Three legged and happy – how to holistically treat osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in dogs

When I was studying with my acupuncture teacher, Richard Panzer, I met an incredible great dane with osteosarcoma. She was fairly young and her prognosis was not good. However she would bounce into the clinic twice a week for acupuncture treatments, full of life. Her tumor slowly became larger but the cancer did not spread to her lungs, which is typical of this disease. Eventually when she became extremely painful they made the decision to amputate her effected leg. I heard that she later died of a disease unrelated to her bone cancer.

The first dog I treated with osteosarcoma, Maggie, had a similar story. She went a year before her bone was so weakened from the cancer that it broke and her leg had to be amputated in an emergency surgery. She is still alive over five years later. Here is her full story, Maggie’s story – Sometimes three legs are better than four.

Osteosarcoma or bone cancer is one of the most painful cancers out there but it is also the one I have had the most success with using integrative and alternative treatments.

In all the dogs I have treated, I have only once lost a dog directly to this cancer if there is not detectable lung metastasis at diagnosis. Most dogs die of something else. However, if amputation is not an option, pain becomes the factor that causes their human companions to put them to sleep. Even the strongest pain medications can not control the pain of osteosarcoma.

With no treatment, most dogs with osteosarcoma will live three months after diagnosis and die from lung metastases, the cancer spreading to the lungs. However herbal medicine has some amazing tools to keep cancer out of the lungs and make it so dogs can live with osteosarcoma and sometimes go into complete remissions if we can amputate the primary tumor.

So what is my protocol for osteosarcoma?

  1. Amputation – Above all I recommend amputation if it is at all possible. This is a very painful cancer. The only way to get rid of the pain is to amputate. There is no way to get rid of the primary tumor without amputation even with chemo and radiation therapy. This is the most important treatment, in my opinion. I know it seems like a major and harsh option, but most of these dogs immediately feel better from amputation. I think we do not realize how much pain they have been in before we amputate. Pain medication can not adequately control the pain of osteosarcoma.
  2. A cancer diet – this means a high protein diet with no grains. Ideally it should be cooked or canned. Raw is also ok if your dog will tolerate it and is not getting chemo. Don’t give this cancer the fuel it needs. Please see the article Diets for cancer in cats and dogs.
  3. Artemisinin. – Follow this link for more information about the supplement and how it is given. Artemisinin is under study at the University of Washington for its effect against bone cancer in people. Do not use artemisinin if your animal is getting radiation.
  4. Sanshedan Chuanbeiye – This is my number one herbal for keeping cancer out of the lungs. Follow this link for more information about this herbal.
  5. Acupuncture – I recommend weekly or every other week acupuncture depending on the stage of illness. Acupuncture can slow down this disease, boost the immune system and help with pain. To find a veterinary acupuncturist in your area use this tool IVAS find an acupuncturist.

In addition I sometimes use the following

  1. Hoxsey like formula or Cancer Detox Support – if your dog is very hot with a lot of panting and heat intolerance or if amputation is not possible I recommend adding in this formula. If the primary tumor remains then boneset should be added to this formula to treat bone pain.
  2. Mushrooms can help to boost your dog’s immune system and support them during treatment.
  3. Pain medication, if amputation is not possible. This is a very painful cancer. If the primary tumor remains western pain medication is a must. Most dogs should be on a NSAID such as Rimadyl, Tramadol and possibly Gabapentin.
  4. Radiation treatments, if amputation is not possible. Radiation treatments can help with the pain of osteosarcoma. I highly recommend talking to an oncologist about this option if amputation is not possible. If your animal is getting radiation do not give artemisinin. Milk thistle can help to enhance the effects of radiation and decrease the side effects.

If there is radiographic evidence of lung metastasis please also see the article Breathing through cancer – holistic therapies to control lung metastasis in cancer

I have known quite a few very happy three legged dogs. Dogs are great at just taking life one day at a time. I believe that this is a treatable cancer. Every dog will follow their own path, however I have been amazed at how well this herbal and acupuncture protocol can work.

Even though I have had a lot of success in treating this cancer, I recommend that you consult with an oncologist to make sure you know all your options. If possible find a good holistic vet in your area to help create a herbal program for your dog and do acupuncture treatments. If they are trained in acupuncture but not herbal medicine bring them this article.

As with all articles on this blog, please consult with your animal’s primary veterinarian about coming up with a protocol for your dog or cat and before using these products. Every dog is individual and there may be a better protocol for your dog then what I suggest based on their personal medical history and constitution.

Some cancers are more aggressive than others and even though I have had a lot of success with treating osteosarcoma, this protocol may not work for everyone.

Very rarely this cancer occurs in cats. While this article is written for dogs, I have used these herbals in cats as well.

Return to Integrative and Holistic Methods for Treating Cancer in Cats and Dogs

27 Responses to “Three legged and happy – how to holistically treat osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in dogs”

  1. moxie Says:

    our dog was just diagnosed with oestosarcoma (front, left leg.) they are recommending immediate amputation which has us all kinds of crazy. but reading your article (and other similar tales of pain-free doggies) makes us think it’s the right thing to do. i also want to try your protocol. 2 years ago we had a dog diagnosed with cancer and used petalives c-caps that (with a cancer diet) tripled his diagnosed survival time. ever heard of them or know exactly what they do? i want to make sure we give our dog the good stuff!

  2. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Wow Moxie, I think I had this article up about an hour before you found it! So glad it was helpful in your decision about amputation.
    I haven’t used petalive c-caps before and just looked them up. There is nothing bad in them and milk thistle and astragalus can definitely help against cancer. This supplement focuses on antioxidants and immune stimulants. However my thought is that you would do better with a good mushroom capsule such as Mycodefense.
    It is hard because there are many, many good cancer supplements on the market. Over the years I have tried to narrow them down to a good five for each animal I treat. In bone cancer the sanshedan and artemisinin are definitely my top two. If you have had success with this one in the past you could definitely add it to any protocol you use.

    Good luck and I hope everything goes well with the surgery if you decide to do it.
    best wishes,

  3. moxie Says:

    i’m getting my leg amputated today 🙁 my parents went and bought the sanshedan yesterday at a chinese grocery store and ordered the artemisinin online. should i start taking those right away??? i’m 8 years old. 95lbs. other than the cancer i’m happy/healthy/full of energy.

  4. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    I hope everything goes well with your surgery Moxie. While there will be some recovery after wards, the intense bad bone pain will be gone and I think you will feel better. The SanSheDan can be started right away, I would wait a week after surgery to start the artemisinin. Good luck with everything – I would love to hear how things go and would be happy to post a picture of you on my blog if you have one you would like to send along. I hope to hear from you someday when you are in your teens:-)

  5. Mat Says:

    I am very interested in knowing how Moxie is doing after her surgery. I have a friend that has a golden that is 8 years old that was just diagnosed with oterocarcoma on her back knee. What should be her first step to help her dog? Where can she get the artemisinin?

  6. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Hi Mat,
    If your friend can find a holistic vet who does acupuncture to work with in your area that would be a great first step. There is a link for finding a certified vet on the International Veterinary Acupuncture site . I also always recommend consulting with an oncologist. If you follow the link to the Artemisinin page there is another link to Holley Pharmacy where I buy mine from.

    Good Luck!
    best wishes,

  7. moxie Says:

    moxie didn’t do so great for the first 5 or 6 days after surgery. she was slow – depressed… she was eating fine – but was just in bad shape. then, on tuesday – she had her first bowel movement in a week and the next morning was suddenly her self again. now – just a few days later – she’s happy, able to walk (even run, though not suppose to). she’s jumping up on the bed (getting down is a little trickier). she’s been on the cancer protocol prescribed on this site for a few days now. i’ll keep you posted.

  8. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    I’m glad Moxie is back to her normal self again. Recovery can be hard the first few days although it sounds the constipation was the largest issue for her. I hope the rest of her journey is long, joyful and full of healing and running!
    best wishes,

  9. Alix N Says:

    Hi my 8 yr old, 50lb husky/collie mix (Huxley), was just diagnosed with osteosarcoma bone cancer by his vet. Its his back left leg. Basically he said there is no hope for him and should just put him down asap. He said on his condition that the cancer has been there for about 3 months from what he sees, but huxley has only been showing symptoms for about 3 weeks now. I dont want to give up on my boy. Im not sure where to start. I know im going to start him on a different diet. Grain free and lots of meat. Im just so lost and confused on what to do..I want to help him fight this cancer. The vet only gave me pain meds to help him with the pain right now. Can anyone give me any advice on what to do? I just dont want to give up yet on him. Please. The vet said he can amputate his leg but i would be wasting my money, that most likely it will not help. Is there anyway i can help treat this cancer with out chemo and amputating his leg? All comments are appreciated. Thanks so much!

  10. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Hi Alix,
    I’m so sorry about Huxley. I have had very positive experience with treating osteosarcoma (although I almost always recommend amputation). If at all possible find a holistic vet to work with in your area. Either ask around or use the tool IVAS has . Having someone who can work with acupuncture and herbs can make a big difference and also be there to support you in your decisions. I do firmly believe this is often a treatable disease.
    best wishes,

  11. Christina Says:

    Dear Dr. McCullough,

    Is it OK to use artemisinin AFTER the completion of radiation treatment?

    Thank you

  12. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    HI Christina,
    It is safe to use as long as you wait a month after the last radiation treatment.
    best wishes,

  13. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    From Susie
    I just came across your site and am so happy I did. It’s one of the most heartfelt and inspiring sites I’ve found that incorporates the info needed when caring for a beloved companion with Osteosarcoma.

    My nearly 9 years of age Irish Wolfhound “Nijm” was just diagnosed with OSA in her right distal radius. Lung X rays clear. She’s had one round of radiation w/chemo. In addition, her program includes acupuncture 1x per wk + swimming 3x per wk + holistic regime.

    I’m considering amputation but am really concerned that when the primary tumor is removed the cancer will reorganize and metastisize.

    I just read the article on herbs that reduce cancer spreading to lungs. I’ve also read various articles on success w/ Artimisinin which I plan to incorporate once Nijm reaches 2 month mark from radiation. treatment.

    My Question:

    What are some of the critical steps I should take to help provide an anti cancer regime that boosts her immune system prior to surgery to ensure the cancer does not reorganize and spread post surgery. At the moment she’s comfortable. I was considering doing the amputation in a few weeks. Should I hold off a bit in order to allow the xtra boosters go to work first as long as I keep her comfortable?

    Also, Nijm tends to be a bit of a panter. She has mild heart arethmia. However, she is in really great shape w/ good muscle tone for a dog her age and size 140lbs (lives on horse property) and most importantly her lungs Xrays are clear and I want to do everything I can to keep it that way.

    *In the meantime, I’m fitting her with a carpal brace to keep her as comfortable as possible. When I spoke to ortho pets in Denver–they have a dog who is not eligible for amputation. He’s on a chemo/holistic regime and wears a carple brace. It’s been two years w/ OSA.

    Given Nijm’s age I go back and forth as to whether I amputate or pallitive care. She continues to have the sparkle in her eye + huge interest in food + sleeps sound throughout the night with no whimpering at all and receives proper thereputic exercise in the pool. This makes me lean towards amputation but have much fear of post complications in particular the cancer deciding to organize and find a new leader.

    Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for your informative page.
    Kindest Regards,

  14. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Dear Susie,
    That is great that Nijm has done so well with fighting osteosarcoma:-)

    When I first started doing acupuncture I was very concerned about spreading cancer faster with amputation but I have not found that to be an issue in the dogs I have treated with acupuncture. It seems like the acupuncture has a great effect in reducing the risk of this. In addition I often use the Sanshedan as an added assurance against mets.

    It sounds like Nijm has done so well and I know it is a large step to amputate but it also seems like if she has the leg amputated she have the greatest chance of complete remission and it also removes her main source of pain.

    You might want to ask your holistic vet about using Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang. It is very good for fighting lung mets and I also have often used it for heart issues in animals. It might be worth considering putting her on it for a couple months after amputation if it fits.

    However, I think the weekly acupuncture is probably your best bet at keeping the cancer in check which she is already getting.

    Good luck with the amputation if you choose to go that route. It can sometimes be a hard week after the surgery but usually by the end of two they are up and doing well.

    Thanks for writing!

    best wishes,

  15. Mimi Says:

    Hi Lena,

    Thank you for your site and for sharing your knowledge and experience.
    We live in a remote part of Canada and our dog, Binny, was diagnosed in October with osteosarcoma.
    Our vet was against amputation, as it won’t buy her any time, would basically be a waste of money, etc…

    At the time of diagnosis Binny’s lung were clear, but this was already 3 weeks ago…
    She was put on a special diet, on pain killers, Tramadol, Amantadine, and I also apply DMSO locally.
    We have no possibility of acupuncture and there is no holistic vet around, so it looks like we are on our own since we decided to follow your suggestions.
    I plan a trip into civilization this coming week, in order to get:

    Hoxsey like formula (what dosage ?)

    to which you recommend adding Boneset for treating bone pain.
    What would the dosage for Boneset be ? Will I find it in any pharmacy ?

    Should I also buy Xue-fu-zhu-yu-tang to fight lung mets which are by now likely to be there ?
    Again what dosage ?
    Anything to be added for pain control ? If yes, what dosage ?

    Binny is 8 years old, weights 47.4 pounds and is otherwise in good health.

    Any other recommendation would be very welcome.
    I read that Maggie went for a year before amputation, but she had no lung mets.
    What do you think Binny’s prognosis would be without amputation and the above treatment ?

    Thank you very much for your time !
    Warmest regards,


  16. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Hi Mimi,
    I’m so sorry about Binny. I hope she ends up having quality time left. Without amputation I find that the largest issue is pain. Usually they have pain at the time of diagnosis and most dogs I have worked with who do not go through amputation are euthanized because of pain (even if we can keep the cancer in check herbally) within 3-6 months of diagnosis. If Binny is healthy otherwise you might want to reconsider amputation, because of the pain factor.

    When you click on any of the formulas or supplements in this article you should find individual articles that explain the dosages I use and also have links to buy products through, Holley pharmacy(for the artemisinin), etc. I realized that I didn’t have enough info in the article on Hoxsey so I added information to clarify dosage and how much boneset to add. Depending on how big civilization is you may or may not be able to find these products. The chinese ones are best found in Chinatown. The SanSheDan is the only one I don’t have a good link for buying online. You should probably need a good herbal store (not in Chinatown) to find Hoxsey. Let me know if you need more help after reading through the articles on the individual herbs.

    The best pain control is going to be the western meds but boneset will also help.

    best wishes,

  17. Mimi Says:

    Hi Lena,

    Thank you very much for your prompt reply.
    Everything clear on the Hoxsey and Boneset dosage front, thank you !

    You obviously desagree with the idea that amputation won’t buy any time, which is the main reason why our vet is against it.
    According to the statistics, cancer has already spread to the lungs at diagnosis in 95 % of the cases.
    Supposing the cancer has already spread, if amputation is performed, followed by your treatment, how much quality time will it buy Binny according to your experience ?

    We have no problem with amputation, one of our dogs had his front leg amputated because of a melanoma, he had a very good quality life for a full year before the battle was lost. We were very happy we had opted for it.

    I will keep you up to date,

    Thank you sincerely,

  18. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Hi Mimi,
    Some thoughts on amputation. One is that all the dogs I have seen not go through amputation are in quite a bit of pain even before it becomes so bad that their people choose euthanasia. I truthfully have never had a dog in my care die of lung mets from this disease, and that is why I push people to amputate if it is possible. That being said almost all the dogs I have treated are also getting acupuncture as well as the herbals I talk about in this article. I have had a couple dogs just on herbs, one was put down about seven months after amputation because of mobility issues , one died of something else unrelated shortly after amputation (exposure to a toxic product) . All the dogs I have worked with where amputation was not done have been put down for pain not lung mets. Without herbals, most dogs die of lung mets before the pain gets bad enough to euthanize. I also have one dog i currently treat, Lou, who came to me with lung mets (different cancer than bone cancer) who is still here and happy over a year and a half later. So in my opinion herbs can significantly increase survival times which is why I push amputation for bone cancer. However it is difficult for me to completely separate the herbs from the acupuncture since most dogs in my care are receiving both. Every dog I have worked with who has had cancer, has ended up living at least double prognosis (for bone cancer this would be six months), often times more, except dogs with hemangiosarcoma.

    I know it is not an easy decision and there is always a lot of uncertainly with cancer.

    Hope this helps.
    best wishes,

  19. Mimi Says:

    This really helps, thank you so much.
    I will keep you informed.

    Warmest regards,

  20. Mimi Says:

    Hi Lena,

    I am very happy to inform you that we decided to go ahead with the amputation, Binny is scheduled for tomorrow.

    I will keep you informed.
    Thank you,

  21. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    I really hope everything goes well. The first week after surgery can be hard on everyone. Usually by the second they are up and running again. Thinking good thoughts!
    best wishes,

  22. Adrienne Says:

    Hello Lena, my boxer Lola was diagnosed with stage 1 osteosarcoma in her lower jaw back in June of this year. Before we did anything her oncologist recommended that she do a chest x ray to check for spread and also a cat scan of the jaw to see where to direct the surgery. She said the chest x ray showed no spread of the cancer so removal of half of the lower jaw would be the best fit.

    I did that and when Lola got out, she said that they got it all out, the margins were clean and there was no need for chemo. I was very worried about not doing chemo but she said that her and a group of 4 other doctors all felt the same. She got an infection about 2 months later and had to be rushed in where they treated her with a strong dose of antibiotic etc. She recovered and has been fine since, eating well, drinking, full of energy and life.

    The Dr did no follow up with any blood-work, a chest x ray or bone scan as it’s mentioned on so may sites. This has a high incidence of spread and I am shocked by her lack of follow up with such a serious cancer. She said see you in 6 months for a chest x ray just to be sure, so that;s what I did. I took her in last night for her 6 month follow up and had a chest x ray done. The dr said her lymph nodes felt good and were not swollen and the surgery site looked wonderful. She came out from the chest x ray and sai there were 3 concerning spots on her lungs. I immediately froze and said but you told me not to do the chemo. She said I would have made the same decision based on what we knew of the tumor then. I am getting the official results from the radiologist today but I know it’s metastasis.

    She said it could be age spots but that’s highly unlikely I feel. I am unsure what to do at this point. She is 8 yrs old and health otherwise except for hypothyroidism which she takes a pill for. She also said that the chemo would not work at this point but that there are other ‘therapies’ available to shrink it. I feel she should have done the chemo back then but she insisted there was no reason to put her through it.

    My question is what do I do now? get a 2nd opinion if it did mets or start your 2 drugs mentioned or both? Also possibly acupuncture? I just want to save my baby.

    I’m referring to the : Artemisinin and Sanshedan Chuanbeiye

    Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

    Adrienne and Lola

  23. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Hi Adrienne,
    I would highly recommend you set up a consultation with a veterinary oncologist even if you have to travel to find one. From my experience most osteosarcoma will spread if not treated either holistically or with chemo so I agree that it is highly possible that the spots are lung mets, although I hope with all my heart they are not. Once you have lung mets it becomes much more difficult to treat, the protocol I talk about for osteosarcoma may help slow things down by you need something stronger. While I have treated dogs holistically for lung mets see and (Lou is still with us and going strong) it is a very serious condition. I would also strongly recommend finding a holistic vet to work with who does acupuncture and herbs . In Lola’s case it might be worth working with an integrative approach between an oncologist and a holistic vet if these are lung mets they are seeing. If you can find a good acupuncturist but they are not an herbalist by all means bring them my article on lung mets and hopefully you can work together to come up with a good holistic protocol for Lola.
    best wishes,

  24. Sarabeth Says:

    Hey Lena,
    My 5 yaer old pit bull Zula was just diagnosed with Osteosarcoma 2 weeks ago, and her leg was amputated a week later.Lungs were clear on x rays at diagnosis and blood work was normal. She is currently healing from the amputation and adjusting to life as a 3 legged dog. She is doing much better and becoming more like herself each day.She has been on an all natural dry dog food for the last year. The last 2 weeks she has not had much of an appetite and the only thing I could get her to eat is a peanutbutter sandwich. I figure something is better than nothing since she is on 3 tramadol, 3 cephlexan, and 1 rymadol a day. Now she is getting her appetite back and I plan to start this receipe asap. I have to order some of the ingredients offline so I an waiting on shipping etc. Have I waited too long to start these treatments? I have chosen not to do chemo and radiation, do you think she can survive on this recipe along?

  25. Lena Says:

    Hi Sarabeth,
    I’m sorry about Zula’s diagnosis. That is so young:-(
    I almost always use acupuncture along with the herbals to treat osteosarcoma. If it is an option in your city I would consider exploring it. I don’t think it is ever too late to start treatment for cancer, even when cancer has progressed, herbals can often slow it down and make a dog more comfortable. Cancer is hard because it can vary so much between animals, sometimes it is very fast and aggressive and sometimes we can keep it in check. However with osteosarcoma I have had a lot of success with holistic treatments so I am hoping that Zula does well.
    best wishes,

  26. Sarabeth Says:

    Hey Lena,
    I cannot find a vet that does acupuncture in my area. So I am left with diet alone. How long should I keep her on the Artemisinin and Sanshedan Chuanbeiye?

  27. Lena Says:

    When I use them, I keep them on the herbals/supplements for two years.