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[UPDATED APRIL 2022]
It’s a question on the minds of owners and lovers of this breed, “Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?”
Golden Retrievers seem to have it all, beauty, brains, and a personality that will warm your heart! Some might say that they’re the perfect dog.
But, with a shockingly high rate of cancer, this breed is not so perfect after all!
What causes Golden Retrievers to be so prone to cancer?
Keep reading, as we address this burning question.
Plus, find out the 4 most common cancers that affect Golden Retrievers. Discover the warning signs of cancer, and what you can do to reduce the risk of cancer in your Golden.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?
The true cause of cancer in Golden Retrievers is unknown. However, ongoing research is being done on Golden Retrievers in particular. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is tracking the lives of over 3000 Golden Retrievers in hopes of identifying the risk factors for cancer. Sadly, 60% of Golden Retrievers are impacted by cancer. Genetics, age, lifestyle, nutrition and environment are said to be contributing risk factors for cancer.
Golden Retrievers are more likely to develop certain types of cancer due to their genes. Many Goldens are afflicted by hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma.
Genetics certainly plays a big role in causing cancer. In purebred dogs, the gene pool is relatively small, which causes cancer-causing genes to be passed down from generation to generation.
If your Golden Retriever inherited a cancer-causing gene, it doesn’t mean that he/she will develop cancer for sure, it means that your dog has an increased risk.
Just as in humans, when dogs get older their risk of developing cancer increases.
In Goldens, the risk for cancer begins to rise at the age of 6, and peaks at the age of 10 to 12 years.
The immune system gets weaker with age and there is an increased risk of producing a mutated cell when it splits, leading to uncontrollable growth.
Cancer is very common in dogs over the age of 10.
It can be argued that older dogs who developed cancer have had more exposure to carcinogens in the environment.
Spay and Neuter Status
Spay and neuter status is a contributing factor for cancer in Golden Retrievers.
According to research and studies from the University of California, Davis, Golden Retrievers are at a higher risk of certain cancers if they are spayed early (within their first year of age).
Cancers include hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, mast cell tumours and osteosarcoma.
Studies have also shown that spaying a female Golden at any age increases the risk of developing one or more of the cancers from 5 percent to up to 15 percent.
Females that are unspayed do have a higher risk of developing mammary cancer, and males left intact are at risk of developing testicular cancer.
Spaying and neutering your Golden Retriever is a very controversial subject. It is a decision that should be discussed with your vet and researched thoroughly.
The food that you feed your dog plays an important role in your dog’s overall health and well-being.
Many people choose kibble or other processed food, which contains preservatives, fillers, and chemicals that are detrimental to your dog’s health.
Cancer-causing toxins such as aflatoxin which is a byproduct of mould can make their way into pet food. There has been a recall of pet products containing aflatoxin, not that long ago, in September 2020.
Being exposed to aflatoxin is certainly not good for any dog, but dogs with hepatitis are especially vulnerable because they are at a much greater risk of developing liver cancer.
Choosing a diet that contains pure ingredients, not to mention ingredients that you can pronounce are ideal!
Dog owners are opting for fresh ingredients, with many choosing to make their own dog food or feeding a raw diet.
It’s no secret that keeping your Golden Retriever at a healthy weight will improve his overall health and potentially prolong his life.
But, did you know that by keeping your Golden from becoming overweight or obese, you are reducing his risks of developing cancer?
Obesity is linked to diabetes, heart disease and joint disorders, but it is also linked to certain cancers.
There have been some studies done on the relationship between obesity and cancer.
Obese dogs are at risk of developing mast cell tumours, mammary tumours, and transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder.
It seems lately that pretty much everything causes cancer. Household cleaners, lawn fertilizers, cosmetics, building materials, and the list goes on.
Because Golden Retrievers are domesticated and always by our side, they are exposed to the same elements as we are.
Second-hand smoke can affect your dog just like it would a human, as can smog and air pollution.
Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and other lawn chemicals contain carcinogens that are linked to cancer.
Being exposed to the sun can put your Golden at risk of developing skin cancer.
Golden Retrievers Have One Of The Highest Rates Of Cancer
Cancer is one of the biggest concerns for all dog owners. It is the leading cause of death among dogs over the age of two!
Nearly half of all dogs will be diagnosed with some form of cancer over the age of ten.
Unfortunately, the incidence of cancer is slightly higher in Golden Retrievers.
According to a study done by Purdue University, alongside the Golden Retriever Club of America, about 61% of Golden Retrievers in the US will die from cancer.
What’s interesting to note is that European Golden Retrievers have a lower rate of cancer because their genes are different.
A survey done by the UK Kennel Club in 2004, indicates that about 38% of Golden Retrievers in Europe die from cancer.
Also interesting, is that a few decades ago, Golden Retrievers did not have such a high rate of cancer.
From the mid-1900s to the early 2000s, the lifespan of Golden Retrievers was 15 to 17 years old. Today, their lifespan is shorter, at 10 to 12 years old.
The 4 Most Common Cancers In Golden Retrievers
Golden Retrievers are commonly affected by 4 types of cancer. Topping the list are Hemangiosarcoma and Lymphoma, followed by Mast Cell Tumours and Osteosarcoma.
For those of us who are not medical professionals, let’s give a brief overview of what these cancers are in plain English:
Hemangiosarcoma is one of the deadliest types of cancer. It is a very aggressive malignant tumour of the blood vessel cells.
This tumour grows very rapidly and develops in areas of your dog’s body with a rich blood supply such as the spleen and heart.
The tumour can suddenly rupture and cause massive bleeding, leaving you and your vet with a very difficult decision to make, within minutes of the diagnosis.
Middle-aged to older Golden Retrievers are commonly affected.
In the video below, the Morris Animal Foundation answers questions about hemangiosarcoma.
Lymphoma is a common cancer of lymph cells (lymphocytes) and lymphoid tissues. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps the immune system fight infection.
This cancer can affect any organ in the body. However, it is most likely found in organs that have high concentrations of lymphocytes, such as the lymph nodes, spleen and bone marrow.
There are over 30 different known canine lymphomas, each varying in their aggressiveness, signs, and survival rates.
Multicentric Lymphoma is the most common type, which affects the lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes are a sign of this cancer. The swollen lumps will feel firm and rubbery but are not painful to your dog.
Chemotherapy Is Effective
Chemotherapy has been proven to be the most effective treatment for lymphoma in dogs. The type of chemo treatment recommended by your vet will depend on the type of cancer.
In some cases, surgery and radiation therapy are suggested.
Chemotherapy does not affect dogs like it does humans. Chemo does not usually make dogs as sick as humans, and they rarely lose their hair.
Dogs who go through chemo treatment may experience mild vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite and decreased activity levels.
Because of the many types of lymphomas and their different aggressiveness, there is no way of knowing your dog’s prognosis.
Your dog’s outcome will depend on the stage of cancer at the time of treatment, and the choice of treatment.
3. Mast Cell Tumours
MCTs are common skin tumours that vary from benign, slow-growing to very aggressive high-grade cancers.
Mast cell tumours represent a cancer of a type of white blood cell that is normally involved in the body’s response to inflammation and allergens.
Mast cell tumours can range from small isolated lumps to large ulcerated lesions.
Low-grade MCTs are often potentially curable with surgery to remove them, but high-grade tumours are fatal.
Cancer of the bone. Osteosarcoma is a very aggressive and deadly form of cancer that commonly affects the limbs but can rapidly spread to other parts of the body.
Large and giant breeds are most commonly affected, as are older dogs, but dogs of all ages can get it.
The early signs of bone cancer are subtle and can include swelling, lameness, and joint or bone pain. As the disease progresses the lameness and pain increase rapidly.
X-Rays and tissue samples are used to diagnose osteosarcoma. It is classed as stage 1 low-grade, stage 2, and stage 3 the most advanced stage of cancer.
Chemotherapy is often used as a treatment to ensure that cancer has not spread to any other areas, in particular, the lymph nodes.
In more severe cases amputation is needed to remove cancer.
The prognosis for bone cancer depends on what stage your dog has.
If the cancer is treated before it spreads, the survival rate is better than if it has spread to your dog’s lungs or other parts of the body.
If bone cancer is left untreated it is fatal.
Warning Signs Of Cancer In Your Golden Retriever
Cancer can be difficult to detect in the early stages because the signs can be subtle and caused by other conditions.
If you notice any physical or behavioural changes in your Golden you should always consult your vet.
Being aware of what symptoms to look for will be your best chance of catching cancer early on. It could make all the difference in your Golden’s prognosis.
Common Warning Signs Of Cancer:
- Recent lumps or bumps that persist or continue to grow.
- Sores or wounds that do not heal.
- Weight loss with or without a change in food consumption.
- Change in appetite or water intake.
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening.
- Offensive body odour or bad breath.
- Difficulty eating, chewing, grasping or swallowing food.
- Loss of stamina, reluctance to exercise.
- Persistent lameness.
- Trouble breathing, urinating or defecating.
It can be difficult to monitor any physical and behavioural changes in your dog every moment of the day especially when you lead a busy life.
The good news is, that an activity monitor like the FitBark can help! FitBark monitors and tracks your dog’s sleep and activity throughout the entire day.
It has shown that dogs who are in discomfort don’t sleep well, and dogs who are in pain are less active.
FitBark will alert you on your mobile app if there are any sudden changes in your dog’s sleep and activity level.
It’s a great way for you to catch any early signs that something is not right. Restless sleep and lethargy are very strong indicators that something is off with your dog.
Tips To Prevent Cancer In Your Golden Retriever
It may be difficult to avoid the genetic risk of cancer in your Golden Retriever.
However, there are steps you can take to help reduce the other contributing factors to this disease.
Choose A Responsible Breeder
Choose a breeder that screens for cancer in their lineage. Responsible breeders do health testing and pay attention to cancer in their lines, and work to exclude it.
Always do your research, and be aware of the health issues that are common in Golden Retrievers.
Know The Risks And Benefits Of Spaying And Neutering
Studies show that spaying or neutering Golden Retrievers too early poses increased risks of developing certain cancers.
If you choose to spay or neuter, it is best to wait until your Golden is fully developed.
Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits with your vet, to determine what’s best for your dog.
Keep Your Golden At A Healthy Weight
Be sure to feed a healthy, balanced diet, and avoid letting your dog become overweight or obese.
Obesity and a poor quality/imbalanced diet are linked to an increased cancer risk
Avoid Exposure To Secondhand Smoke
Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of cancer in pets. Keep your home and dog’s environment smoke-free.
Avoid Exposure To Toxic Chemicals And Fumes
This includes lawn chemicals, paints and solvents, asbestos, artificial cleaners, artificial fragrances, etc.
Use natural, non-toxic products instead that are safe for pets.
Avoid Prolonged Sun Exposure
If your Golden enjoys laying in the sun, be sure to limit his time to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.
The sun is strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, emitting harmful UV rays.
Schedule Regular Vet Checkups
Yearly vet checkups are important to identify any changes in your dog’s health.
Golden Retrievers who have reached their “golden” age, and are considered seniors, may need more frequent vet visits.
Examine Your Dog For Any Physical Changes
At least once a month, check your dog for any lumps or bumps that may have appeared suddenly.
Feel your dog’s body, and check the ears and mouth. Early detection is the key!
Beware Of Any Changes In Behaviour
You know your dog best.
If you notice any changes in your dog’s mood, sleep pattern, or eating habits, it’s usually a sign that something is not right.
Behaviour changes often indicate that your dog is not feeling well. Even the most subtle changes can be an early indication of disease.
Add Cancer-Fighting Foods To Your Dog’s Diet
Be sure to include foods that are antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory, high in Omega-3, and high in protein.
Blueberries, blackberries, fish oil, pumpkin, apples, and broccoli are all great foods to include.
My Golden Retriever Has Cancer, Now What?
Being told that your Golden Retriever has cancer is something no dog owner wants to hear.
If your Golden has been diagnosed with cancer, you should allow yourself a moment to breathe and let the news sink in.
Do everything you can to learn about the type of cancer affecting your dog. Educate yourself on the treatment options, the pros and cons of treatment and the costs involved.
It is important to remember that not every cancer leads to an automatic death sentence for your dog. There are many cancers that can be treated if they are caught early.
Cancer Treatment Options
- Radiation Therapy
- Combination Therapy, in some cases.
The success of treatment for your dog depends on the form of cancer, what stage it is, and how aggressive the therapy is.
If your Golden has been diagnosed with cancer that is incurable, there are still things that can be done to alleviate your dog’s pain.
Good nutrition, love, and care from you will go a long way to ensure your dog is as comfortable as possible during this difficult time.
You shouldn’t feel like you are alone in dealing with this. There are support groups available online and possibly in your community. It might help to talk to others who are in the same situation.
Golden Retrievers Are Being Studied
In 2012 the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study was started by the Morris Animal Foundation.
Between the study’s launch in 2012 and 2015, just over 3000 privately owned healthy Golden Retrievers were signed up. Their ages ranged from 6 months to 2 years old.
This study is currently examining and collecting data throughout the lives of these Golden Retrievers.
Health, nutrition and environmental information are all collected from their owners and vets.
Researchers at the MAF are hoping to identify the nutritional, environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors for cancer and other diseases in dogs.
Golden Retrievers were chosen for this study due to their popularity, high rate of cancer, genetics, and adaptability to various lifestyles.
Due to their exposure to many environments, they were the ideal candidates for this study.
The study will run for 10 to 14 years.
Genetics is said to be the main reason why Golden Retrievers get cancer, and why the rate of cancer is so high among this breed.
The gene pool is relatively small in purebred dogs. When a cancer-causing gene is passed down from generation to generation, the cancer gene does not go away.
Along with genetics, a combination of old age and environmental factors could also contribute to cancer.
However, the true causes of cancer in Golden Retrievers are not specifically known.
Cancer research in both human and veterinary medicine is ongoing. Great strides have been made, but we have yet to find a cure for cancer.
Hopefully, the ongoing Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will provide us with the answers, and bring us closer to a cure each year.
It is imperative to always be aware of any changes in your dog’s physical and behavioural state. Catching this disease early on will make all the difference in your Golden’s prognosis.
What About You?
Have you lost a Golden Retriever to cancer?
Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!