Cancer in Dogs: Get the Facts

75% of Goldens get cancer during their lifetime


Dog Cancer Overview

Unlike many other animals, dogs are susceptible to the same types of cancers as humans. For example, dogs are the only non-human species that are at risk for prostate cancer. Dogs are also at risk for include bladder, brain tumors, lymphoma, lung cancer, mammary carcinoma, mast cell tumors, skin cancer, testicular cancer and bone cancer.

Having your dog diagnosed with cancer is devastating, but don’t lose hope. Modern veterinary technology and medicine have made the prognosis of a cancer diagnosis far more positive. In most cases your dog will have access to the same type of treatments and medications that are available ot humans including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


Facts About Dog Cancer

  • An estimated six million dogs will be diagnosed with cancer this year
  • Roughly one in three dogs die of cancer, which is the same rate as people, some breeds, however, are more susceptible than others
  • Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over 10 years old

Source: National Canine Cancer Foundation


Types of Dog Tumors

Just like humans, cancer can affect any part of your dog’s body. In fact there are nearly 100 types of animal cancer. Cancer in pets can be found in the skin, bones, breast, head & neck, lymph nodes, abdomen and testicles. Here are some of the most common types of dog cancer and the incidence rates across all breeds and ages (IR % is incidence rate of test population).


TypeIR %
Lymphoma in Dogs20.1
Skin Tumors19.9
Male Genital Cancer16.8
Soft Tissue Tumors13.2
Lip, Oral, Pharynx10.5
Other Sites6.0
Digastric Organs5.2
Bones and Cartilage3.6
Mammary Tumors2.2
Respiratory Organs1.9


Source: National Institutes of Health


Lymphoma and skin cancer are the most common type of dog cancers, however, there are many other types of canine cancer that are common in over 1 in 10 dogs. Here is a quick overview of some of the more common types of dog cancer.



Lymphoma in Dogs

There are 30 different types of lymphoma in dogs but the four most common are multi-centric lymphoma, alimentary lymphoma, mediastinal lymphoma and extra nodal lymphoma. The most common treatment for canine lymphoma is chemotherapy.


Skin Cancer in Dogs

Skin tumors are very common in older dogs. The most common forms of skin cancer are melanoma and squamous cell sarcoma. Approximately one-third of all tumors in dogs are skin tumors and skin tumors in dogs occur about six times more often than in cats and up to 34 times more than in people. The good news is that only 20-30% of skin tumors are malignant and skin cancer is easily treatable if identified early.


Testicular Cancer in Dogs

Testicular cancer is very common in intact male dogs accounting for 90% of all cancers of the male reproductive system. Most tumors are contained to the testes but may spread in 10 – 20% of the cases. Surgery is the most common form of treatment and the prognosis is usually very positive.


Breast Cancer in Dogs (Mammary)

Breast cancer is the most common tumor found in female dogs. The good news is that if mammary cancer is found early in your dog then the prognosis is very positive. The most common type of treatment for breast cancer in dogs is surgical removal of the tumorous cells. Cancer incidence was 3 times higher in female than in male dogs, a difference explained by the high rate of mammary cancer (Source: When Cancer Comes with a Pedigree – WSJ).


Bone Cancer in Dogs (Osteosarcoma)

Osteosarcoma in dogs is the most common type of bone cancer in large breed dogs. It is most commonly found in the long bones in the front and rear limbs but can also be found in the ribs, skull or spine. Giant dog breeds, like Great Danes are far more likely to be affected than toy breeds. Most dogs are diagnosed with bone cancer between 7-10 years of age. (learn more: Osteosarcoma in Dogs)


Heart Cancer in Dogs (Hemangiosarcoma)

Hemangiosarcoma or heart cancer is a malignant cancer that originates in the blood vessels in the heart. It is the most common type of heart cancer in dogs. Heart cancer is more common in large breed dogs like Boxers, German Shepherds and Retrievers.


Melanoma in Dogs (Melanocytic Tumors)

Melanoma accounts for 5-7% of all skin cancers in dogs. It is most commonly found in the mouth and toes of dogs. Some breeds that are more prone to melanoma are Scottish Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Gordon Setters, Chow Chows and Golden Retrievers.


Mast Cell Tumors in Dogs (Mastocytoma)

Mast cell tumors in dogs account for roughly 20% of all skin tumors in dogs. Although mast cell tumors are most commonly found on the skin they can manifest in other areas including the intestines and respiratory tract. Mast cell tumors can be found in dogs of any breed or age. The most common treatment includes surgical removal, radiation and chemotherapy.


Brain Tumors in Dogs

Dogs five years and older are more susceptible to brain tumors and the median age of affected pets is nine years. Brachycephalic dog breeds are predisposed to developing glial cell tumors and pituitary tumors (the two types of brain tumors). These breeds include Scottish Terriers, Old English Sheepdogs, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, Golden Retrievers, Boxers and Doberman Pinschers.


Bladder Cancer in Dogs

Cancer of the bladder is not very common in dogs but it does occur. The clinical name for bladder cancer is transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). Bladder cancer is more common in older, female dogs and Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers and Shetland Sheepdogs seem to be at higher risk.


Liver Cancer in Dogs

There is no specific breed that is susceptible to this type of cancer and liver cancer can occur at any age. There are two types of liver cancer in dogs. Primary canine liver cancer means that the cancer started in the liver iteslf. Melastatic liver cancer is the more common type and means the cancer spread to the liver from another organ. Treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove the tumor.


Dog Cancer by Breed

Cancer accounts for 40% of Boxer deaths.


Golden retrievers and Boxers have a strong incidence of having dog tumors. This is common for a lot of purebred dogs. Mixed breed dogs come from a much more diverse gene pool, so they’re less likely to get genetic-based cancers.

It is estimated that 75% of Golden Retrievers will contract cancer during their lifetimes. They are the most susceptible dog breed when it comes to canine cancer. Some common forms of cancer in Goldens are bone cancer, cancer of the lymph nodes and cancer of the blood vessels.

Boxers are also more susceptible to cancer than most other breeds. Some common forms of cancer in Boxers include lymphosarcoma, brain cancer and mast cell dog tumors.


Breeds with Higher than Normal Cancer Rates


Breeds with Lower than Normal Cancer Rates


Source: Dog Breed Health Profiles


Incidence Rates by Age

According to the SPCA nearly 50% of pets over the age of 10 will develop some type of cancer. The fact is that as your dog gets older the likelihood of them getting cancer rises significantly over time. Here is a breakdown of cancer incidence rates by age for male and female dogs.

Age GroupMale IR %Female IR %


Source: Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine


Signs of Cancer in Dogs

Early detection is the most important aspect when it comes to cancer. If you can identify abnormalities early then your dog will have a much better prognosis than if the cancer spreads. Dogs with cancer may show some early warning signs that you should keep an eye on.

  • Abnormal swelling
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge
  • Offensive odor
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Loss of stamina
  • Persistent lameness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating


Lab Tests and Diagnosis

Dog receiving radiation therapy for a tumor


There are a variety of ways to properly diagnose canine cancer depending on your dog’s symptoms and the type of cancer present. Here are the most common ways that a vet or oncologist can identify dogs with cancer.

  • Physical Exam
  • Biopsy
  • Lab Tests
  • X-Rays
  • MRI
  • Blood Tests
  • Ultrasounds
  • Urinalysis


Dog Cancer Treatment

Depending on the severity and type of cancer treatments can include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery or a combination. The cost to treat canine cancer also depends on the severity and type.

Diagnostics cost $200 and up, depending on the location of the cancer. In some cases you may need a combination of tests including x-rays, blood tests and lab work.

Surgery to remove a tumor deep in the body, or that requires reconstruction, usually starts at about $1,500. Major surgery to remove tumors usually starts around $2,000 to $3,000.

Chemotherapy depends on the size of the dog, and usually ranges from $200 to $2,000 and up, for three to six months of treatment, which is $9,700 for a one-time cancer treatment. In many cases 2-3 rounds of treatment may be necessary before your dog is in remission.

Radiation therapy is generally the most expensive type of treatment and one session can range from $2,000 to $6,000.

Cost to Treat: $5,000 to $20,000


Tip: Find a reputable veterinary cancer center here



The goal of dog cancer treatment is to prevent tumorous cells from spreading. The best word a dog parent can hear is, “remission,” which means your dog’s cancer has been stopped. Complete remission is when all signs of cancer are gone. Cancer is an awful disease, but the good news for dog owners today is that treatment has never been better.

The prognosis of your dog’s recovery is dependent on three major factors. First, early detection is key to a successful outcome. Early detection will allow your dog’s oncologist to treat tumors before the cancer cells have spread.

The second factor in your dog’s prognosis is the type of cancer. Some forms of cancer are far more difficult to treat based on the nature of the disease and/or the location of the tumor. For example, skin cancer is very dangerous, but also very easy to access from a surgical and treatment perspective, whereas treatment for liver or heart cancer is far more complex.

The third and final factor that will determine the prognosis of your dog’s cancer is the treatment itself. Unfortunately, the financial commitment and your financial status play a big role in the prognosis for your dog. If you have pet insurance or enough money to pay for expensive treatment out of pocket then your dog will get the best care possible. The fact remains that treating dog caner is extremely expensive and vet hospitals and oncologists will not treat your dog without payment.


Paying for Treatment

As you can see, treating dog cancer can be very expensive. Here are four ways that you can pay for treatment if your dog is diagnosed with cancer.


Pet Health Insurance

If you’re prepared enough to have a pet insurance plan prior to your dog being diagnosed with cancer, then you can breathe easy. However, you must be enrolled while your dog is healthy or cancer coverage will be excluded because pet insurance companies do not cover pre-existing conditions.

Here is a simple example of how pet insurance claims work. Pet insurance companies pay claims based on your actual, total veterinary bills for cancer treatment.

Health IssueCancer
Cost of Treatment$15,000
Reimbursed($15,000 x 90%)
DeductibleLess: $500
Total Claim Paid$13,000


Source: How do Claims Work?


Veterinary Financing

Some vet clinics and hospitals offer veterinary financing options that allow you to pay expensive bills over time. These options can be better than using a credit card because they offer a grace period to repay the balance and interest rates are generally lower than the APR of a credit card. They’re not ideal, but certainly an upgrade over coming out of pocket or racking up credit card bills.


Credit Cards and Cash

Probably the most common and straightforward way dog owners pay for cancer treatment. However, the downside is that racking up credit card bills is never a good idea and most dog owners don’t want to write checks for thousands of dollars. This is how 90% of pet owners pay for major cancer diagnosis and treatment.


Charities and Crowdfunding

If you don’t have the funds or access to money then there are charities and crowdfunding websites that can help you raise money to pay for your dog’s cancer treatment. We’re actually very supportive of campaigns that help provide life-saving cancer treatment for rescue dogs.


Canine Cancer Awareness

Sadly, our furry friends are just as susceptible as humans to get cancer. As you’ve read, cancer is one of the most common causes of death in dogs. The good news is that there are several organizations in the U.S. that are spending time and money on cancer research for companion animals.


These R&D efforts and modern technological advances have made treatment for cancer possible. Today there are specialty clinics all over the country that specialize in oncology. Treatments for cancer in pets include radiology, chemotherapy and surgery.

In many cases the same companies helping to treat humans are providing tools and medications for our pets. Canine cancer is a lot more prevalent that many pet parents realize. That is why we appreciate and support National Pet Cancer Awareness month in November.



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