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

Spread the love

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.


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.

The following two tabs change content below.
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.

Latest posts by Jenny (see all)

Spread the love