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What breed of dog is most likely to get cancer?

What breed of dog is most likely to get cancer?

The truth is that cancer can strike any breed of dog, but there are certain purebred varieties that appear to have an increased predisposition for specific forms of cancer. Our Santa Cruz vets discuss dog breeds and that may face an increased risk of some cancers.

Dog Breeds & Cancer

If you're getting a new dog, you're likely comparing the different personality traits and health risks that come with different breeds. Cancer is particularly common in dogs, especially among purebreds. It is important that you are aware of the risks for the breed of dog you are choosing as a new pet so that you can support and monitor your dog's health.  

Deciding On The Best Dog Breed For You

It's important to understand that cancer can affect dogs of all sizes and breeds, even mixed breeds. However, among purebreds, there are certain breeds that are more susceptible to the disease. 

Deciding on a dog breed with a lower risk of developing cancer does not guarantee that your pet won't get cancer during its lifetime. Dog breeds with longer lifespans may be more likely to develop cancer because they live long enough for the disease to take hold. It is estimated that cancer is the main cause of death in 45% of dogs, especially those over the age of 10. 

That said, you may want to do a little research into different dog breeds and learn which dogs are at the highest risk for developing cancer. 

Different Dog Breeds & Their Risk of Cancer

There are many factors to consider when determining a specific dog breed's risk of cancer when compared to another breed.

Among purebreds, certain dog breeds have predispositions for specific types of cancer. For example, mast cell tumors are more common in short-nosed breeds like Boston terrier and boxers, whereas bone cancer (often considered to be the most aggressive dog cancer) is often seen in large long-legged dog breeds such as Great Danes. Skin cancer is most often diagnosed in short-haired breeds with fair skin, and there is a type of ear cancer commonly seen in cocker spaniels but rarely seen in other breeds. 

Dog Breeds That Face an Increased Risk of Certain Cancers

Golden Retriever

  • Golden retrievers are beautiful dogs that are revered as family pets, however, they are at a higher risk of developing cancer. Lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels) are aggressive forms of cancer commonly seen in this breed. In recent studies, researchers have identified two genes that are related to the development of cancer in golden retrievers, this finding could lead to a method of detecting the genes before cancer has an opportunity to develop.

German Shepherd

  • German shepherds have been a long-time favorite breed among dog lovers and trainers. Unfortunately, this breed has a high risk of developing cancer, with the most common form being hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels).


  • Beagles are adorable, cuddly, and smart hunting dogs. This breed is at a higher risk of developing bladder cancer and may have recurrent urinary tract infections. This risk is increased if dogs are frequently exposed to lawn chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides.

Bernese Mountain Dog

  • Bernese mountain dogs are confident dogs with a calm disposition that make them wonderful family companions. Sadly, they have a short lifespan and a higher risk of developing a variety of cancers including mast cell tumors and malignant histiocytosis (histiocytic sarcomas). 


  • Rottweilers are known for their strength and guardian skills. They are playful and protective of their family. However, when it comes to cancer they have a higher than average risk of developing a number of different cancers including soft tissue sarcomas, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), lymphoma, mast cell tumors, transitional cell carcinomas (bladder cancer), and hemangiosarcomas (cancer of the blood vessels).


  • Boxers are loyal and affectionate dogs and can be terrific family companions. Unfortunately, this breed is often diagnosed with mast cell tumors,  a form of slow-growing cancer most often found on the skin.

Great Dane

  • Great Danes make well-mannered family companions and are known for their graceful appearance and hunting skills. With an average lifespan of 7 to 10 years, this breed of dog tends to suffer from a variety of health conditions, including cancer, cardiomyopathy, and gastric torsion.

Choosing Your Pet Companion

Whatever breed of dog you decide on will come with a variety of characteristics and potential risks for various health conditions and diseases, including cancer. If the breed you choose has a higher than average risk of cancer, it is important that you take the time to learn about your dog's genetic background and identify ways in which you can mitigate the health risks for your pet. Monitoring your dog's health and regular veterinary visits will help to detect early stages of cancer and will allow for potential treatments.  

Common Types of Cancer Seen in Dogs

No dog breed is safe from the threat of cancer. As with humans, cancer can affect dogs of all different ages, breeds, sizes and lifestyles. 

Some of the most common cancers seen in dogs include:

  • Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma - Lymphoma is actually a generic term used by vets to describe a group of cancers that stem from a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes which help the immune system to fight off infection. While there are more than 30 different types of lymphoma in dogs, the most common types are, multicentric, alimentary, mediastinal and extranodal lymphoma. 
  • Mast Cell Tumor  - Mast cell tumors develop in the skin or just underneath the skin, although they can appear in other areas, including around eyes, mouth, throat, and spine. These tumors can be difficult to remove depending on location but this cancer can often be cured with surgery. 
  • Melanoma - Melanoma tumors are also found on the dog's skin but are frequently benign and easily treated, however malignant melanomas are a  very serious condition. Malignant melanoma spreads quickly to other areas of the pet's body. Melanoma in dogs is often found in and around the mouth or on the feet.
  • Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer) - Osteosarcoma is a very painful form of bone cancer that is most often found in the leg bones or pelvis of dogs. Although any breed can be affected by this type of cancer larger breeds such as dobermans,, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Irish wolfhounds and rottweilers seem to face a higher risk.
  • Hemangiosarcoma  - This form of cancer one of the most aggressive dog cancers and requires emergency intervention. Hemangiosarcoma tumors can grow very large and are often found in the spleen, but may grow anywhere blood vessels are present and can spread to the heart, lungs and other organs.

Veterinary Oncology Services at Pacific & Santa Cruz Veterinary Specialists in Santa Cruz

At Pacific & Santa Cruz Veterinary Specialists, our veterinarians provide diagnostics and treatments to ensure that your pet receives the best possible care to fight their cancer. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer we are here to help. For more information about dealing with cancer in dogs visit our Steps To Take When Your Dog Has Cancer blog post.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of cancer? Our skilled team of Santa Cruz vets is here to help! Contact Pacific & Santa Cruz Veterinary Specialists to learn more about our oncology services and how we can help your beloved dog.

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Pacific & Santa Cruz Veterinary Specialists is always accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about restoring good health to Santa Cruz companion animals. We are open 24/7 to provide your pet with care, whenever they need us.

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