Older Rottweilers are at a higher than average risk for osteosarcoma (OSA), an aggressive type of bone cancer. Any bone in the body can develop OSA, but the legs are most frequently affected. Therefore, if your older Rottie starts to limp or otherwise shows signs of pain, it’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.
Your veterinarian will start the examination by watching your dog walk and maybe trot to determine which leg is affected. He or she will then palpate the body, feeling for areas of swelling and watching for a painful reaction to pressure or movement. Once an abnormal site is located, X-rays are the next step. Osteosarcoma usually has a fairly characteristic appearance on X-rays, but in some cases a biopsy may be necessary to reach a definitive diagnosis.
Unfortunately, osteosarcoma is almost always fatal. However, treatments are available that can improve a dog’s life expectancy and quality of life. OSA is extremely painful, so most therapies have pain relief as their primary goal. Surgery to remove the cancerous portion of bone is the best way to do stop the pain, either by amputating the limb or with more advanced surgical procedures that allow the dog to keep the leg. If surgery is not an option, radiation therapy can provide relief in certain cases.
Pain relieving medications are also an important part of treating osteosarcoma. Your veterinarian will design a protocol that best suits your dog’s needs and modify it as the disease progresses. Drugs that are commonly prescribed include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Tramadol, Fentanyl patches, acetaminophen with codeine, gabapentin, and amantadine.
Osteosarcoma rapidly metastasizes, so by the time it has been diagnosed you can assume that it has spread to other parts of a dog’s body even if this is not evident on X-rays, ultrasounds, etc. After a dog has undergone surgery to remove the primary bone tumor, chemotherapy is the best way to extend his life expectancy. However, even with chemotherapy, most dogs that develop osteosarcoma do not live for more than a year or two after diagnosis.