There are few things that strike terror into the heart like the word “cancer.” Most people, if they live long enough, will develop some form of cancer, and that is true of dogs, as well. In the same way that some people can have a predisposition to cancer, certain dog breeds are prone to cancer.
If you are considering getting a dog, I am not suggesting that you forego the breed that speaks to your heart, nor am I telling you that because you have a certain breed of dog, he or she is doomed to death by cancer. It helps to know what you’re getting into, though, so that you can be alert to symptoms in a dog that may be prone to cancer.
Rates of Cancer by Dog Breed
I’m not going to quote a lot of statistics. If you’re reading this post, it’s likely because you’re concerned that the breed of dog you own, or want, could be predisposed to cancer. If you want hard numbers, I would suggest visiting The Vet Cancer Registry. It records confirmed cases of cancer in dogs, and collects data from all over the world. The site is user-friendly, and updated weekly.
Although some breeds are higher-risk, cancer can strike any dog, at any age. Some breeds have a higher risk of cancer in general, and certain types of cancer in particular. So, with that in mind, the following are the nine dog breeds most likely to develop some form of cancer.
A Rottweiler is known for its size, strength, and incredible devotion to its human companions. Unfortunately, it is also known for a variety of health issues like hip dysplasia and gastric torsion. The most common symptom of bone cancer is limping, so a limp in a Rottweiler should never be ignored. Liver cancer is less easy to diagnose. More than a few Rottweilers have been given a clean bill of health only to end up being diagnosed with highly invasive liver cancer mere weeks later.
2. Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog is possessed of a wonderful sense of calmness and confidence, along with its outstandingly beautiful silky coat. Unfortunately, they are also prone to several health issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, and gastric torsion. Mast cell tumors are the most common form of cancer in the Bernese.
3. Bouvier des Flandres
The Bouvier is known for its fearlessness, cooperativeness, and confidence, and will usually live for ten to twelve years. They are, however, prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, glaucoma and heart disease, as well as various forms of cancer.
4. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are highly intelligent, versatile dogs. The Shepherd will be your best friend, protector, and partner in just about any high-energy activity that pleases you. Originally bred as a sheep-herding dog (as you might gather from the name), German Shepherds now fill a variety of roles, including law enforcement, assistance dogs, and of course, beloved family pets. Unfortunately, they are among the breeds most prone to cancer.
5. Great Dane
Great Danes are typically very mannerly dogs, and despite their size, careful with children. The most heartbreaking thing for Dane owners is knowing that they will probably enjoy only about seven years with their friend – ten if they are lucky. Great Danes are prone to gastric torsion, heart disease, and various types of cancer, particularly bone cancer.
6. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular breeds in America. The Lab is a great family pet, a superior hunting dog, and one of the most common breeds trained as service animals. Generally, a Lab will live between 10-12 years. Common problems include hip, shoulder and elbow dysplasia as well as bone cancer.
7. Bichon Frise
Up until now, we have talked about large dogs. And it is true, generally speaking, that the larger the breed, the shorter the life, and the more likelihood of developing cancer. The playful little Bichon, though, is also prone to health issues. Allergies are common, and cancer is too, usually liver cancer.
Back to the large breeds, Boxers are affectionate, curious and outgoing, and very active. They require a lot of physical and mental stimulation, and usually live between eight and ten years. They are prone to heart disease, hip dysplasia, and cancer. The Boxer is one of the few breeds with a predisposition toward brain cancer.
9. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are loyal and affectionate, and have a lifespan of between ten and thirteen years. The most common health issues with the Golden Retriever are skin problems and hip dysplasia. They are also prone to various cancers.
Causes of Canine Cancer
Other than a genetic predisposition in a certain breed, no one knows what causes cancer in dogs. However, it is probably safe to assume that many of the risks for your dog are the same ones that could cause you to have a higher chance of developing cancer. Poor diet, exposure to toxic chemicals, and obesity can be risk factors. Intact females can have an increased risk of mammary cancer, and intact males are at a higher risk of testicular cancer, so please neuter and spay.
Most Common Dog Cancers
In this section, we’ll take a look at which breeds are most likely to develop certain forms of cancer.
1. Histiocytic Sarcoma
Histiocytic sarcoma is aggressive and difficult to treat.There are three different types. Localized histiocytic sarcoma usually occurs in the lungs, bones, skin or joints. Disseminated histiocytic sarcoma occurs simultaneously in multiple tissues and/or organs. Hemophagocytic histiocytic sarcoma begins in the spleen and moves quickly to other organs and tissues.
Dog breeds most likely to develop histiocytic sarcoma include the Rottweiler, Labrador Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Miniature Schnauzer, and Flat-Coated Retriever. This cancer usually occurs in older dogs, but is not unheard of in young dogs.
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer in dogs. If your dog develops bone cancer, there is a better than 95% chance that it will be osteosarcoma. It is a primary bone cancer, meaning that it begins in the bone, as opposed to occurring elsewhere and then spreading into the bone.
Any large or giant breed dog can be at risk for osteosarcoma. However, Rottweilers and Scottish Deerhounds have an enhanced level of risk.
Canine hemangiosarcoma is an untreatable form of cancer that attacks the lining of the blood vessels. Generally speaking, the risk increases with age, although this cancer is not unheard of in younger dogs.
The breeds most at risk include the German Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boxer, Portuguese Water Dog, Skye Terrier, and Flat-Coated Retriever. Sadly, if you have a Golden Retriever, there is a higher level of risk – one in five Goldens will develop Hemangiosarcoma at some point.
4. Mast Cell Tumors
Mast cells regulate the immune response, working to alleviate allergies and inflammations. When they become over-active, tumors can develop on the surface of the body and in the internal organs. In severe cases, mast cell tumors can be fatal.
Although mast cell tumors can occur in any breed, some are more vulnerable. These include Boston Terriers, Pugs, Boxers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
Lymphoma and Leukemia in dogs are disorders of the immune system, in which the dog’s body produces too many white blood cells, or abnormal white blood cells. The exact cause isn’t known, but genetics and environmental factors may play a role. Treatment may include radiation and/or chemotherapy, with the goal being to prolong life.
Any dog can develop lymphoma or leukemia. The most vulnerable breeds are Basset Hounds, Scottish Terriers, Boxers, Saint Bernards, and Labrador Retrievers.
Melanoma in dogs is a malignancy of the cells that create pigment. In other words, it’s skin cancer.It usually manifests as dark, black, pink, or mixed-color spots in the mouth or on the lip. It can appear as a mass, or as a flat lesion.
Small breeds like Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Poodles are at the greatest risk for melanoma. However, it is also common in Golden Retrievers and Chows.
7. Mammary Tumors
If there’s any good news when it comes to cancer in dogs, it’s to be found in what we know about mammary tumors. There’s at least a 50/50 chance that a mammary tumor in a dog will not be malignant. And given that the diagnosis usually occurs when the dog is 9-11 years old, even if it is malignant, the dog is likely to die with mammary cancer, not of it.
Dogs most at risk are females, mammary cancer being exceedingly rare in males. Breeds most often affected include Toy Poodles, Miniature Poodles, Spaniels, and German Shepherds.
8. Brain Tumors
Brain tumors in dogs can be primary or secondary. A primary tumor originates in the brain, whereas a secondary tumor originates elsewhere and progresses to the brain.
Brain tumors can occur in any dog, but some breeds have a higher risk. They include the Golden Retriever, Old English Sheepdog, Doberman, Boxer, and Scottish Terrier.
9. Multiple Primary Tumors
A primary tumor, as we learned from the previous section, is one that originates in a particular organ and then may spread to others. Multiple primary tumors in dogs are just what they sound like – more than one type of tumor in more than one organ.
Bulldog breeds and Boxers have the highest risk of developing multiple primary tumors, but usually they are low-grade and not overly aggressive. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are more prone to have multiple primary tumors, and they are more likely to have the aggressive variety.
Identifying Canine Cancer
When your dog visits the vet for a regular checkup, he or she will be examined for obvious signs of cancer, like lumps or lesions. These are the most common signs to recognize. You can also be alert to signals that your dog may have developed cancer – persistent diarrhea and vomiting can be red flags. So can listlessness and loss of appetite.
Now, I don’t want to scare you, but there is one thing a dog might do that is a sign of cancer that has gone too far. If your dog is very listless and wants to lie in a corner facing a wall, there is nothing you can do other than take him to the vet and give him gentle passage to the Rainbow Bridge. This is usually a sign of a very invasive, very fast-growing cancer – usually in the liver. It is not your fault. Hardly anyone catches this type of cancer, and even if caught, it is rarely treatable.
Living with the Diagnosis
If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, you may be wondering where to turn. There are many wonderful support groups online, so check out breed-specific groups and also those devoted to helping dog owners through their pet’s journey with cancer. Your vet can also be a valuable source of information and support.
It’s hard to see your dog living with cancer, and even harder easing your dog gently out of life before the suffering becomes too great. I want to believe, though, that I will see the dogs I have loved and lost at the Rainbow Bridge, and that you will too. In the meantime, keep your beloved friend as comfortable as possible, and seek support wherever you can find it.
People also ask
What is the most aggressive cancer in dogs?
Hands down, it’s hemangiosarcoma. Death almost invariably follows swiftly upon diagnosis.
Which dog breed lives the longest?
The Australian Cattle Dog can typically live for 12-15 years, and one has even been recorded as having passed at the age of 29.
Is cancer painful for dogs?
If your dog isn’t displaying signs of pain (licking, lethargy, etc.) it can be hard to tell if he’s in pain. Most veterinarians err on the side of caution, and prescribe medication for dogs that have cancer.
Does cancer make dogs smell bad?
A bad odor can be a sign of cancer in dogs. It could also be due to a dental infection, skin condition, or just a “heads up” that your dog needs a bath! If you’re concerned about odor, and you can’t identify the reason, see your vet to confirm or rule out cancer.
Can CBD shrink tumors in dogs?
No. It can ease discomfort, but it will do nothing to shrink tumors.