9 Dog Breeds with the Highest Cancer Rate


PetMD Editorial

Published Feb. 26, 2014
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Dog Breeds Most Prone to Cancer

By Jessica Remitz

While cancer can unfortunately strike any breed of dog at any age, there are certain breeds that have higher instances of the disease. We’ve asked the experts to share breeds with higher rates of cancer, what types of cancer seem to be the most prevalent among these breeds, and dogs in general, and how to detect any health changes in your pet.  

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A large, powerful dog known for its strength and skills as a guardian, Rottweilers are descendants from Roman military dogs and were developed in Germany. They are among the breeds of dog with high cancer rates, according to Jennifer Coates, DVM in Fort Collins, Colorado and veterinary advisor to petMD.com. The breed requires lots of physical and mental exercise daily, such as a long walk or an energetic game in an enclosed area. With a lifespan between 8 and 11 years, Rottweilers are prone to major health problems, including canine hip dysplasia, osteosarcoma (or bone cancer), elbow dysplasia and gastric torsion.

According to Coates, common forms of canine cancer include lymphoma, mast cell tumors, soft tissue sarcomas, osteosarcoma, transitional cell carcinomas (or bladder cancer) and hemangiosarcomas (or cancer of the blood vessels).

Learn more about Rottweilers.

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Bernese Mountain Dog

With a long, silky coat and calm, confident nature, Bernese Mountain Dogs also have high cancer rates, according to Coates. An easygoing family companion, the breed requires moderate daily exercise. With an average lifespan between 6 and 9 years, serious health conditions affecting the Bernese Mountain Dog include canine hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, gastric torsion and mast cell tumors. Care must also be taken to prevent heat stroke in the breed.

While we don’t know why certain cancers are common among breeds, Coates said some environmental factors may be important.  “For example, exposure to chemicals applied to lawns is associated with an increase risk of bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers,” she explained. “An element of bad luck is also involved.”

Learn more about Bernese Mountain Dogs.

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Bouvier des Flandres

An agile, bold breed known for being a fearless and efficient farm dog, Coates lists Bouvier des Flandres among breeds with higher rates of cancer. Well-behaved and confident, Bouvier des Flandres are generally obedient and get along well with children. With an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, they are prone to health conditions, including elbow dysplasia, canine hip dysplasia, sub-aortic stenosis (a heart disease) and glaucoma.

Learn more about Bouvier des Flandres.

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German Shepherd

Intelligent and versatile, German Shepherds were originally developed in Germany to guard and herd flocks of sheep but are used today in a variety of capacities, from police dog to companion animal. According to Denise Petryk, DVM and director of veterinary services at Trupanion pet insurance, this breed is among those with high rates of cancer. German Shepherds require frequent training sessions to keep their minds and bodies active and have an average lifespan between 10 and 12 years. Petryk explained that many things may cause canine cancer, including genetics.

“Cancer unfortunately is caused by many factors and many things we do not understand,” she shared. “Genetics are definitely thought to play a role in susceptibility and the incidence of cancers.”

Learn more about German Shepherds.

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Great Dane

Known for its graceful appearance, large size and hunting skills, Great Danes make well-mannered family companions but are also among those breeds with higher rates of cancer, according to Petryk. With an average lifespan of 7 to 10 years, Great Danes may suffer from health conditions, including osteosarcoma, cardiomyopathy and gastric torsion. Some health concerns are more prone in certain Great Dane color varieties and the breed in general has a tendency to drool.

Learn more about Great Danes.

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Labrador Retriever

A loyal and friendly companion, Labrador Retrievers make excellent family pets, hunting dogs and service animals. They do, however, have higher rates of cancer, according to Petryk. The breed also has a tendency to retain weight if it is sedentary too often, so it’s important to keep them fit and active throughout their lives. With a lifespan of 10 to 12 years, general health conditions that impact the breed include canine elbow, shoulder and hip dysplasia and osteochondritis dissecans.

Learn more about Labrador Retrievers.

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Bichon Frise

A small breed with a playful nature and happy-go-lucky attitude, the Bichon Frise also has a high rate of cancer, according to Petryk. Friendly towards other dogs, pets and strangers, the Bichon Frise is also known for being good with children. With a lifespan between 12 and 15 years, this breed is prone to health problems, including allergies, patellar luxation and liver disease.

It is thought that spaying or neutering your dog may also play a role in preventing cancer. “There is new statistical evidence that early spay or neuter before one year of age might influence the incidence of certain cancers,” Petryk said.

Learn more about Bichon Frises.

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With a curious and outgoing personality, Boxers make excellent companions for an active family. However, both Petryk and Coates list the Boxer among breeds with high cancer rates. They require plenty of daily physical and mental exercise and, with a lifespan between 8 and 10 years, are prone to hip dysplasia, Boxer cardiomyopathy and sometimes brain tumors.

To help detect signs of cancer or changes in your dog’s health, Petryk recommends looking for a variety of symptoms. Physically, you’ll want to look for any new lumps or bumps on the skin or changes in their hair coat. Petryk also suggests looking for changes in your dog’s appetite, water consumption, weight loss or changes in behavioral patterns like spending more time alone or sleeping in odd places or a sudden slowing down.

Coates recommends looking for slight changes in your dogs and, if they notice anything unusual, taking your dog to see a veterinarian right away.

“Owners should be on the lookout for what may at fist appear to be subtle changes in their dogs. An enlarged abdomen, coughing, difficulty breathing, limping, vomiting, diarrhea, changes in urinary habits and skin lesions that don’t health normally can all be signs of cancer,” Coates said.

Learn more about Boxers.

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Golden Retriever

Affectionate, obedient and loyal, Golden Retrievers make ideal family pets that love human companionship. According to both Coates and Petryk, the breed is among those with high cancer rates. With a lifespan between 10 and 13 years, health concerns that can affect Golden Retrievers include lymphoma, canine hip dysplasia and skin problems. To identify these conditions, your veterinarian may recommend heart, hip, thyroid or elbow tests during routine checkups. Coates also recommends taking your dog to see a veterinarian for a thorough physical exam at least once, if not twice, a year.

Learn more about Golden Retrievers.