Breed Specific Cancers: The Beloved Golden Retriever

The golden retriever is one of the most popular breeds in the world. In the United States the golden’s popularity is evident; it seems that they are everywhere from the local dog parks to your neighbor’s backyard and even in several television commercials. If you’re lucky you have one in your own family. Golden retrievers are nearly the perfect family member with their desire to please personality, their high intelligence and obedient nature, and their friendly and playful ways. They tend to get along well with all other dogs, people, and even cats.

The golden retriever was originally developed in Scotland as a gundog, with its soft mouth it was the perfect dog for carrying waterfowl. Although this breed is still an excellent hunting companion most goldens are primarily devoted family dogs and because of their trainability they are used as service dogs and search and rescue dogs.

With everything good about the golden retriever there is something that is not only heartbreaking, but also seems to be growing; the predisposition to cancer, primarily hemangiosarcoma followed by lymphoma . Cancer rates are nearly twice the rate of cancers in all other breeds and studies show that 60%-72% of golden deaths are due to cancer; these statistics are due in part by the fact that our dogs are living longer lives because of better living conditions, better vet care, immunizations, and leash laws. Cancer is the most common cause of cancer in all breeds of older dogs and goldens still have a lifespan of approximately eleven years despite their high incident of cancers, but this seems to sound better than it actually is because of the large number of golden retrievers as pets. Many families will go through the heartbreak and financial strain that cancer brings when it hits our golden retrievers.

The most common cancer in golden retrievers is hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive, malignant tumor of blood vessel cells that can form in any vascular organs and the skin, it is estimated that one in three goldens will develop this type of cancer and males develop cancer at a higher rates than females. The dermal (skin) form of hemangiosarcoma has the greatest potential of being cured by the surgical removal of the tumor sometimes followed by chemotherapy, it is easier to diagnose, and it is somewhat preventable because it is associated with sun exposure. Hemangiosarcoma tumors that form in the vascular organs often show no symptoms and are highly metastatic spreading to the brain, kidneys, lungs, heart, and bone. Signs of hemangiosarcoma often will go unnoticed until a tumor ruptures causing internal bleeding. A dog may become weak, have abdominal swelling, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, and may collapse. The treatment depends upon the location of the tumor are often not curative except in the dermal hemangiosarcoma.

Lymphoma is also a cancer that affects approximately one in eight golden retrievers during their middle age or old age, but can strike younger dogs as well. If left untreated a dogs survival rate may be as low as just a couple of months left in life, but with chemotherapy a dog with lymphoma may live another year. Research has shown that goldens that receive regular flea and tick preventative have reduced incidences of this cancer due to the thought that lymphoma in dogs may be triggered by bacteria carried by fleas and ticks.

Because hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma are so prevalent in goldens, making up half of all cancer incidents in goldens, and because they are such a popular breed, research is being conducted by various groups and organizations, some showing a dog fed high quality food, exercised regularly,  and kept from toxins may have a lesser chance of developing cancers. It also seems that the American golden retriever has significant higher rates of cancer than the European goldens, the European golden has a lifespan of over fourteen to sixteen years. Some European breeders contribute this to better breeding standards in Europe. When golden retrievers became popular several years ago many dog golden owners became breeders without the knowledge of their dog’s health history.

Not all genetic cancers are hereditary, but several are and it is best to know the lineage of your dog going back at least two generations. A good breeder will be able to prove their litter’s parents and grandparents health history. Some European golden breeders are attempting to breed litters that will grow old cancer free, but of course it is also up to the dog owner to keep the dog from environmental toxins, including toxins in foods, lawn care products, and some flea and tick medications in order to give their dog a better chance of staying cancer free. Some researchers believe that golden retrievers with allergies may be more prone to cancer because of the disruption of the immune system during a food or skin allergy incident. Treating food and skin allergies, not just the symptoms, may be helpful in avoiding some types of cancer in the future.

Therefore, it is necessary that we educate ourselves about canine cancers and do everything possible in order to avoid the heartache caused by our best friends suffering. It is vital that breeders become very aware of cancer in their dog’s ancestors and breed from the healthiest line and not just for profit. No golden deserves the pain of cancer and their families shouldn’t have to go through the heartache if it can be avoided by not breeding dogs with a family history of cancer


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