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Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

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To answer this question, we must first consider the genetic predisposition and the environmental impacts on this delightful breed. Being a Goldie owner–or someone who is seriously interested in adopting a Goldie–you need to be aware that a Golden Retriever is very likely to develop cancer during his or her lifetime. Even though Golden Retrievers are an extremely athletic and highly popular breed, they often get various forms of cancer.  This fact begs the question, ”why do Golden Retrievers get cancer?”

Genetics are often blamed as the main reason Golden Retrievers frequently get cancer.  Far too often bad breeders will put ill-gotten profit over honest breeding.  These bad players will breed Golden Retriever males and females that are known to have cancer–or some form of cancer in their pedigree.  These parents then pass their unfortunate genetic disease on to their pups. You can guess the disastrous outcome!  It’s quite common that littermates and their parents all get the same kind of cancer as they age. Certainly though, ancestral genetics is not entirely to blame.

Exposure to environmental hazards, such as prolonged exposure to the sun or carcinogenic chemicals, can increase the odds that a Golden Retriever will get cancer. Also, a poor diet and no regular exercise will increase the development of some cancers. Knowing the things that cause cancer in Golden Retrievers will lower your Goldie’s cancer risk and help them live a long and healthy life.

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What is Cancer?

If you are an experienced dog owner, then you probably know something about cancer in dogs. For the uninitiated, cancer develops when body cells grow helter-skelter and invade other body tissues. Make no mistake, cancer is not just limited to higher animals.  Some forms of cancer can affect any animal or plant–any living tissue.  Cancer may be benign (non-invasive, non-lethal) or malignant (invasive and dangerous).  Benign tumors do not spread to other body tissues but malignant tumors typically spread to other body organs or tissues. 

Cancer in Dogs

So understand that cancer is not only a human disease. Dogs can and will get cancer too!  In fact, cancer is one of the leading causes of illness and death in dogs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 25% of pet dogs will get cancer at some point in their lives. Some common dog cancers are skin tumors, mammary tumors, lymphoma, and bone cancer. Golden Retrievers often develop specific cancers like hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, lymphoma, and mast cell tumors.

As much as canine cancer is studied, the exact causes aren’t fully understood.  But, genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors seem to contribute to various cancers.  Unfortunately,  Golden Retrievers are one of the dog breeds that are more apt to get cancer.

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Causes of Cancer in Golden Retrievers

Genetics

It is generally accepted that canine parental genetics passes some cancers on to the parents’ pups.  According to one AVMA study, about 60% of Golden Retrievers will develop cancer. Goldies are prone to four types of cancer

  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Osteosarcoma

Golden Retrievers born to cancer afflicted parents are more likely to get cancer when compared to pups from healthy parents.  Because genetics (good and bad) are inherited it is important to buy only from a reputable breeder that provides all the proper papers, including honest pedigrees and health certificates.  If you are adopting a shelter Golden Retriever, then be sure the dog has been vet examined, vaccinated, and well cared for.

Environmental Causes

Genetics are a significant factor in cancer development in Golden Retrievers.  But, environmental causes may add to the risk of cancer. Toxic chemicals–like pesticides and weed killers–can increase the risk of cancer in your Golden Retriever.  Secondhand smoke may also increase the risk of cancer in dogs.  If you smoke, you can be your own worst enemy but not your dog’s.

A bad diet and little or no exercise can add to your Goldie’s cancer risks. Feeding your Golden Retriever a proper diet and giving him or her plenty of robust exercise will lower the cancer and other health risks.

It’s important to realize that not all cancers in Golden Retrievers can be avoided by breeding healthy parents, good nutrition, or plenty of exercise.  But, being aware of genetic and environmental factors is key to your Goldie not getting cancer or any other serious disease. 

Cancer Symptoms in Golden Retrievers

Early Signs

As the dog’s owner, you need to watch for anything off in the behavior or physical appearance of your Golden Retriever. The early detection of any issue will vastly increase your best friend’s odds of living a disease-free and happy life.  Early detection is key.  Here are some signs of cancer in Golden Retrievers:

  • Fever or chills
  • Dizziness, falling down
  • Loss of appetite–no interest in food or water
  • Unusual skin sores or lumps
  • Rapid breathing, nervous panting
  • Severe diarrhea or constipation
  • Lethargic-sleeps constantly, won’t play or go for walks
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Little or no exercise interest
  • Sudden blindness or deafness
  • Constant head shaking
  • Constant scratching
  • Pale gums, foul breath, loose teeth
  • Dull hair coat, hair loss

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take your dog to the vet for a thorough examination. Your vet may want to do an ultrasound or x-ray of your dog’s abdomen to see if there is a mass.

Late-Stage Symptoms

Undetected or untreated, a small lesion can advance to a late-stage tumor. Signs of late-stage cancer in Golden Retrievers are listed here:

  • Distended or bloated abdomen
  • Excessive panting, drooling
  • Excessive head shaking
  • Refuses to get up or walk
  • Unusual circling with limp tail
  • Collapse, can’t stand or get up
  • Swollen paw, leg, or shoulder
  • Unusual eye discharge
  • Mouth or skin sores

If you see any of the above, it’s imperative to take your dog to the vet right away.  When you get to the clinic, let them know that your dog is in trouble and that it’s an emergency.  Late-stage cancer can be hard to treat, but early detection and treatment are key to the dog’s survival.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cancer in Golden Retrievers

Diagnostic Tests

When you suspect cancer, the first step should always be to take your dog to the vet for a complete examination, including blood tests. The vet may also do a battery of tests including, x-rays, scans, an ultrasound, and tissue biopsies. These necessary tests and scans can help the vet determine if the problem is indeed cancer and whether the condition is treatable.  Also, the vet will then be able to lay out a diagnosis and treatment plan for you.

Treatment Options

The treatment depends on the cancer type and stage.  Also, the dog’s age and overall health matter a lot.  Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Surgery is often the first line of treatment for cancer in dogs. Chemotherapy means using drugs to wipe out the cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be used to achieve the best outcome. Your vet will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your Golden Retriever. Remember, early detection and treatment are key to improving your Golden Retriever’s chances of beating cancer. If you suspect your dog may have cancer, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care.

Cancer Prevention 

Cancer can’t be fully prevented. However, there are important things you can do to keep your Goldie healthy and lower their odds of getting cancer.

  1. Feed your Golden Retriever a healthy and balanced diet. This means feeding them a high-quality dog food that has no artificial additives or preservatives. You should always avoid feeding your dog any table scraps.  These are often too fatty and too salty for any dog.
  2. Supplements may help lower the risk of cancer in your Golden Retriever. Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oil, may have valuable anti-cancer properties. Adding antioxidant supplements, like Vitamins C and E, to your dog’s diet may lower the risk of some cancers.
  3. Regular exercise keeps your Golden Retriever healthy.  Exercise boosts the dog’s immune system and helps keep their weight normal. 
  4. Spaying and neutering is known to prevent cancer.  Unless you are planning to sell registered Golden Retriever pups you should consider spaying or neutering. This can help prevent mammary and ovarian cancer in females and testicular cancer in males.
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Conclusion

Golden Retrievers are wonderful dogs that are great go-with companions and family pets.  However, Goldies are also a breed that is most susceptible to a range of cancers. The reasons for this are not well understood, but it is clear that genetics are significant.

Steps you can take that may lower your Golden Retriever’s risk of getting cancer include: 

  • feeding them a healthy diet
  • providing regular exercise
  • keeping them at a healthy weight
  • taking your Golden Retriever to a vet routinely 

Sure, thinking your beloved dog might have cancer is scary, but early detection by your vet and doing what is necessary may save his or her life.  

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