Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer? [Plus Signs To Look For]

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Ahh, the ever-loving, loyal, friendly and beautiful Golden Retriever! These dogs are hard to resist and so easy to fall in love with. If you are fortunate enough to own one of these beautiful dogs, you know exactly what I am talking about. Goldens are simply wonderful! But, there is one downfall to this breed. The fact that they are extremely prone to cancer. Why do Golden Retrievers get cancer?

In this article, we will address that question as well as discuss the most common types of cancer that affect Golden Retrievers. Cancer is one of the many health problems that can affect your Golden, and we will learn of the warning signs that you need to look for and ways that you can reduce your Golden’s risk of cancer.

Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

Cancer is certainly one of the worst diseases that not only can affect humans but our loving dogs as well. As dog owners, we get so attached to our dogs, and when we discover that our dog has developed cancer, we are left with many questions. Why? What caused it? Is it genetics? Nutrition? The environment?

The truth is, the causes of cancer among Golden Retrievers are not specifically known.

There are many forms of cancer that can affect your dog, each one develops differently when it begins to grow. Just like cancer in humans, it forms when old cells do not die but instead grow rapidly out of control to form abnormal cells. These extra cells may then form a mass of tissue called a tumour.

If caught in the early stages, the tumour can be removed before it spreads to other parts of your dog’s body. However, cancer is hard to detect and often goes unnoticed by dog owners until it has already spread to other parts of the body. Recovery at the later stages of cancer is more difficult, and many dog owners are left with a heartbreaking decision.

The true cause of cancer in Golden Retrievers is unknown, but with ongoing research, we will hopefully be able to have more answers. It is said that the factors contributing to cancer include the following:

  • Old Age: Just like humans, as dogs get older their risk of developing cancer increases. 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.
  • Genetics: Genetics certainly play a part in causing cancer in Golden Retrievers. The gene pool is relatively small in purebred dogs, and cancer-causing genes can be passed down from generation to generation. That being said, even if your Golden Retriever has a cancer-causing gene, it does not mean he/she will develop cancer for sure. It means that he/she has an increased risk.
  • Nutrition: The food that you feed your dog plays an important role in your dog’s overall health and well-being. Make sure you are feeding a healthy and well-balanced diet. A raw whole food diet is best, as it contains pure ingredients, unlike kibble that contains fillers, carbs, and many other ingredients too hard to pronounce.
  • Environmental: 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.

Golden Retrievers Have One Of The Highest Rates Of Cancer

2 Adult white coloured Golden Retrievers and 1 puppy Golden Retriever laying in the grass looking happy.

Cancer is a huge concern among all dog owners because it is the leading cause of death among dogs over the age of 2. Nearly half of all dogs will be diagnosed with some form of cancer over the age of 10.

Unfortunately, the incidence of cancer is slightly higher in Golden Retrievers. About 61% of Golden Retrievers in the US will die from cancer according to a study done by Purdue University along with the Golden Retriever Club of America in 1998.

A survey done by the UK Kennel Club in 2004 indicates that about 38% of European Golden Retrievers die from cancer. European Golden Retrievers develop cancer at a lower rate because their genes are different.

A few decades ago Golden Retrievers did not have such a high rate of cancer. The lifespan of a Golden Retriever was 15-17 years old in the mid-1900s to the early 2000s. Today their lifespan is 10-12 years according to Wikipedia.

Common Types Of Cancers Among Golden Retrievers

The 2 most common types of cancers that affect Golden Retrievers are Hemangiosarcoma and Lymphoma. Two other types that affect this breed are 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:


A very aggressive malignant tumour of the blood vessel cells. This cancer is one of the deadliest types. 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. This tumour can suddenly rupture and cause massive bleeding. You and your vet are left with a very difficult decision to make within minutes of the diagnosis.

Middle-aged to older Golden Retrievers are commonly affected.


A common cancer of lymph cells (lymphocytes). Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps the immune system fight infection. Lymphoma can affect any organ in the body but is most likely found in the lymph nodes, the spleen and bone marrow, the organs that have high concentrations of lymphocytes.

Lymphomas vary in how aggressive they are, the signs and the survival rates. There are over 30 different known canine lymphomas, but the 4 most common are: Multicentric, Alimentary, Mediastinal, and Extranodal.

Multicentric Lymphoma is the most common type and it affects the lymph nodes. Dogs who have this type of cancer will show signs of swollen lymph nodes. These swollen lumps feel firm and rubbery and are not painful to your dog.

Chemotherapy has been proven to be the most effective treatment for lymphoma in dogs, and 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 like 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.

Mast Cell Tumours

MCT’s 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 MCT’s 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 diagnosis osteosarcoma, and 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.

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, the Morris Animal Foundation has signed up 3000 privately owned healthy Golden Retrievers between the ages of 6 months to 2 years old.

This study will run from 10-14 years and will track the lives of these Golden Retrievers with the input of their owners and vets on their health, nutrition and environmental information.

Researchers at the MAF are hoping to identify the nutritional, environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors for cancer and other diseases in dogs. This study is one of the largest and most comprehensive canine health studies in the US.

Golden Retrievers were chosen for this study for several reasons including the popularity of the breed (they have consistently held the 3rd most popular spot according to the American Kennel Club), their high rate of cancer, genetics and their adaptability to a variety of lifestyles.

Golden Retrievers are exposed to many environments because they are therapy dogs, guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, swimmers, and family dogs. This made them ideal candidates for the study.

Warning Signs Of Cancer In Your Golden Retriever

Dark coloured Golden Retriever laying in the grass with his head turned looking happy.

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 for catching this disease early on and it could make all the difference in your Golden’s prognosis.

Here are the common warning signs to look for:

  • Lumps/Bumps. Abnormal swelling that is persistent and continues to grow.
  • Wounds or sores that do not heal.
  • Weight Loss.
  • Loss of Appetite.
  • Difficulty Eating or Swallowing.
  • Abnormal Discharge.
  • Foul Odour, Bad Breath.
  • Bloating.
  • Lethargy.
  • Increased Drinking or Urinating.
  • 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, but there are activity monitors like the FitBark that can help. FitBark is a dog activity monitor that tracks your dog’s activity and rest patterns throughout the day.

FitBark allows you to see what your dog is up to while you are away from him. 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.

How To Prevent Cancer In Your Golden Retriever

While it may be difficult to avoid the hereditary risks of cancer, there are ways that you can reduce the environmental factors that may contribute to cancer.

  • Consider spaying/neutering your dog.
  • Don’t let your dog get overweight. Keep him lean and healthy.
  • Minimize sun exposure.
  • Avoid exposing your dog to any toxic chemicals.
  • Avoid exposing your dog to second-hand smoke.
  • Feed your dog a healthy well-balanced diet. Be sure to include some cancer-fighting foods such as blueberries, blackberries, fish oil, broccoli, pumpkin, turmeric, and coconut oil to name a few.

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 and 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. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, amputation, and immunotherapy. In some cases, combination therapy is used.

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.

Light coloured Golden Retriever laying in a field of grass.

Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer? Final Thoughts.

As we have learned in this article, Golden Retrievers have a high rate of cancer because it is in their genes. A cancer-causing gene is passed down from generation to generation, and because the gene pool is small in purebred dogs, this 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, and great strides have been made, but we have yet to find a cure for cancer.

The study that is currently going on by the Morris Animal Foundation involving Golden Retrievers will hopefully give us some 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 will make all the difference in your Golden’s prognosis.

By investing in a dog activity monitor you can catch any early symptoms before they potentially get worse.

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.

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I am the proud owner of a Golden Retriever named Ellie. She keeps me busy, and when she is resting, you can find me working on my blog. She is always close by though. I live in Stirling, ON Canada with my husband, and we both enjoy the never a dull moment life with our Ellie.

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18 thoughts on “Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer? [Plus Signs To Look For]”

  1. Hi Jenny.

    I stumbled upon this blog and read about the cancers in GRs. We just lost our Dexter yesterday morning and are devastated. We couldn’t wrap our heads around what happened. We’ve done some research today and your blog has definitely helped us in terms of making sense of what happened and to know that others have had the same gut-wrenching experience. Our Dexter was fine during the day, seemed off in the evening, and early morning a spiral downwards. Zero signs of any health issues leading up to that night. He would’ve been 9 in August.

    Thanks again for the blog with the information.


    • Hi Mike,
      This is such horrible news to hear! I am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved Dexter. Losing a Golden is extremely devastating, and one of the hardest losses to overcome. Just know that you are not alone, there are many others who are going through the same thing. It might help to reach out to other Golden Retriever owners who know what you are going through. There are many pet loss support groups available to talk to that you can find on the internet. I also covered grieving the loss of a dog in one of my blog posts, which you may find helpful.

      My heart breaks for you, as this is what every Golden Retriever owner fears the most! 9 years old is so young, it is certainly gut-wrenching.

      Cancer unfortunately is this breed’s biggest killer! I like all other Golden Retriever owners hope that they find a cure!

      I wish you all the best during this difficult time.


  2. Oliver Waylon Jennings (Ollie) has just now gone to glory. He was 8 1/2. He had an amazing 6-month run after last summer’s tumor removal. We were told Hemangiosarcoma is one of Mother Nature’s most merciful painless Cancers. It is believed to be Mother Nature’s population control mechanism for wolves that also affects dogs since all dogs are 98% wolf! This Cancer is a major killer of German Shepherds, THE MAJOR killer of Golden Retrievers, and Ollie! After tumor-removal surgery, last July, we were told a survival duration of 2-4 months was possible, but 4 would be unlikely. We got 6!!! —- All dogs are great, in many cases greater than humans. Ollie was a STAR. We didn’t share him with too many people because we were simply SELFISH and kept him for us. We pampered him and he was funny, zany, kindly with everything and everyone he met. He loved other people AND other dogs. He loved human GIRLS & was an embarrassingly shameless lovesick masher who didn’t hesitate to HOWL at women on the street. He was outrageous and delightful. He was never in pain, we made certain of that. Wow, we really miss this SUPER personality! On, to the next great dog story! …but we’ll never beat Ollie!

    • Hi Jim,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry for your loss. Ollie sounds like he was one of a kind, and he will forever have a piece of your heart. Amazing that you were able to share 6 more months together, and that he was never in any pain. Hopefully, with all of the research being done, Cancer among this breed and others will be a thing of the past.

      Take care,

    • Hi Diana,
      Thanks for asking such a great question. Yes, air fresheners like Glade and Febreeze are harmful to pets, and they are not good for you either. These types of products are made from synthetic fragrances that contain toxic chemicals, which are harmful to your dog and any other pets to breathe in or be exposed to. These products are slow poisons to your dog as well as yourself. Meaning their harmful effects will take time to do damage to your dog’s health and yours.

      Dogs have a greater sense of smell than we do, and any type of fragrance is going to be bothersome to your dog. I would suggest avoiding artificial fragrances at all costs, even when washing your dog’s bedding I would only use unscented laundry soap. Fragrance causes damage in the long run and it could also cause an allergic reaction in your dog. These products are simply not worth the risk!

      If you really need to have your home or fabrics smelling good, look for 100% natural scents such as 100% pure organic essential oils. Do your research, because some essential oils are toxic to dogs as well!
      For further reading on the dangers of artificial fragrances, check out this article by dogsnaturally.

      Thank you,

  3. Thank you for your post about cancer in golden retrievers. We lost our Murphy on Dec 5, 2019. He would have been 10 years old in February 2020. Murphy was the brother of a West Coast breeder who consistently wins almost every competition she enters. Willis was Murphy’s littermate who was 2nd golden at Westminster. Anyway, Murphy came in from outside and he just didn’t look quite right.. we rushed him to our vet and he said his spleen had ruptured.. he decided to remove it but found cancer in his liver and spleen. So we had to have him euthanized while under the anesthesia. So less than 3 hours and our baby was gone.

    It is heartbreaking to lose a golden.. when Murphy turned 5 we got a puppy from his brother Willis. We named him Wallis after sir William Wallace of Scotland. So Wallis was our 4th golden and was devastated to lose his buddy. We made it thru to July and we just had to have another puppy so we now have Fergus❤️ Nothing can ever replace Murphy but he’d be glad we found another puppy to love.

    We raised our two kids with a golden and they now have families and goldens of their own. Summer is swim time for 4 goldens in our pool😍 I just wanted to let people know that the love you share with a Golden Retriever is an experience that is sent by God.. we even visited the Golden Retriever Statue in Scotland where the breed was born. I am close to 70.. retired from a 40-year teaching career 5 years ago. I hope they find a cause and cure for cancer.. these beautiful dogs are so worth all of the hype of the breed.

    • Hi Cheryl,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so very sorry for your loss of Murphy, and how quickly it happened. It is devastating to lose a dog, especially a Golden Retriever. Dogs are just as devastated when another dog in the family passes away, I am happy to hear that Fergus will be a new friend for Wallis, and you are able to love another puppy. It sounds like your Summer is a blast with 4 goldens in your pool.

      Hopefully, with enough research and time, there will be a cure for cancer! I agree that these dogs are worth all the hype and that the love you share with a Golden Retriever is unlike any other!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I wish you and your Goldens all the best!


  4. We lost our Golden Molly to cancer, she was 12 years old. She was diagnosed on July 17th, 2020. On the following Monday, we went back and the vet thought we have 2 to 8 weeks with her. She passed away on July 21, 2020. We adopted Molly when she was 3 years old. When we took her to the vet to be checked over they found she had heartworm, but she beat that and then a year ago she had a lump on her leg and it was cancer. It was removed and she was cancer-free. This time the cancer was in her lungs and we were not as lucky. She had a good life and our hearts are breaking but she is not suffering anymore.

    • Hi Margaret,
      My deepest condolences to you and your family on losing your loving dog, Molly. My heart is breaking for you, I am very sorry. There are just no words that can help you through this trying time, losing a dog is one of the hardest things to go through.

      I hope that you can find relief in knowing that your Molly is in a better place and not suffering anymore. It will take time to heal, and one day you will be able to reflect on all of the wonderful moments you have shared and the memories that you have made together, and those memories will put a smile on your face instead of tears.

      I want to thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, and I wish you and your family all the best.

      Take care,

  5. I sadly lost my two beautiful boys within a month of each other last year. I’m still suffering from a broken heart. The first one Digger was 14 1/2 and old age had taken its toll. Buddy was just 13. One minute he was eating, playing and the next collapsed on the floor suffering from hemangiosarcoma. He was gone within hours and ripped my world apart.
    I am now the proud man to a 1-year-old and an 18 week old, again Goldies. You forget how crazy they are at a young age but my life wouldn’t be the same without sharing it with such beautiful creatures. It turns out they are both related to my beautiful angels.
    I hope everyone is lucky enough to receive even half the love my boys gave me. It was a privilege to have shared their lives.

    • Hi Andrea,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. What a sad story though, I am so very sorry for your loss! It is so tragic how quickly hemangiosarcoma can set in, and you must deal with such a rapid heart-wrenching decision. I can only imagine the pain you must have felt, and are still feeling. We never truly get over the loss of our loved ones.

      I am happy to hear that you have added 2 more Golden boys to your family, and how wonderful it is that they are related to your “beautiful angels”. I am sure that these 2 will help you recover from your loss, and you will have plenty of wonderful times ahead of you. I am sure they will also remind you of the many wonderful moments you shared with Digger and Buddy.

      I also hope that everyone is lucky enough to be given the chance to be loved by a Golden and to share in their lives.

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment, and I wish you and your 2 boys many happy and wonderful days ahead.


    • Hi Gene,
      My heart goes out to you and your family. I am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved Golden. To lose your dog at such a young age and without warning is absolutely devastating. I hope that the wonderful memories and happy times that you shared with your Golden will carry you through this devastating time.

      I want to thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, and I wish you the strength to get through this difficult time. You have proven that as dog owners, we all need to treasure and cherish every moment with our dogs as the time we have with them is never long enough.

      Take care,

  6. I heard about this a few months ago from a friend of mine that has 4 Goldens, and he lost two to cancer. Very sad. I have a Golden 13 years old, has a lot of lumps and have had them checked out, no cancer (I was really scared though). I posted a notice in my house “Do not use any chemicals in my house”. I have been doing what I can to make my home as chemical-free as possible. I was wondering why they get cancer. Thanks for the enlightenment. 

    • Hi Jordan,

      I am sorry to hear of your friend losing 2 of his Golden Retrievers to cancer, it is very heartbreaking.  What a relief for you to find out that your 13-year-old Golden does not have cancer, and 13 years old in Golden Retriever years is pretty impressive.  Making your home as chemical-free as possible is a great step in preventing cancer in your Golden, and improving his/her quality of life and yours too.  

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.


  7. Hello Jenny;
    Happy to read your article; I do not have a dog but my wife would like to own one, I am more related to cats. But, I find it interesting to know the risks related to the dog breed that we would like to adopt to prepare accordingly and guide our choices.

     However, I would like to know if cats too are subject to cancer and if so which breeds?

     Thank you.

    • Hi Moi Moi,

      You are certainly doing the right thing by educating yourself on Golden Retrievers or any other dog breed that you wish to adopt.  This way you will know what to expect and can make an informed decision on the breed of your choice.

      To answer your question, yes cats are at risk for cancer too.  However, the risk for cancer in cats is less than the risk in dogs.  Common cancer found in cats is Lymphoma, and cats will have lumps and bumps.  I am not familiar with any breed of cats that are more prone to cancer than others.  I would say that environmental factors can contribute to feline cancer just like it does in dogs, and the same prevention would apply.  Limit the exposure to toxic chemicals and second-hand smoke.  Monitor your cat for any changes in physical and behavioural patterns.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.



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