How to Lower the Risk of Dog Cancer


The causes of cancer are not known with any certainty, but just as with human cancer there is evidence that certain factors increase the risk of your dog suffering from the disease.

In the last few years, dog cancer research has focused on improving cancer management through developing better diagnosis, tumor imaging and tumor grading and staging techniques.

Now, the focus has turned to how we can prevent cancer in the first place – early diagnosis and prevention can do far more to reduce the impact cancer has on our dogs than continually improving treatment plans will ever have.

From what we already know about dog cancer, genetics, exposure to certain carcinogens and a weakening of the immune system can all contribute to the development of cancer.

Here is a list of 10 factors (in no particular order) that could increase the chances that your dog will suffer from cancer:

1. Genetics

Some breeds seem to be predisposed to specific types of cancer; here is a list compiled by, a company based in the UK that operates a national cancer screening service:

Highest incidence breeds which also develop cancer at an earlier age than other dogs:

  • Boxer – particularly lymphoma and skin cancer (mast cell tumors)
  • Golden Retriever – particularly lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma
  • Rottweiler – particularly osteosarcoma
  • Bernese Mountain Dog – particularly osteosarcoma

High incidence breeds:

  • Boston Terrier
  • English Bulldog
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Cocker Spaniel

Average incidence breeds:

  • Irish Setter
  • Schnauzer
  • Labrador
  • Mongrels

Relatively low incidence breeds:

  • Beagle
  • Poodle
  • Collie
  • Dachshund

This is not a comprehensive list by any means, and you may want to research your dog’s breed in more detail to see if he is susceptible to any specific cancer. If he is then learning the symptoms of that cancer and considering bi-annual or annual tests for the disease may be something you would want to consider.

In addition, try and find out as much as you can about the health of your dog’s parents – like humans, the incidence of cancer can be higher if family members also suffer form the disease.

2. Age of Your Dog

Cancer is more common in dogs aged seven to eight years and older. As your dog reaches this age you might ant to consider starting bi-annual physical examinations and blood and urine analysis tests to help detect cancer in its early stages.

3. Early Neutering and Spaying

Dog owners are encouraged to spay their dogs before their first heat cycle to drastically reduce the risk of mammary cancer and to neuter their male dogs to eliminate testicular cancer, and greatly reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

However, the long term health benefits of an early spay and neuter program are less talked about. There is evidence that spaying and neutering your dog before they are a year old can greatly increase the incidence of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and cardiac hemangiosarcomas in later life.

You might want to talk to your vet in more detail about about the health advantages and disadvantages of spaying or neutering your dog.

4. Vaccinations

There is an increasing awareness that following an annual multiple vaccination plan for your dog greatly increases the incidence of cancer. Vaccinations effect your dog’s immune system and it’s believed that repeated vaccinations over stimulate the immune system, and that this may cause cancer to develop.

Research has shown that after vaccination the protective antibodies from Distemper, Parvo and Hepatitis vaccinations stay in your dog’s body, on average, six to nine years, and providing protection against the disease for that time.

A more appropriate approach to vaccination would be an annual blood test to determine the level of antibodies in your dog’s blood, and from the results of the blood tests determine whether further vaccination is required.

Unfortunately, many veterinary practitioners do not promote this approach because they lose money by not vaccinating dogs on an annual basis. Most pet insurance companies also require annual vaccinations though I understand some will allow your dog to have annual blood test and only vaccinate if required.

I’ll be writing more on the need for annual vaccinations later on this month.

5. Providing Clean Water and Good Nutrition

Tap water can contain toxic materials such as lead, arsenic and nitrates, so where possible replace tap with filtered water.

Commercially produced dog food quite often contains inferior quality ingredients which have been highly processed, and contain chemical preservatives.

Take a look at the ingredients in your dog’s food using this guide, and consider changing to a brand that contains better quality ingredients.

6. Indoor Pollutants

Dogs that live in houses where people smoke have a higher incidence of nasal and lung tumors – just as it is with humans, so it is for dogs, secondhand smoke is a killer.

A number household cleaners contain chemicals that are potentially to your dog; these can easily get into your dog’s body through being absorbed through his skin, inhaled through his nose or swallowed as your dog licks his paws.

Whilst occasional exposure to these products may not make your dog ill, you need to consider the possible consequences of long term exposure. Some chemicals are not easily expelled form your dog’s body, and residues build up over time, potentially causing disease at a later date.

7. Pesticides, Herbicides and Insecticides

The National Cancer Institute in the United States had found that dogs whose owners use a common weed killer are twice as likely to develop lymphoma than those whose owners use natural lawn products.

Additionally many flea treatments use insecticides whose use has shown an increased incidence of cancer in dogs.

Flea protection is important, and many of the natural alternatives are not always that reliable. If you continue to use unnatural flea treatment consider whether you do need to apply it as regularly as you have been.

8. Exposure to the Sun

The risk of skin cancer increases the more your dog is exposed to ultra violet light. Dogs with thin fur and white hair are more at risk.

9. Electromagnetic Radiation

Increased exposure to power lines, lying near to TVs, radios, microwaves and computer terminals are all believed to increased the risk that your dog will suffer from cancer. Radiation has a cumulative effect on the body, so even if your dog has a short exposure time, in the long term the effects will add up.

10. A Stressful Life

Dogs who suffer from anxiety – because, for example, they have no regular routine, live in multipet households, are in houses where the human occupants are themselves under emotional stress – can be more susceptible to cancer than dogs who don’t have such stresses in their lives. Anxiety can over stimulate the liver, causing an overproduction of enzymes that can lead to the development of cancer.

Keep your dog stress free by trying to maintain a regular routine, regular exercise (this helps to keep the immune system strong) and trying to reduce tension in the household.

Many of the factors listed above apply equally to humans as they do to your dogs and whilst we know the risks, it doesn’t stop us smoking, eating poorly or being sun worshippers – we just weigh up the risks and act accordingly.

Likewise, I’m not advocating that you should implement all the points above, in many cases it might not be practical for you to do so – I just want to raise your awareness so you can make the best decisions you can for your dog.

This is the last article in my cancer awareness series – I hope that you’ve found it to be informative.

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  1. I’ve lost 4 pets to cancer in the last couple years, I’m a cancer survivor and my mom died of breast cancer…so I wanted do something.
    I am helping out on this project…..2 Dogs 2000 Miles – My friend, Luke Robinson, is walking from Austin to Boston for cancer prevention with his two Great Pyrenees, Hudson & Murphy.

    The money raised from the hike will fund the first ever nationwide epidemiological canine cancer study which will be managed by the Animal Cancer Foundation (press release coming mid-January).

    But this study has even more far reaching implications. Most nearly all types of cancers in pets are the same found in humans and increasingly, dogs with cancers are being used as ideal models for research and drug development. This has another benefit, too, of reducing our dependency on lab animals (Note – no research funded by ACF uses lab animals in any of their studies, only pets with preexisting cancer).

    As part of this project, they have built a Memorial Wall honoring all of our loved ones who have been stricken by this terrible disease. The greater the wall, the louder the message. There’s no cost at all to have a ‘stone’ placed on the website. However, this also serves a dual purpose of providing the information for the first database of pet cancer ever which will help researchers try to understand what’s causing the cancers and why certain cancers are more common in certain regions.

    If you’d like to have your pet a part of the Wall, email a photo (in any format) and the following information: (1) Breed (2) Date of birth, diagnosis, and (if applicable) passing (3) type of cancer (4) zip code (not current – where the diagnosis occured).

    Your zip code will not be shown…but needed to track areas with cancer…types etc.

    Wishing you and your family and furkids a Happy HEALTHY New Year.
    Lisa Wilson, Austin, TX

    Memorial Wall
    Trailer on youtube

    PS: You may send a cancer pet’s photo & info for the “wall” free via the link or click on the blue “memorial wall” in copy below. LET’S ALL MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN 2008! Help gather knowledge about the statistics on “pets with cancer” and offer HOPE for their future and our future!

  2. Lisa, many thanks for leaving your comment and I’ve posted about Luke’s hike today. Good luck to Luke, Hudson and Murphy!

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