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What is Biopsy?

Biopsy is a surgical procedure used in dogs to obtain a tissue sample for diagnosis of a variety of pathologies, from cancer to skin disease. The goal of biopsy is to provide a veterinary pathologist an accurate picture of the disease process taking place so that they may report the suspected disease or type and stage of cancer in your dog. Biopsy is a common procedure often used to diagnose dermatological issues and certain cancers. Your veterinarian will perform the biopsy (or refer to a veterinary surgeon for more involved biopsy) and then submit the tissue sample obtained from biopsy to a veterinary pathologist for interpretation. 

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Biopsy Procedure in Dogs

The biopsy procedure will depend on the type of biopsy selected for your pet. In general, your dog will be placed under anesthesia for the biopsy procedure. The tissue sample will be taken and submitted to a veterinary pathologist for interpretation. Your dog will likely need stitches after receiving a biopsy. Below are some examples of what to expect from different kinds of biopsies.

Punch Biopsy

This biopsy method is most commonly used to diagnose dermatological conditions. Local anesthetic or general anesthetic may be used depending on the nature of the biopsy. For the procedure, the skin to be biopsied is cleaned and shaven. A small tool is used to bore into the skin penetrating all layers of the dermis the tool is removed taking a cylindrical piece of tissue with it. The tissue is placed into a solution to preserve it and sent for histopathology reading. The wound left by the punch biopsy is sutured closed with 1-2 sutures. 

Jamshidi Needle Biopsy

This biopsy method is used to diagnose bone cancers. General anesthetic is used to ensure that the patient will remain completely still throughout the procedure. The skin over the area to be biopsied is shaved and sterilized. The bone biopsy needle is then bored into the bone through the suspect lesion ensuring that the needle passes all the way to the middle of the bone. The small pieces of bone obtained are placed in solution and sent for histopathology. 

Tru-Cut Biopsy

This biopsy method is a less invasive way of obtaining certain tissue samples. For this biopsy, the animal is placed under general anesthesia and the area over the tissue to be sampled is shaved and cleaned. The tru cut device is placed over the tissue to be sampled and either guided by ultrasound (for internal organs such as the kidney) or placed directly in the tissue (for muscle biopsy). After the tru cut biopsy is performed tissue is sent for histopathology. No sutures are needed after this kind of biopsy. 

Surgical Biopsy

The biopsy methods listed above are considered incisional, meaning that some of the affected tissue or cancer is left behind. Excisional biopsy, such as surgical biopsy aims to extract all affected tissue for examination. This is especially important for cancer treatment. Radical excisional biopsy requires general anesthesia and is a much more invasive procedure. For this type of biopsy, the cancerous lesion is removed along with a margin of healthy tissue to ensure that the cancer does not return. This procedure is done under general anesthesia and requires stitches. The tissue obtained from this procedure is then sent to histopathology where a veterinary pathologist determines if margins attempted in surgery were wide enough or if more surgery is needed to extract all of the cancerous tissue.

Efficacy of Biopsy in Dogs

Biopsy is an effective tool for the diagnosis and/or staging of cancer and other pathological conditions. Because more tissue is included in a biopsy sample for histopathology a veterinary pathologist will have an easier time understanding your dog’s diagnosis in the context of the tissue it is affecting. For other diagnostic measures such as skin scraping or fine needle aspirate, only some cells are removed so the full extent of disease cannot be understood. However, these other techniques are much less invasive than biopsy and do not require suture or anesthesia. 

Biopsy Recovery in Dogs

Recovery from biopsy depends on the method of biopsy used. For less invasive procedures, such as punch biopsy, recovery generally involves the recovery from anesthesia. However, for radical excisional biopsy, such as when a leg is amputated due to bone cancer, recovery will be much more intensive and require physical therapy and a pain management protocol for your dog. In general, recovery from biopsy will involve taking precautions for sutures, i.e. making sure that your dog remains still for 10 days while sutures heal and monitoring the recovery site for any signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or discharge. Recovery from biopsy may also involve pain management, which can range from oral pain pills for a few days to a fentanyl patch for more constant dosing of pain medication. 

Cost of Biopsy in Dogs

The cost of biopsy varies between the different kinds of biopsies used. Less invasive biopsies such as punch biopsy will cost between $400-$800 while more invasive or more involved surgeries could cost up to $2,500 (including hospitalization and medications). 

Dog Biopsy Considerations

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with biopsy. Your veterinarian will do bloodwork to ensure that your dog is healthy enough to receive anesthesia as needed for the procedure. Other risks associated with biopsy include bleeding, pain and infection. Biopsy is an excellent tool to create a clear clinical picture in cases of cancer, skin disease and kidney and liver disease. For bone cancer, biopsy is 90% effective at providing an accurate diagnosis. As certain kinds of biopsy are also considered treatment, such as radical excisional biopsy, it can be worked into a therapeutic plan and combined with other treatment such as radiation oncology and chemotherapy. 

Biopsy Prevention in Dogs

Preventing biopsy means prevention the conditions that require biopsy. Preventing cancer is unfortunately very difficult to do. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which external and internal factors play a role in cancer development in dogs. Some dogs are predisposed to developing certain cancers based on their breed. Many dogs develop cancer as they advance in age. Though preventing cancer is difficult, there are certain cancers that can be prevented with surgery. For example, mammary tumors, common to female dogs, can be prevented by spaying your dog before her first heat cycle. Testicular tumors can be prevented by getting your dog neutered. 

Keeping your dog in good health in general will help if cancer is suspected as they will be better candidates for surgery, chemotherapy and all other necessary treatments. Taking your dog in for regular veterinary visits throughout their life will achieve the goal of keeping them in good health and will help ensure that if cancer does form, it is discovered early.

 Keeping your dog in good health can also help prevent kidney and liver disease that may need biopsy to differentiate them from certain cancers. Preventing the skin conditions that require biopsy may prove difficult as well, as they are largely heritable. If possible, understanding your dog’s lineage could go a long way into understanding the heritable conditions that may affect them in the future. While this knowledge will not prevent a heritable condition from arising, it can help provide insight about what is going on and help your vet make appropriate treatment and diagnostic decisions. 

Biopsy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

8 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Mass in elbow w/o pain

Hello, I have an 8yo Pomeranian. I found a lump on his right elbow. I didn't notice it until this week. I brush them a few times a week and I had not noticed it before. The vet said that it looks like the mass has been growing for about 3-4 months, I find that hard to believe. I would have noticed a lump that big. My baby did see a new vet because his vet was out of the office, I was not satisfied or comfortable with the new vet. He seemed to not know how to explain things to me. Could this be anything else, but a mass? He's having a biopsy tomorrow by his real vet.

Michele King
Dr. Michele King, DVM
277 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I think you will have much more information after the biopsy as to what the mass is, whether it is worrisome, and how to treat it. It could be an infection, or a benign growth, but the biopsy is the best way to tell! I hope that everything goes well for him!

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5 Years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

Limping lameness

My 5yr old Leonberger has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma tumour in her hind leg but they can’t be sure if it’s spread to her lungs. We have been told that the hind leg bone has different densities so it would be a high risk to do a biopsy to be certain of the cancer. The leg could be made weaker during the biopsy. I don’t know if the risk % to damage the bone is high. If we do nothing and only treat her for the pain then we have a couple of months with her, if we go ahead with the biopsy we could lose her sooner or have her longer.

Michele King
Dr. Michele King, DVM
277 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that that is happening to Cassie - she is quite young for that disease. The benefit of a biopsy is that it will give a diagnosis, so that you know what to expect. She may have osteosarcoma, or a fungal disease, or a bacterial bone infection, which could potentially be cured. Without seeing her x-rays or examining her, I can't comment on what might be going on. Chest x-rays would tell if it has spread to her lungs, if it is cancer. I hope that you find out some positive news.

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9 1/2 years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

he rests a lot. can still walk and go up and down
stairs butfavors the leg

My vet with 40 years of experience took one look at the lump hanging from my dogs rear leg and said 'bast cell tumor, nothing to be done, if you disturb it with removal or biopsy it will grow exponentially. Just keep him comfortable.' what is your take on this?

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1814 Recommendations

Mast cell tumours may be difficult to diagnose as they may resemble other tumours or masses; a fine needle aspirate or biopsy is usually performed to confirm. Surgical removal is the treatment of choice; however this can be very difficult on limbs where there may not be a sufficient amount of tissue to get adequate margins and enough skin to close the wound which leads to a high rate of recurrence so chemotherapy or radiation therapy is usually recommended post surgery (also depends on the grade). If you are looking for a specific treatment plan with a second opinion, I would recommend visiting an Oncologist (check link below). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

My 2 year old Dobbie was diagnosed with small intestine insufficiency disease. The vet wants to do a biopsy but not sure what will come of that. will it give me a firm diagnosis? What will it tell me... if it is cancer or actually intestinal deficiency? she apparently is lacking b12 Sage can't absorb any nutrients from her food. She is having bout diarrhea with a sponge texture losing weigh and also periods about the throwing up in the middle of the night. I trying to find out if this can be cured and if so what is her prognosis for a long life for her? Will this require surgery? Can it actually cure this disease? Will it confirm this diagnosis of intestinal deficiency? that is the question! I don't know? I don't want to put her through expensive and intensive test and biopsies and surgeries if it is for not. I can't do this to her. she's been too good of a pet! I won't watch go though chemo and radiation. To me that's just not a good quality of life for her. Without guarantees that he can change anything. What holistic and home remedies can I do for her to make her comfortable these are questions I need answered if you can help I sure would appreciate it.

I'm desperate 😢

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