Osteopetrosis, or "marble bone disease," is a form of osteosclerosis characterized by increased bone matter per unit area caused by defective function of osteoclasts. An osteoclast is a type of bone cell that resorbs bone tissue. This function is critical in the maintenance and repair, and remodelling of bones of the vertebral skeleton. As a result of osteosclerosis the marrow space for formation of blood cellular components decreases which causes non-regenerative anemia and infectious complications. In osteopetrosis the entire skeleton is affected at an earlier age than in osteosclerosis which affects only a few bones.5

In animals, the malignant, fatal lesions are usually present at birth and autosomal recessive inheritance is suspected in most cases. In dogs, the bones are of normal size and shape (for the breed), the bone density is increased due to heavy calcium depositions, but has increased fragility. The cause of the fragility is not certain but is likely related to failure of normal bone modeling.3 The cartilage does not disappear, as must do in normal bone development, but persists, it is calsified and is surrounded by unmineralized, organic portion of the bone matrix (osteoid).4

Cases of osteopetrosis have been diagnosed in Australian Shepherds, Pekingese and Dachshunds. Affected dogs had severe myeloplastic anemia. Acquired osteopetrosis occurs with a number of viral infections, such as feline leukemia virus and canine distemper virus.1 Diagnosis is established by the inability to obtain bone marrow material on aspiration and by distinctive radiographic findings.6


  1. Jubb, Kennedy & Palmer's Pathology of Domestic Animals. Grant Maxie
  2. Veterinary Hematology: A Diagnostic Guide and Color Atlas. John W. Harvey
  3. Pathologic Basis of Veterinary Disease5: Pathologic Basis of Veterinary Disease. James F. Zachary, M. Donald McGavin
  4. Veterinary Pathology In The Tropics: For Students And Practitioners. G. M. Mugera
  5. Hemopoietic System. Thomas C. Jones, Jerrold M. Ward, Ulrich Mohr, Ronald D. Hunt
  6. Saunders Manual of Small Animal Practice. Stephen J. Birchard, Robert G. Sherding

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