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Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

Cancer is a prominent disease among dogs: Research estimates around 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer. To make matters worse, 60% of Golden Retrievers are diagnosed with cancer. 

Fellow pet lovers, these are hard facts to swallow. Half of the dog population develops cancer as they age, and certain breeds are at a higher risk than others.

The good news is that you can make a difference for your dogs by identifying potential cancer signs early and avoiding harmful risk factors that cause cancer.

Here we will discuss everything you need to know about Golden Retrievers, their risk for cancer, and preventive measures against this deadly disease.

Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer Easily?

Among the most popular dog breeds, statistically, Golden Retrievers have one of the highest prevalence of cancer.

Scientists don’t know precisely why the Golden Retriever gene pool appears easily susceptible to cancer development and mast cell tumors—but that doesn’t mean the field isn’t trying to find the answer.

english cream puppy sitting

Currently, the Morris Animal Foundation is conducting a study on the health, behavior, and overall life experience of Golden Retrievers. This study has continuously monitored Golden Retrievers for over ten years. 

Researchers hope to identify potential factors that can cause cancer or other health issues in our favorite golden pals. While the research remains ongoing, expect to hear valuable insights about the lifespan and health issues of Golden Retrievers in the next few years.

In addition to the Morris Animal Foundation research, a recent study examined 27 years of medical history and autopsy reports on Golden Retrievers. Researchers found that 65% of Golden Retrievers examined died due to cancer complications.

The most significant risk factor? Old age.

At What Age Do Golden Retrievers Get Cancer?

When researchers investigated the autopsies of Goldens with cancer, the average lifespan for these dogs was 9.83 years. That means most of these Golden Retrievers developed cancer earlier in life.

Ultimately, science tells us that as a dog ages, its risk for cancer increases: Cancer becomes prevalent in most or all the other breeds around age 10.

But history tells us that cancer can strike at any age, so owners must monitor their pets and schedule check-ups with a vet as they grow older. Doing so provides preventive care against cancer and other illnesses that can affect your furry friend.

Identifying Cancer in Golden Retrievers

Without knowing why dogs sometimes develop the growth of abnormal cells in their body. This odd lump of cells is called neoplasia, otherwise known as tumors.

An estimated 25% of dogs will develop a tumor over the course of their lifetime, but unfortunately, the breed, Golden Retrievers, has a higher likelihood of developing neoplasia than other dog breeds. 

Common cancer symptoms include:

  • Lumps, bumps, or unusual growths
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen tissues and bones
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Sleepiness or lethargy
  • Unexplained changes in behavior

Like humans, not all tumors on a canine’s body are considered cancerous — but if you discover an unexplained mass on your dog (or any of these symptoms), it’s time to get them to the vet for a check-up. A veterinary oncologist will want to biopsy the mass and examine the tissue for cancer cells.

How to Support a Healthy Lifestyle and Decrease Cancer Risk

Currently, scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reasons why Golden Retrievers have an increased risk of developing cancer compared to other dog breeds. Despite the unknown, doctors of veterinary medicine have some suggestions for dog owners to protect their beloved pals.

#1: Avoid Secondhand Smoke

The toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke are carcinogenic, meaning ingesting these substances can increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer. Like humans, exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in dogs. 

It’s difficult for pets to avoid secondhand smoke when living in a house with smokers. However, dog owners can establish house rules to decrease their pet’s exposure to smoke, such as no smoking indoors. Instead of smoking indoors, smoke outdoors at a safe, reasonable distance away from your dogs. 

It may be hard to make this transition, but you can help protect your favorite pup to live a longer and healthier life by keeping smoke away from them.

#2: Beware of Pesticides 

According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, exposure to a commonly used herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, can increase an animal’s chance of cancer.

Unfortunately, this herbicide is used across the country to prevent weed growth. So if you use pesticides or herbicides on your front lawn, check the ingredients and discontinue use if they contain cancerous chemicals for pets.

Homeowners with pets can find garden and lawn care products that contain natural ingredients, meaning your dog can roam around the yard freely without exposure to cancerous chemicals.

#3: Monitor Your Pet’s Diet and Exercise

As cute as pudgy Golden Retrievers are, overweight dogs have a higher risk of developing cancer.

Veterinary medicine is researching possible links between cancer development and obesity in dogs, as the exact cause is unknown. But pet owners don’t have to wait for the data to roll in—start watching your dog’s diet and exercise today.

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If your Golden Retriever has gained weight, it could be a sign they are not receiving enough exercise. On average, an adult Golden Retriever needs about 40 to 120 minutes of exercise per day to remain happy and healthy.

Quick Tip: For helpful tips and tricks to keep a Golden in shape, look at our previous blog post on “How Much Exercise Do Golden Retrievers Need?” 

In addition to exercise, monitoring a pet’s nutrition can decrease their cancer risk. According to the American Kennel Club, fish oil contains excellent nutritious antioxidants that may help protect a pet from neuronal death and cognitive decline.

Incorporating fish oil into your pet’s diet could reduce damage caused by cancerous cells. However, nothing can be guaranteed when it comes to cancer. Consult your local veterinarian about exercise and dietary plans if you are concerned about your Golden Retriever’s weight.

#4: Manage Your Pup’s Time in the Sunshine

Dogs can get sunburn if they spend too much time in the sun. This fact is especially true for fair-colored dogs, like English Cream Retrievers. 

If your dog spends a significant amount of time outdoors when UV levels are high, you’ll want to consider obtaining a dog-friendly sunscreen for your fluffy pal. 

If you have difficulty finding dog-safe sunblock, invest in pet clothes to cover sensitive areas of your dog’s coat. But also be aware of overheating and don’t leave your dog outside in hot weather too long without an ample water supply and shade to cool down.

#5: Adopt a Golden Retriever from a Reputable Breeder 

Although no one can predict the future, obtaining a Golden Retriever from a reputable breeder minimizes a dog’s risk of developing cancer.

That’s because Golden Retriever breeders aim to establish healthy, purebred dogs by avoiding mating dogs with genetic disorders that pass onto offspring. They examine a purebred dog’s medical history and parental lineage to create the perfect match for a healthy litter of puppies.

However, when you purchase a Golden Retriever puppy from a pet store or adopt a dog from a local animal shelter, it’s unlikely you’ll receive information about their parents’ medical history. Without this knowledge, your new fluffy friend could have a genetic disposition for serious medical concerns later in life.

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Puppies from Snowy Pines come from a genetically purebred bloodline, so you’ll have all the information to identify potential health concerns and the history of a puppy’s ancestors. Before your English Cream Retriever puppy leaves our Ozark property, they undergo genetic testing for potential canine diseases. 

Your English Cream Retriever will enter your household with no prior exposure to harmful environmental factors like secondhand smoke and other carcinogens.


Why do Golden Retrievers get cancer? We don’t know. However, even though we can’t prevent cancer entirely, there is a lot we do know about minimizing your pet’s risk of developing cancer:

  • Consistently monitor your dog’s health and physical activity. A pet’s cancer risk will decrease with an appropriate exercise routine and nutritional food.
  • Keep an eye out for any unexplained growths and immediately schedule a vet appointment if you spot one. 
  • Avoid any toxic carcinogens in the environment that have been shown to increase cancer. Exposure to smoke, pesticides, and a high index UV light can cause Golden Retrievers to develop cancer. 

Cancer is scary, but responsible dog owners can help their beloved pets stand a fighting chance against this devastating disease. When you purchase a Golden Retriever puppy from a reputable breeder, you are taking steps to avoid canine cancer.

At Snowy Pines, we deliberately match potential dames and sires based on their genetic background and health conditions, so you take home a certified, healthy purebred English Cream Retriever puppy. 

Contact Snowy Pines today with questions about potential pups, genetic testing, and parental lineage. Our professional team of staff members is here to help you find the perfect, healthy puppy for your family!

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About the Author


Tom Massey

Tom Massey has owned and operated Snowy Pines Labradors for over a decade. They have become the leaders in English Labradors in the US. He and his team serve customers all over the US and Europe. They house their "dog family" in a state of the art facility on a large farm in the Ozark Mountains. With an obsession for genetics and temperament they raise and train dogs known across the globe for health and personality. Tom serves the pet industry in many forms campaigning for ethical breeding, training, and pet ownership.


Calm Tempered, AKC Purebred, and Certified Genetics.