Study identifies ‘alarming’ osteosarcoma risk in giant dogs

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A new study by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has shed light on the prevalence of osteosarcoma – a malignant bone tumour – in giant dog breeds compared to crossbreed dogs, as well as other breeds.

Osteosarcoma, which often manifests in lameness accompanied by painful bony or soft tissue swelling, was found to be particularly prevalent in giant breeds – such as the Scottish Deerhound (3.28% of all dogs affected annually), Leonberger (1.48%), Great Dane (0.87%), and Rottweiler (0.84%).

Scottish Deerhounds were found to be 118 times more prone to osteosarcoma than crossbreeds, while Leonbergers were 56 times more likely, Great Danes 34 times, and Rottweilers 27 times. This confirms that “giant breeds, dogs with heavier body weights, longer legs or longer skull lengths are all at higher risk of developing osteosarcoma”.

osteosarcoma study

Bill Lambert, Health, Welfare and Breeding Services Executive at The Kennel Club, said, “These data importantly help to identify which dogs are most at risk of osteosarcoma and support the growing body of evidence that this disease is sadly more common amongst larger dogs and particular breeds. The findings will be used collaboratively as part of The Kennel Club’s Breed Health and Conservation Plans, to create strategies to tackle health priorities within those breeds that are affected.”

The study also identifies several breeds with relatively low osteosarcoma risks compared to crossbreeds. These include the English Cocker Spaniels (at 0.18 times the risk), Shih Tzus (0.12 times), and Jack Russell Terriers (0.05 times).

The study, which utilized comprehensive veterinary clinical records and is most extensive investigation on canine osteosarcoma to date, looked at a sample of 905,552 UK dogs, consisting of all breeds under first opinion veterinary care during 2016. The findings hold valuable insights for dog owners, veterinarians, breeders, and researchers, enabling them to comprehend the risks associated with this significant bone cancer within specific breeds and update their approaches to promote the well-being of dogs.

Notably, the similarities between canine and human osteosarcoma in clinical presentation, timelines, and tumor biology render studies on canine osteosarcoma highly informative for our understanding of the disease in humans.

Dr Grace Edmunds, Clinical Research Fellow, Resident in Internal Medicine at the University of Bristol and co- author of the paper, said, “Understanding the biological risk factors associated with any disease can help us to work out what causes it. In this case, the risk factors associated with canine osteosarcoma may tell us what causes a dog’s bone cell to become a cancer cell, and how we can kill that cancer once it develops. For those of us who routinely see osteosarcoma in clinical practice, any step towards new treatments for our canine patients is necessary and exciting.

“However, even more thrilling is the idea that, given the similarities between canine and human osteosarcoma, we might be able to use information taken from dogs to help human patients. It is very hard to obtain tissue from human osteosarcoma to work with in the lab and thus we as cancer researchers lack knowledge about the human disease. My hope is that samples from my canine patients can act as the perfect model for me to devise prevention and treatment strategies that can also be translated to humans.”

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