Cancer in Our Dogs

Posted in Health, News/Dogs that are assistance trained.

Article written by Rhea Malloch, my Mentor 


 I hope to contribute in these cancer studies or theories in educating golden people or dog  people in general. Knowledge is power and even though we have not cured cancer there is so much we can do to help. Understanding Cancer in Goldens by Rhonda Hogan is what I would like to start our journey with. Please remember these are still theories. A litter of 10 pups suggests that 6 will get cancer with the rate of 60%. It will be a life altering experience to find the genes that will help toward the cure for cancer not just in dogs but also for humans.  This excerpt is taken from Ronda’s publication: 

“Let’s get started with some data of how cancer affects our breed. Approximately 60% of all goldens will die from cancer. By gender, it’s 57% of females and 66% of males. Human cancer is also skewed slightly toward males, so it’s not surprising the dogs are too.  For risk, the rate of cancer in goldens is just slightly less than double the rate of cancer in all dogs, which is estimated to be about one and three (and which actually is about the same as in humans).  But even though our cancer rate is nearly double the all-breed average, it’s important to keep in mind that the average lifespan of the breed is still within the same 10–11 year range as all breeds. Our two most common cancers are Hemangiosarcoma, affecting about one and five goldens; and lymphoma, affecting about one in eight”.

Rhonda Hovan  has personalized this by giving of her time to anyone that wants to talk with her or email correspondence invited to: or 330-668-0044 or PO Box 1110, Bath, OH 44210.

Since the article there has been a lot of research. This is an article by Dr. Becker:

  •  Golden retrievers in the US have a higher rate of cancer compared to many other breeds 
  •  The high rate of cancer in goldens is a relatively recent development. In the late 1980s, the breed wasn’t considered as having a higher rate of cancer. But by the late 1990s, cancer was taking the lives of about 60% of US goldens 
  • The Morris Animal Foundatiom Golden Retrievers Lifetime Study Is currently underway, and will track 3000 enrolled dogs throughout their lives with input from owners and veterinarians
  • Through the study, researchers help to identify potentially modifiable risk factors that may account for the high incidence of cancer and other diseases in golden retrievers and other dogs as well
  •  To help prevent cancer in your own dog, keep him at a healthy weight, feed an anti-inflammatory diet, reduce his exposure to toxins, and refuse unnecessary vaccinations 

By Dr. Becker:

About half of humans over the age of 70 and dogs over the age of 10 are diagnosed with cancer. In terms of mortality, cancer accounts for about 23% of human deaths, and from 10 to 60% of dog deaths, depending on the breed.

 The smaller the dog, the lower the risk of cancer. In fact, the rate of cancer in small dogs like the Chihuahua and Maltese is less than 10%. Scientists believe a hormone that influences bone and tissue growth (IGF-1),  which exists at lower levels in small breeds, may be a factor. 

One of the breeds at highest risk for developing cancer is the hugely popular golden retriever.


Cancer in Goldens Began to Spike I’m the 1990s

About 60% of all golden retrievers will die from cancer -57% of females and 66% of males. The two most common types of cancer in this breed are Hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma.

Surprisingly, the higher rate of cancer and goldens is a fairly recent development. In a 1988 University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine study,  goldens weren’t mentioned as having a higher rate of cancer than other breeds. 

 However, just 11 years later in 1999, over 60% of these wonderful dogs living in the US were being lost to cancer. 

European Golden Retrievers Get Cancer Less Often Than US Goldens

When researchers compare the DNA of golden retrievers with Hemangiosarcoma and other breeds with the disease, the genetic abnormalities are different. Interestingly, European bred golden retrievers developed cancer at a much lower rate  (Under 40 percent) than US Goldens.

Their genes are significantly different, which suggests the risk of cancer in American goldens is the result, in part, of a fairly recent gene mutation. Researchers studying cancer in the breed have identified genetic alterations common to goldens with Hemangiosarcoma and  lymphoma. 

 These gene mutations “Modify the regulation of the immune system’s surveillance for tumor cells,” says board – certified veterinary oncologist Dr. Anne  Hohenhaus.  According to canine authority Jane Brackman, PhD, writing for  The Bark:

“Goldens in Europe and the US may looks similar, but there are enough DNA differences to separate the dogs into two distinct populations corresponding to their geographic regions. Gene pools on both continents are large, so breeding between the two populations is rare.“ 

“When  studied in the lab, genetic differences suggest that risk  for some types of cancer is related to recent genetic mutations in North American golden retrievers.“

“And this could be good news: genetic differences between European in North American Golden retrievers maybe key to understanding the ideology of canine Cancer overall.”

How Cancer Genes Occur in Generation After Generation of Dogs

The American Kennel Club (AKC) And other kennel club’s require that register dogs be the product of other register dogs. The standard is in place to ensure no new genes are introduced into a breed, however, it also ensures that every register dog is a relative of another dog of that breed.

This creates an isolated, closed population of dogs within each breed, which keeps the gene pool small. In addition, there is something called the “popular sire” effect, where in certain dogs are bred over and over again.

Their descendants carry the same specific gene mutations, for better or worse, and those mutations ultimately become permanent. The result is that in some breeds, the genes that increase the risk of cancer are reproduced in generation after generation of dogs.

Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is Underway

In 2012, the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) launched the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.  Describing it as “the largest observational study undertaken in veterinary medicine in the United States”.


An observational study monitors participants and collects information on them. The study isn’t intended to directly affect how owners take care of their dogs, but instead to provide valuable information on how to better present, detect and treat cancer and other diseases. Between the studies launch into thousand 12 and 2015, MAF signed up 3000 privately owned golden retrievers who were from six months to two years old and healthy at the time of enrollment.


Between the studies launch into thousand 12 and 2015, and AF signed up 3000 privately owned golden retrievers who are from six months to two years old and healthy at the time of enrollment.

Why Golden Retrievers?

Goldens were chosen for the study because while they don’t have the highest risk for cancer among all dog breeders, there are more of them. Large sample sizes results in more accurate data.


In addition, goldens are highly adaptable to a variety of lifestyles. They are family pets, show dogs, hunting dogs, Canine athletes, competitors in a wide range of Canine events, assistance and therapy dogs, and search and rescue dogs. As a result, the breed as exposed to an extensive range of environments.


Researchers hope to identify modifiable risk factors for cancer

 The study will run for 10 to 14 years, and will track the dogs throughout their lives with input from the owners and veterinarians who have agreed to keep records of the dog’s health, nutritional and environmental information. According to Brackman :

 “based on observations summarized and questionnaires, researchers hope to identify potentially modifiable risk factors that may account for the high incidence of cancer and other diseases in golden retrievers and eventually in all dogs. 

MAF  researchers are looking specifically for information about cancers that can’t be treated surgically, including in operable mast cell tumor‘s, lymphoma,  Osteosarcoma, and Hemangiosarcoma.  These four diseases account for the vast majority of cancer deaths and goldens. 

 Over 2000 veterinarians have committed to the project and have agreed to perform annual physical exams on their patients (enrolled Golden’s) during which they collect blood, urine, feces, hair and toenail samples and send them off for analysis. They also report on any visits outside the annual exams, collect tumor tissues samples when necessary, and provide guidance to the dogs owners about knee Cropsey when a dog dies. According to a participating veterinarian interviewed by Brackman:


“The information we’ll gather looks at areas of potential exposure by air, contact and feeding. Owners are expected to provide information as detailed as chemicals used in the home, yard and on the dog, and drinking water sources, to name just a few. When all this information is put together and analyzed, will have an opportunity to find commonalities that may be related to cancer and other diseases. The more data available, the more opportunity to find a connection. On the flipside, will also find commonalities and dogs who live to be 15 and over.”

The questionnaires are evaluated quarterly, and validated trends are published as they emerge. This provides real-time information to dog owners and veterinarians that may help influence the care of the dogs.


Building a Canine Health database for the future

From the lifetime study website:

“As the years progress, we are gathering millions of data points that will lead us to a better understanding of how genetics, lifestyle and environment impact our study dogs health and well-being. We look forward to sharing the results from the study as our database grows and we are able to draw insight from what we are learning.”

It’s difficult to grasp the enormous complexity and potential of the golden retriever lifetime study. But given the number of lifestyle and genetic factors under investigation, I’m very hopeful the results will help us understand how to better care not only for goldens, but all dogs.


Five ways to reduce your dogs cancer risk


 Don’t allow your dog to become overweight. Studies show that restricting the amount of calories an animal eats prevents and or delays the progression of tumor development across species, including canines. Fewer calories cause the cells of the body to block tumor growth, whereas too many calories can lead to obesity, and obesity is closely linked to increased cancer risk in humans. There is a connection between too much glucose, increased insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and oxidative stress… All factors in obesity… And cancer. It’s important to remember that fat doesn’t just sit on your pets body harmlessly. It produces inflammation that can promote to more development 


Feed an anti-inflammatory diet. Anything that creates or promotes inflammation in the body increases the risk for cancer. Current research suggests cancer is actually a chronic inflammatory disease, fueled by carbohydrates. The Inflammatory process creates an environment in which abnormal cells proliferate. Cancer cells require the glucose and carbohydrates to grow and multiply, so you want to eliminate that cancer energy source. Carbs to remove from your pets diet include processed grains, fruits with fructose, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Keep in mind that will dry food contains some form of starch. And it may be grain free, but It can’t be starch free because it’s not possible to manufacture a kibble  without using some type of starch.

Cancerous cells generally can’t use dietary fat for energy, so high amounts of good quality fats are nutritionally beneficial for dogs fighting cancer, along with the reduced amount of protein and no carbs.  Another major contributor to inflammatory conditions as a diet too high in omega 6 fatty acids and to low in omega 3s. Omega 6  increase inflammation while the omega-3’s do the reverse processed pet food is typically loaded with omega-6 fatty acids and deficient  in omega-3’s.

A healthy diet for your pet-one that is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer – consist of real, whole foods, preferably raw. It should include high-quality protein, including muscle meat, organs and bone. It should also include high amounts of animal fat, high levels of EPA and DHA and a few fresh cut, low glycemic veggies.

Reduce or eliminate your dogs exposure to toxins. These include chemical pesticides like flea and tick preventative’s, lawn chemicals, tobacco smoke, flame retardants, and household cleaners. Because we live in a toxic world and avoiding all chemical exposure is nearly impossible, I also suggest offering a periodic detoxification protocol to your pet. 


Allow your dog to remain intact -not neutered or spayed - at least until the age of 18 months to two years. Studies have linked spaying and neutering to increased cancer rates and dogs. Even better, investigate alternative ways to sterilize your pet without upsetting his or her important hormone balance.


Refuse unncessary vaccinations. Vaccine protocol should be tailored to minimize risk and maximize protection, taking into account the breed, background, nutritional status and overall vitality of the dog.