetching. The lameness may be intermittent. Since the disease occurs primarily in older dogs, the symptoms are usually attributed to sprains, arthritis or pulled muscles. At this stage, many dogs are prescribed rest and anti-inflammatory medications that can help relieve the symptoms for a while, but this only delays the correct diagnosis.

In other cases, guardians may notice a “hard lump” on the limb. The two most common places for bone cancer to develop are on the forearm bone (radius) near the “wrist” (carpus), and the upper arm bone (humerus) near the shoulder. Other common sites include the lower thigh bone (distal femur), the lower limb bone (tibia) near the “ankle” (hock), or near the “knee” (stifle). The symptoms associated with bone cancer in other locations vary depending on the area involved.

• Swelling around the mouth, jaw or face, trouble chewing or swallowing food, drooling and nasal discharge may be early signs of facial bone involvement.

• A “hard lump” on the skull or along the rib or spine may indicate bone cancer in these sites.

Diagnosis and treatment

The simplest way to diagnose the cause of persistent lameness, pain or swelling is with an x-ray. The changes characteristic of bone cancer can be seen fairly early on. Once the diagnosis is made, there are numerous options for management. Treatment revolves around managing the pain, dealing with the cancer, strengthening your dog’s immune system, and providing him with quality of life. In addition to a traditional oncology approach, which may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or medications to manage the pain, there are also some holistic therapies showing promise.

Holistic medicine addresses the “whole” individual from a physical, emotional and spiritual perspective, and seeks to find the underlying cause of the problem. Although getting rid of the symptoms of disease is important, it is also recognized that the symptoms may be an integral part of the healing process. A holistic approach that combines the best of both worlds (conventional and alternative) is called an integrative approach.

Holistic therapies

Veterinarian Dr. Kim Danoff utilizes a whole arsenal of holistic treatments when dealing with dogs with bone cancer. “I use a grain-free diet, antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, Chinese herbs to break up bone stagnation, Poly-MVA, pain management, cryotherapy (ice), IV vitamin C therapy and probiotics to prevent and treat infections secondary to chemo,” she says. Dr. Danoff feels that Poly-MVA and IV vitamin C are the most effective forms of immune support for dogs with bone cancer. “Antioxidants also help to support the immune system.”

Veterinarian Dr. Deva Khalsa uses homeopathy, Chinese herbs and Double Helix Water for her bone cancer patients. Double Helix Water contains stable water clusters that improve the immune function of white blood cells (

“The three best homeopathic remedies for bone cancer are Silicea, Phosphorus and Calcarea Carbonica,” adds Dr. Khalsa. “Usually, one remedy is chosen above the others. For example, the typical golden retriever personality, effervescent and loving, indicates Phosphorus, while the typical lab personality, dependent and down to earth, fits Calcarea Carbonica. Silicea is indicated for poodles and great Danes.”

If your dog is ever diagnosed with bone cancer, try to find an integrative vet who is open to both conventional and holistic treatment options. “Don’t believe any of the recommendations against alternative supplements in conjunction with chemo,” says Dr. Khalsa. “Sometimes this just comes from a vet who is prejudiced against holistic therapies.” The fact is, holistic treatments have a lot to offer to canine cancer patients!