Swelling Above the Knee Won’t Go Away

Back leg joint problems could indicate bone cancer

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Q: Every night, I get into bed and my dog Sammi (5- to 6-year-old Lab mix) hops up and sleeps at my feet. One night, I did just that, and she jumped a little short and didn't quite make the bed. I thought she was fine, so I picked her up and put her in the bed anyway. The next morning I noticed that she was walking on only three of her legs. Her right rear leg was not able to take any weight. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I dropped her off to stay at the vet's office. When I went to pick her up, they told me that she had some swelling on the bone just above her knee joint. Since then, I’ve noticed that she walks normally, but still has a hard spot of swelling right above her knee joint. I’m really worried it’s cancer. What do you think it could be?

A: You do have a legitimate concern if your dog has a swelling that is not going away. However, if she is not showing signs of pain in the knee, and is not limping, it is probably not cancer. Bone cancer, or osteosarcoma, is one of the most painful conditions that dogs can endure. It is most common in middle-age to older large breed dogs, and usually occurs at the knee joint on the back leg, or near the shoulder or carpus (wrist) on the front leg. It is characterized by a progressive lameness that continues to get worse.

There are two things your veterinarian can do to help determine what is going on with Sammi's knee. An X-ray of Sammi's knee should rule out bone cancer, but there is always the possibility of a soft-tissue tumor. Your veterinarian can also easily take a needle sample (called a fine needle aspirate) of the lump and look at it under a microscope to try and determine what it is.

I encourage you to follow up if the lump persists, or if Sammi becomes lame again.

Jon Geller, DVM

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