Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Diagnosing a Dog's Bone Cancer
If your vet suspects your dog has bone cancer, your vet will run several diagnostic tests and a bone biopsy may be one of them. Usually, a diagnosis for bone cancer in dogs starts by taking notes on the dog's history. The owner reports his observations. There may be swelling, limping, refusing to put weight on the leg, pain, or in worst cases, a pathological fracture. In young dogs, limping is often caused by a sprain, and in older dogs it's caused by arthritis. But since bone cancer is so serious, the vet may decide to run some diagnostic tests to rule bone cancer out.
- A physical exam often follows where the vet will examine the limbs (most bone cancers affect the dog's legs), the range of motion, the dog's gait, and check for swellings. Subsequently, the vet may decide to do x-rays, taken from different angles of the affected limb. If cancer is suspected, chest x-rays will be taken as well to search for any evidence of metastasis to the lungs. Additionally, routine blood tests such as a complete blood count, chemistry profile, and sometimes a urinalysis may be run to check how well internal organs are functioning, especially if the vet decides to prescribe pain medications.
- A bone biopsy is generally carried out when the x-rays come back without the classic signs of bone cancer. A specialist may be consulted to examine the x-rays, but if the x-ray appears abnormal but without clear-cut signs, a biopsy may help confirm or rule out bone cancer. According to Daniel A. Degner, a board-certified veterinary surgeon, a biopsy is overall pretty accurate in diagnosing bone cancer in dogs. It's estimated that a bone biopsy can be 90 percent accurate. A bone biopsy may be performed if you live in an area where Valley Fever, histoplasmosis, or blastomycosis is present as a bone biopsy may differentiate these fungal conditions from bone cancer as they tend to appear quite similar on x-rays. These fungal infections can be treated with medications. In this case, a bone biopsy can prevent an unnecessary amputation. Finally, a bone biopsy may be done when dog owners aren't sure whether they want to treat bone cancer at all and want a confirmed diagnosis to help them decide how they'll proceed.
What happens during a dog bone biopsy and how much may it cost? We will see in the next paragraphs.
What Happens During a Dog Bone Biopsy?
Choosing to perform a bone biopsy is a decision that isn't taken lightly as it's a painful procedure that can predispose to infections or pathological fractures in some cases since samples of bone are removed. Some oncologists suggest to bypass the bone biopsy as it's not needed when x-rays show strong, obvious signs of bone tumors. According to veterinarian Charles Loops, biopsies with this tumor may also facilitate metastasis and increase the pain.
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However, as mentioned, in the case of questionable results, a bone biopsy can help provide clear results to rule out bone infections and help differentiate it from a fungal infection. Also, as seen in the video below, it may be helpful in the case of a dog who despite showing signs of cancer on x-rays isn't clinically showing typical symptoms of osteosarcoma over time (osteosarcoma tends to quickly cause dogs to deteriorate causing strong pain, pathological fractures and when it progresses, signs of spread to the lungs).
For this procedure, the dog must be anesthetized as samples of bone will need to be collected so they can be examined by a pathologist. The sample is often collected with a large hollow needle, and the biopsy can help rule out fungal disease, but the puncture from the aspiration also can fracture weakened bone. To have a better idea on what happens during the procedure, you can watch the video below where a vet takes a bone biopsy from the leg of a dog. This video though is not for the squeamish, so viewer discretion is advised.
How Much Does a Biopsy Cost?
The cost for a bone biopsy is generally between $800 and $1,000 and may vary between one place and another. It never hurts to call around and ask as different place have different charges.
Vet Performs Bone Biopsy (Not for the Squeamish, Viewer Discretion Advised)
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 02, 2019:
Mathilde, please explain how this is a soft tissue biopsy. What are your sources to make such a claim? More info much appreciated.
mathilde on August 02, 2019:
this is not a bone biopsy !!! this is a soft tissues biopsy !