Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer? (Vet Explains!)

by Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM

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Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

Do you own a Golden Retriever?  Your Golden Retriever may have recently been diagnosed with cancer.  This is often a disease you may have heard a lot of Golden Retrievers owners say that their dog developed.  While they commonly do develop cancer, but this does leave many people wondering why this breed develops cancer than many other breeds. 

Why do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

The main reason Golden Retrievers get cancer is due to genetics. 

There are many people that continue to breed Golden Retrievers that come from parents that have been known to have cancer.  These genetics are often passed to their offspring.  Many times, we see siblings and parents all develop the same type of cancer when they get older.

About 60% of all golden retrievers will die of cancer. 

Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa

What is the most common type of cancer seen in Golden Retrievers?

There are 4 main types of cancer that are seen in Golden Retrievers. They are:

  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Mast Cell Tumor

Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer of your dog’s blood vessels. This is the most common type of cancer that is seen in Golden Retrievers.  Since blood can travel almost anywhere, so can this type of cancer. 

It can be found anywhere from the skin to internal organs. The most common sites are the spleen, heart, and liver. Hemangiosarcoma is locally aggressive and highly metastatic, meaning it will spread to other organs very quickly and easily.

Causes of hemangiosarcoma in dogs

The exact cause of hemangiosarcoma is not known but is thought to be caused by genetics.  There are breeds that hemangiosarcoma is more common in

  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Boxer
  • Pointers
  • Labs

Hemangiosarcoma is most commonly seen in older large breed dogs.  Most dogs are eight years of age or older.  This type of cancer can also be seen in smaller dogs but is more common in larger breeds. 

Signs of Hemangiosarcoma

There are many different signs that would indicate to your vet that your dog may have a mass on their spleen. Sometimes these are incidental findings, but many times there are specific signs that will alert your vet to check for splenic masses.   

The common signs of hemangiosarcoma are:

  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargic
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Decrease exercise
  • Panting
  • Decrease appetite
  • Collapse

Your vet may want to do an ultrasound or x-ray of your dog’s abdomen to see if there is a mass. They may also want to run bloodwork to help determine the best treatment and the prognosis of your dog’s mass.

Treatment for Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma is treated with both surgery and chemotherapy. Your dog’s spleen will be removed to confirm that the mass is hemangiosarcoma.

After the spleen has been removed, your vet can discuss the different chemotherapy options with you. They may even refer you to a veterinary oncologist for further treatment.

Supplement for hemangiosarcoma

I’m Yunity Polysaccharopeptide (PSP) mushrooms. These mushrooms cause cancer cells to die and also have other anti-cancer properties.  The study done at the University of Pennsylvania has shown dogs that have been given these mushrooms after the spleen has been removed will increase the survival time from 86 days to 199 days.

Yunnan Baiyao They claim to decrease bleeding and has hemostatic properties, activates platelets, and decreases bleeding and clotting times. The typical dosage is 60-75 mg/kg daily, or 1/4 tsp per 10 pounds of body weight divided twice a day.

Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma is commonly seen in large breed dogs over 80 pounds and is commonly seen around the knee, shoulder, and wrist joint.  Symptoms of dogs with Bone cancer are large swollen area near a joint, limping, very painful leg.

The treatment for osteosarcoma is amputation of the limb and chemotherapy.  Osteosarcoma carries a poor prognosis; even with chemotherapy, many dogs do not make it one year after diagnosis.

Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system and usually causes enlarged lymph nodes.  You can find lymph nodes all over your dog.  You can commonly feel the ones in their neck and behind their knees.  If they have Lymphoma, these will be enlarged as well as others that you may not commonly see.

Depending on the severity and location of cancer, your vet will recommend chemotherapy. The most common treatment for Lymphoma is CHOP.

This is a multi-week protocol where your dog would receive chemotherapy injections every week to help kill the cancerous cells. Many dogs with Lymphoma who follow the CHOP protocol have a median survival rate of over a year.

Mast Cell Tumors

Mast Cells are small round cell tumors that can live on your dog’s skin. Often these masses are less than an inch in diameter. These masses can release histamine, causing your dog to have an anaphylactic response.

Many times, the masses do not cause many issues as long as they are just on the skin. Once these masses spread to other organs in your dog’s body, they can cause more serious issues.

If you see any of these small masses on your dog’s body, it would be best for your vet to remove the masses. Usually, removing the mass as long as all the cells are removed no longer causes any issues for your dog. 

If your dog has gotten one mast cell, they are more likely to get more elsewhere on their body.

Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

What Research is currently being done?

Veterinarians at Colorado State University and the Morris Animal Foundation are conducting a massive research study on cancer in Golden Retrievers.  The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is a massive study containing over 3,000 dogs.

The research being done in this study will help determine the causes of some diseases such as cancer in Golden Retrievers. 

Final Thoughts

While cancer is not the diagnosis that anyone wants to hear, Golden Retrievers seem to receive this diagnosis more than many other dog breeds. While there is research being done on things that can be done to help prevent cancer from occurring in this breed.

Right now, the best thing to do is discuss the different treatment options with your vet to determine the best treatment for your Golden Retriever.

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