Spinal Cancer in Dogs

Updated June 05, 2017

Canine spinal cancer can be a devastating prognosis for all dog owners. The development of tumours 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 tumours.


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


There are four main types of spinal tumours: extradural, intradural-extramedullary, intramedullary and peripheral nerve tumours. Extradural tumours are the most common type of spinal tumour and cause the spinal cord to become compressed. Intradural-extramedullary tumours occur on the nerve coverings. Intramedullary tumours are rare and occur on the cells surrounding nerve cells. Finally, peripheral nerve tumours 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 tumours. 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 tumours exert additional pressure on the spinal cord, clinical signs such as hemorrhaging and a restriction to blood supply are also possible. Specific tumours 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 tumour. 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 tumours can be removed; aggressive treatments also come hand in hand with negative side effects.

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About the Author

Based in Pleasanton, Calif., Joshua Liu has been writing animal- and health-related articles since 2010. His articles have appeared on eHow. Liu is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley.