Spinal Cancer in Dogs

Canine spinal cancer produces both emotional and physical harm to owners and dogs alike
Canine spinal cancer produces both emotional and physical harm to owners and dogs alike (Image: Dog image by Lea Petrasova from Fotolia.com)

Canine spinal cancer can be a devastating prognosis for all dog owners. The development of tumors throughout the spinal cord creates debilitating consequences that may inhibit a dog’s physical activity. Proper precautions should be taken in order to reduce harmful environmental toxicities that may result in malignant tumors.


Canine spinal cancer is most frequent among dogs over six years old. Most spinal tumors are largely a result from increased pressure on the spine due to an adjacent tumor within the bone. Spinal cord tumors eventually cause aggravating pain from the increased localized pressure—this type of cancer is very difficult to treat. The prognosis for dogs with spinal cancer is poor. Tumors that originate in the spinal cord are often untreatable.


There are four main types of spinal tumors: extradural, intradural-extramedullary, intramedullary and peripheral nerve tumors. Extradural tumors are the most common type of spinal tumor and cause the spinal cord to become compressed. Intradural-extramedullary tumors occur on the nerve coverings. Intramedullary tumors are rare and occur on the cells surrounding nerve cells. Finally, peripheral nerve tumors occur within the nerve roots themselves.


Generally, the causes for dog cancer are still unclear. Canine cancer occurs due to a combination of both environmental and genetic factors. All cancers emerge through genetic mutations in which normal cells divide uncontrollably, thus creating tumors. Possible environmental causes include: polluted air and water, toxic chemicals and exposure to radiation. In addition, recent research suggests that over-vaccination can lead to canine cancer.


Common symptoms for canine spinal cancer include frequent back and neck pain, limping, and unstable walking. Because spinal tumors exert additional pressure on the spinal cord, clinical signs such as hemorrhaging and a restriction to blood supply are also possible. Specific tumors that affect the nerves and nerve roots often result in an elevated sensitivity to stimuli.


Treatment for canine spinal cancer depends on the severity and location of the tumor. Supplementing a dog’s diet with medication that improves its immune system is essential. Also, administering doses of glucocorticoids will help reduce the pressure on the spinal cord. More aggressive forms of treatment such as surgery and radiation may more effectively eradicate the harmful cancer. However, these treatments do not guarantee that all traces of malignant tumors can be removed; aggressive treatments also come hand in hand with negative side effects.

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