Our canine friends are considered part of the family, and just like any family member, it’s sad when we see them in pain and suffering.
Your once fluffy, playful, and happy dog is now lame, dull, swollen, and doesn’t eat—for any dog owner, this can be a devastating time.
However, if your dog is currently experiencing osteosarcoma (OSA), all is not lost.
Depending on the stage of illness your canine companion is, you can have some time to spend with him happily before you have to make the decision to put him down.
So, how do you know when it’s time to euthanize your dog suffering from osteosarcoma?
In a nutshell, you should euthanize your suffering dog if he/she is experiencing severe pain, has difficulty eating and breathing, and the overall quality of life has deteriorated.
At this time, your companion is not happy anymore, and you’ll need to consult your vet for options.
Read on to understand what osteosarcoma is and how to help your dog live a quality life until his/her final moments.
What is canine osteosarcoma?
Osteosarcoma is basically aggressive bone cancer in dogs.
It commonly occurs in the bones of the limbs, but it may also form in the skull, spine, or ribs.
In some cases, it may form in the non-boney tissues, including mammary glands and muscles.
Large or giant dog breeds are more likely to get osteosarcoma.
Various scientific publications link the development of this tumor to a dog’s weight and height, and it is well known that some dog breeds are more likely than others to get this tumor.
The tumor forms deep inside the bone and becomes very painful as it spreads outward.
From the inside out, the normal bone is being destroyed.
Intermittent lameness that leads to persistent limping is seen in dogs with this tumor.
Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Rimadyl or Metacam, are often given to suffering dogs.
The first sign of this tumor is swelling in the skull, jaw, or ribs.
This should be a concern to any dog owner, and the faster you react, the more chances you have of saving the dog or at least prolonging his or her life span.
When OSA is suspected, veterinarians will typically carry out diagnostic procedures to determine the type of tumor and the bones or tissues affected.
The diagnostic process includes:
- X-ray analysis: Your veterinarian will take an X-ray of the affected part of the body to observe the characteristic pattern of bone damage and new bone formation associated with this type of illness.
- Biopsy/small needle aspirate: Because there are so many tumors that look like osteosarcoma, your veterinarian may recommend a biopsy or small needle aspirate to confirm the diagnosis. A biopsy may enhance the possibility of shattering unhealthy bone; hence a needle aspirate is often preferred. The needle aspirate procedure involves inserting a big needle into the tumor and extracting some tumor cells for observation.
- Chest X-ray: Chest x-rays may be requested to check for pulmonary metastasis (visible tumor in the lungs), which would influence treatment recommendations.
When examining for pulmonary cancer in your dog, make sure your veterinarian takes three views— This implies that your pet is lying on its back, right side down and left side down during the screening.
To ensure that there are no malignancies in the lungs, all three views are required.
Unfortunately, 90% of dogs with osteosarcoma have microscopic metastasis to the lungs when they are diagnosed, indicating that the tumor has migrated to the lungs.
Either way, when contemplating palliative care, therapeutic alternatives, or euthanasia, it’s still vital to rule out visible spread to the lungs.
Treatment and management
Before you’re faced with the decision to euthanize your dog, there are various options you can consider depending on the level of infection.
Osteosarcoma is an incurable illness, and the majority of treatment options try to improve a dog’s quality of life.
In this scenario, there are two therapeutic options: first, to relieve the dog’s excruciating pain, and second, to diminish the disease’s metastatic (rapidly spreading) component.
This is a common option aimed at removing the source of pain and stopping the spread of the tumor.
Many pet owners are hesitant to seek amputation because they are concerned about the pet’s recovery.
On the other hand, dogs function quite well with just three legs and recover fast after surgery.
If there is apparent tumor progress to the lungs or significant arthritis in the other weight-bearing legs, the affected patient would not be considered a candidate for amputation.
Regardless of amputation, the median survival duration for a dog that has had OSA chemotherapy is 3-5 months.
In other words, amputation does not seem to halt or reduce the tumor’s progression.
It is often used as palliative therapy, meaning it temporarily relieves pain and gives you some time to enjoy the company of your canine companion.
If amputation is not a possibility, the tumor may be treated with 3-4 treatments of radiation, depending on the protocol.
Recent studies show positive results in dogs receiving 2 doses of radiation therapy administered on sequential days.
The majority of patients have increased mobility that lasts 2-4 months.
You may still have some good final moments with your dog if pain medication is working in relieving pain associated with osteosarcoma.
One common class of drugs used in palliative care is bisphosphonates.
These medications are often used in conjunction with palliative radiotherapy to help inhibit some of the tumor cells that destroy bone, known as osteoclasts; as a result, pain is reduced.
Over time, a bone tumor replaces good bone tissue, and since the tumor bone is not as healthy, it may break with very little activity or force, resulting in a pathological fracture.
Bisphosphonates lower the chances of the affected bone breaking.
The most serious risks or predictable outcomes of osteosarcoma are bone fractures and pulmonary metastasis, which may force you to euthanize your dog earlier than you may have thought.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can also make a difference when it comes to caring for your canine friend suffering from osteosarcoma.
If amputation is not an option, these drugs are considered the pillar of pain management and should always be included in a pain management plan.
Another option is Galliprant®, which is a comparable medication. Minocycline, Tylenol with codeine (for dogs only), Duloxetine, Gabapentin, and Amitryptaline are some other pain medications that can help your pet have an easy time during his/her final days.
How long will your dog live with osteosarcoma?
With all these therapies, you’re probably wondering how long your companion will live even after these treatments.
This is an important point of concern because knowing the expected lifespan will help you prepare for the expected loss.
In this nutshell, below is a general list of the various life expectancies a dog may have, depending on the kind of treatment they undergo:
- Without therapy: A dog will only have around two months to live, although the time when the diagnosis was made will influence the timeline. When a dog is diagnosed with this type of cancer, the illness usually has already spread to other areas of the body.
- After amputation: Amputation will increase the lifespan to about six months.
- After palliative radiotherapy: Increases life expectancy to six months.
The time to say goodbyes to your dog
There’s no need to keep your dog alive if his life is full of misery, even after therapy and treatment.
It’s important to remember that when your dog is suffering from the late stages of osteosarcoma, he or she will be in great pain and discomfort, and their quality of life will be greatly affected.
Even if you’d want to keep your pet alive, the pain of watching them deteriorate outweighs the pain of losing them.
Below are some signs that it’s time to euthanize your dog:
- Drastic loss of appetite
- Drastic weight loss
- Persistent vomiting and diarrhea
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty getting up or walking.
- Restlessness and moaning due to pain
At this point, the kind and humane thing to do is contact your vet and discuss the option of euthanizing your sick canine friend.
You also don’t want to lose the bond you had with your pet just because he/she has to mess the floor because of immobility, and you have to clean after.
Dogs are emotional too, and they’re unhappy when they can’t maintain their cleanliness routines due to sickness and pain.
To maintain the bond and good memories, you’ll need to let your dog go to rest.
When you have decided, prepare for the occasion.
You may decide to do it at home or at your vet’s facility.
Some veterinary clinics have euthanasia rooms with rear doors, so you don’t have to stroll through the waiting area sobbing like a baby.
If your pet is still eating, you can feed him/her his favorite treat and keep him/her entertained with favorite toys.
You may also decide whether you want to remain with your pet throughout the euthanasia process or leave the room until the process is completed.
Some dog owners would rather let their caring vet assist their dog go to sleep peacefully as they wait in the waiting room than have that memory, while others prefer to be there and child their friend and share the last moment.