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What Breed of Dog is Most Likely to Get Cancer?

Depending on your dog's breed, they may have a higher risk of developing cancer. Certain purebred breeds are predisposed to specific types of cancer. In this post, our Renton veterinarians share a few breeds with a higher risk of developing different types of cancer, including eye (ocular) cancers. 

Dog Breeds & Cancer Risks

If you're thinking of bringing a new four-legged friend home, you're likely considering different health risks and personality traits of different breeds. Cancer is particularly common in dogs, especially among purebreds.

While most pooch parents hate to think of any dog being diagnosed with this disease, it's important to keep health risks of the breed of dog you are choosing as a new pet in mind, so that you can support, monitor, and care for your dog's health in the best way possible. 

Choosing the Best Dog Breed For You 

Dogs of any size or breed (even mixed breeds) can be diagnosed with cancer. However, among purebreds, certain breeds are more susceptible to this disease. 

Choosing a dog breed with a lower risk of developing cancer is not a guarantee that your canine companion won't get cancer during its lifetime. Dog breeds with longer lifespans may be more likely to develop cancer, since they live long enough for the disease to become an issue. It's estimated that cancer is the primary cause of death in 45% of dogs, especially those over the age of 10. 

That said, you may want to research different dog breeds and learn which dogs have the highest risk of developing cancer. 

Different Dog Breeds & Their Risk of Cancer 

When it comes to determining a specific dog breed's risk of cancer when compared to another breed, there are many contributing factors to consider. 

Among purebreds, certain dog breeds have predispositions to specific types of cancer. For example, mast cell tumors are more common in short-nosed breeds like Boston terriers and boxers, while bone cancer (often considered the most aggressive dog cancer) is often diagnosed in large, long-legged breeds such as Great Danes. 

Short-haired breeds with fair skin are more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer, and there is a type of ear cancer commonly seen in cocker spaniels but rarely seen in other breeds. 

Dogs can also develop melanomas (and other eye conditions) inside their eye, though ocular tumors are rare in dogs. It's possible that dogs with greater skin pigmentation may be at higher risk for ocular melanomas. Breeds most likely to develop eye melanomas are German Shepherd, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, cocker spaniels, and schnauzers. 

Dog Breeds Most Prone to Cancer

Golden Retriever 

These beautiful dogs are known for being eager to please, trustworthy, and easy to train, which makes them popular family pets. However, they also have a higher risk of developing cancer. Lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels) are aggressive forms of cancer commonly seen in this breed. 

Recent studies have identified two genes related to the development of cancer in golden retrievers, which may lead to a method of detecting these genes before cancer has a chance to develop. 

German Shepherd 

Many dog lovers and trainers will mention their all-time favorite breed is the German shepherd, whose temperament is often intelligent, loyal, and friendly, yet reserved. They also have a protective instinct. Unfortunately, this breed is also at a high risk of developing cancer, with the most common form being hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels). 


This cuddly, smart, and adorable hunting dog has a higher risk of developing bladder cancer and may be more susceptible to recurring urinary tract infections. This risk may increased if a beagle is frequently exposed to lawn chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides. 

Bernese Mountain Dog 

These confident canines often have a calm disposition that can make them a wonderful member of your your family. Sadly, they are also known to have a shorter lifespan and a higher risk of developing a variety of cancers, including malignant histiocytosis (histiocytic sarcomas) and mast cell tumors. 


Rottweilers are well-known for being strong and protective of their people, while having a playful side. However, they also have a higher-than-average risk of developing numerous 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.

Note: Northwest Animal Eye Specialists specializes in treating eye conditions and illnesses and does not offer oncological treatment for other areas of the body. The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical or behavioral advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Do you have questions about which dog breeds may be predisposed to ocular cancer or other eye conditions? Contact our Renton vets to book a consultation with our veterinary ophthalmologist.

New Patients Welcome By Referral

Northwest Animal Eye Specialists is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the eye health of animals. Talk to your vet today about getting a referral to our clinics serving patients from Renton, Kirkland, and the surrounding areas.

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