Larger breeds of dogs have a greater risk of osteosarcoma, study

Dog’s body size and shape could indicate a greater bone tumor risk.


Osteosarcoma in dogs is a primary bone tumor. Several scientific papers correlate the development of this tumor with dogs’ weight and height, and it is well known that certain dog breeds develop this tumor more often than others.

However, these studies were often limited by selection bias and confounding factors and have rarely offered insights into breed-associated protection for osteosarcoma.

A recent study by the University of Bristol Veterinary School in collaboration with Cardiff University and Royal Veterinary College (RVC) London has now confirmed that larger breeds, such as Rottweiler, Great Dane, and Rhodesian Ridgeback, have a greater risk of osteosarcoma than smaller breeds, as well as showing that breeds with shorter skulls and legs have lower osteosarcoma risk.

The study includes 1756 appendicular and axial osteosarcoma cases presenting to VPG Histology (Bristol, UK) compared against a control population of 905,211 dogs without osteosarcoma primary care electronic patient records in the VetCompass dataset. Scientists found that twenty-seven breeds, mainly larger breeds, had an increased risk of osteosarcoma than crossbreeds. Thirty breeds, mostly smaller breeds, including Jack Russell, Border Terrier, Bichon Frise, French Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had reduced osteosarcoma risk to crossbreeds.

The study also compared various body mass and leg length measures and confirmed previous findings that heavier dogs with longer legs and longer skull shapes are at the greatest risk of bone tumors. The results could inform breed health reforms, especially in predisposed breeds such as the Rottweiler, Great Dane, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mastiff, and German Pointer. Whereas previous studies have identified high-risk breeds for bone tumors, this paper is novel by identifying breeds at the lowest risk because of the huge size of the study population. The breeds identified here could be researched and compared to recognize novel genetic differences which cause bone tumors.

The findings that bone tumors are more common in certain breeds and conformations indicate that a dog’s genetics play a role in bone tumor development. This link between the biology of conformation and the biology of bone tumors in dogs provides valuable opportunities for further study into what causes bone tumors to develop and how they could be treated in the future.

Dr. Grace Edmunds, Clinical Veterinary Research Fellow and lead author at Bristol Veterinary School, said: “As a vet, I am always focussed on improving animal welfare by looking outwards to find new treatments for their diseases. As osteosarcoma also affects adolescents, it is hugely exciting that by understanding the biology of bone tumors and working with my collaborators in human cancer research, we may make a difference to both canine and human cancer patients.”

Dr. Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer in Companion Animals Epidemiology at the RVC, added: “There are increasing concerns about the wisdom of breeding dogs with extreme body shapes such as flat-faced breeds like French Bulldogs or breeds with long backs such as Dachshunds.”

“This study highlights the health risks from another extreme body shape – large body size. The breeds at the highest risk of osteosarcoma were large-sized breeds such as Rottweiler, Great Dane, and Mastiff. To reduce the risks of picking a dog that may develop bone cancer, owners may need to consider choosing puppies from smaller-sized parents of these giant breeds or opting for different smaller breeds instead.”

Professor Rachel Errington at Cardiff University explained: “As a human cancer researcher at the School of Medicine, this study shows that we can propose similar questions in human and canine disease to determine new therapies and diagnostics for both and this provides an exciting opportunity of joining forces across a diverse group of experts.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Edmunds, G.L., Smalley, M.J., Beck, S., et al. Dog breeds and body conformations with a predisposition to osteosarcoma in the UK: a case-control study. Canine Genet Epidemiol 8, 2 (2021). DOI: 10.1186/s40575-021-00100-7