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How High Are Cancer Rates in Golden Retrievers?

golden retriever dog on a couch

Few dogs are as calm, loyal, and gentle as the Golden Retriever. Golden Retrievers are also intelligent, playful, and very active as a medium to large-sized breed. They make excellent companions and are great with children, which is why they’re so popular in the United States and several other countries.

Dr. Ryan Steen, DVM, medical director at Frey Pet Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, calls Golden Retrievers the “perfect family dog.” However, one unfortunate fact about the Golden Retriever breed is that they have a high rate of cancer: over 60%. That’s one of the highest cancer rates of all dog breeds and a tough pill to swallow for many Golden Retriever pet parents.

If you own a Golden Retriever or are contemplating adopting one and have questions about their health, the information below will be beneficial. Read on to discover more facts, figures, and statistics about this beautiful dog and what you can do to keep them healthy and happy.

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Why Do Golden Retrievers Have a High Cancer Rate?

There are several working theories about why Golden Retrievers have a high cancer rate, although none has been proven outright. One of the most commonly held theories is simply that, since the advent of immunizations for dogs, the lifespans of the dog population, in general, have increased dramatically.

Unfortunately, the longer a dog lives, the higher the chance it will be diagnosed with cancer. For example, once a dog reaches 10 years of age, its chance of being diagnosed with cancer increases to 50%. Another factor is that Golden Retrievers are larger dogs; statistically speaking, larger dogs have a much higher incidence of cancer than smaller dogs.

Chihuahuas, for example, have less than a 10% chance of being diagnosed with cancer compared with the Golden Retriever’s 60%+ chance.

One widely held belief is that Golden Retrievers have had a cancer-causing gene in their genetic makeup since the breed was first seen. That fact, coupled with their relatively small gene pool, has led to a high incidence of inbreeding and, thus, a higher cancer rate. However, breeding the cancer gene out of Goldens isn’t as simple as it might sound.

For example, if the same gene is connected to their size, fur color, or another identifying factor of the breed, breeding the gene out might also cause a drastic change that might erase the dog we all know as a Golden Retriever.

One last possible reason Golden Retrievers are diagnosed with cancer more frequently than other breeds might be that they are taken to the vet more often. More frequent vet visits lead to a higher cancer diagnosis rate but that doesn’t necessarily mean Goldens get more or less cancer than other breeds.

golden retriever dogs lying on the floor with pet sitter
Image Credit By: atyana Vyc, Shutterstock

At What Age Do Most Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

Studies have found that the risk of cancer increases significantly once a Golden Retriever has reached 6 years of age. It peaks at the 10 to 12-year mark, which is also the average age for a Golden.  It’s worth noting that more male Golden Retrievers are diagnosed with cancer than females; 57% of females will be diagnosed with cancer, but with males, that number jumps to 66%.

What Are the Most Common Cancers in Golden Retrievers?

There are four types of cancer that Golden Retrievers are stricken with most often. They are hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, lymphoma, and mast cell tumors. Hemangiosarcoma commonly affects a Golden’s spleen and is a type of bleeding tumor that is particularly severe.

Osteosarcoma affects the bones and is one of the leading cancers affecting dogs in general. Lymphoma (aka lymphosarcoma) affects the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Mast cell tumors display skin lumps and lesions, so you should have your Golden checked if they suddenly have a suspicious skin lump.

How Do I know if my Golden Retriever Has Cancer?

There are several signs and symptoms of cancer in dogs, including Golden Retrievers. Some are easier to spot and identify than others. If you see any of the signs and symptoms below, it’s highly suggested that you take your Golden to your local vet as quickly as possible. They include:

  • Weird odors you don’t usually smell coming from their mouth and ears
  • Wounds and sores that don’t heal quickly (or at all)
  • Sudden and drastic weight loss
  • Any discharge from their body that isn’t normal, including their eyes, ears, mouth, and rectum
  • Lumps and bumps under their skin that seem to form rapidly
  • A drastic change in their potty habits, including timing, color, odor, etc.
  • A change in your Golden’s mood from happy to sad, depressed, or lethargic
  • Outward evidence that they are in pain, with no evidence why
golden retriever not eating its food
Image Credit: Phuttharak, Shutterstock

How Do I Keep my Golden Retriever From Getting Cancer?

There’s good news and bad in terms of preventing your Golden Retriever from getting cancer. The good news is that there are several things you can do to keep your pet healthy and, possibly, reduce its chance of this deadly disease. The bad news is that genes cause cancer in your dog’s body.

Your Golden will either have these genes or not have them. In other words, if your Golden Retriever has the cancer gene (from both parents), it’s almost inevitable they will get cancer at some point in their life. Below are several things you can do to (possibly) reduce the chance that your gorgeous Golden will be afflicted with cancer:

  • Avoid feeding them a grain-free diet
  • Supplement their diet with omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid
  • Have your Golden Retriever spayed or neutered
  • Take your pup to the veterinarian once or twice a year for a checkup, blood and urine testing, and cancer screening
dog at vet for spaying procedure
Image Credit: aspen rock, Shutterstock

How Expensive Is Dog Cancer Treatment?

It’s rather tricky to say how much cancer treatments will cost for any dog, including a Golden Retriever. The reason is the dog’s size, cancer type, and several other factors.

For example, the cost of chemotherapy will vary significantly based on the size of the dog being treated. For a Golden Retriever, it will likely be higher as they are a larger breed. Radiation therapy typically costs between $2,500 and $7,000. There are also additional fees for CT (computerized tomography) scans, monitoring, ICU care, and more.

Can you Smell Cancer on a Dog?

Technically, you can’t smell actual cancer affecting your Golden Retriever. However, if they have cancer, you will often smell a different, and usually foul, odor from their mouth, ears, or rectum.

Which Foods Prevent Cancer in Dogs?

As we discussed earlier, preventing cancer in dogs, including Golden Retrievers, is not always possible. If they have a cancer gene passed down from both parents, the chance they will have cancer is almost 100%. Several foods are known to have anti-cancer properties and can be fed to your pup to (possibly) lower their risk. They include:

  • Fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D3
  • Clean foods high in animal protein like beef, chicken, turkey, and fish
  • Turmeric
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Broccoli
  • Apples (Not the seeds!)
  • Beets
  • Pomegranate

We recommend checking with your veterinarian before feeding your Golden Retriever any of the foods above or changing their diet drastically. They can help you introduce the food to your pup, tell you how to cook it, and so forth.

Using-a-stetoscope-on-a-golden-retriever_Tatyana-Vic_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Tatyana Vic, Shutterstock

What Is the Average Lifespan of a Golden Retriever?

The lifespan of the typical dog is between 8 and 15 years, although, like humans, they can live quite a few years longer than the average. Golden Retrievers are similar and live between 10 to 12 years of age. Some Golden Retrievers have lived to 17, 18, and even 19 years, which is exceptionally long for any dog.

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Final Thoughts

Although it seems rather unfair, Golden Retrievers are afflicted with cancer more than almost any other dog breed. Your Golden Retriever, especially if you live in the United States, has a 60% plus chance of getting cancer at some point in its life. Goldens in Europe have a substantially lower cancer risk. The good news is that, if detected early, veterinarians can successfully treat several types of cancer.

While distressing, we hope that you were able to take something away from our article. If your precious puppy is suffering from cancer, we wish you and them the best of luck for a speedy recovery.


Featured Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

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