Preventing Cancer in Golden Retriever Dogs

Aug 18, 2010Updated 8 months ago

A Golden Retriever Dog Has a 60% Risk of Cancer
No one knows the fear of canine cancer better than owners of golden retriever dogs. Sadly, cancer is the number one killer of goldens – a whopping 60 percent of them. The good news is, not every golden will succumb to this dreaded disease. And although luck may play a big role in a golden’s avoidance of dog cancer, so can diet and other preventive health behaviors.

So what can golden retriever owners do to promote health and longevity in their dogs and keep them from developing canine cancer? Plenty. But first, it’s important to know the facts about goldens and their susceptibility to cancer.

Facts About Cancer in Golden Retriever Dogs

Among the 60 percent of goldens who die of canine cancer, 57 percent of them are females and 66 percent are males, according to golden retriever expert Rhonda Hovan. But while nearly 2 of every 3 goldens succumbs to cancer, compared to roughly 1 of 3 in other breeds, the average life span of a golden retriever dog (10-12 years) is about the same as that of all breeds.

In goldens, the most common type of dog cancer is hemangiosarcoma, which typically develops in the vascular organs, such as the heart, spleen, and lungs. Unfortunately, hemangiosarcoma’s symptoms are often sudden and fatal – a stricken dog may collapse and die. Lymphoma, which often presents with enlarged nodes, lumps, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, is another canine cancer common in golden retriever dogs.

Why is cancer so prevalent in golden retrievers? Hovan suggests that their predisposition to the disease relates back to the original dogs, who were inbred from a water spaniel and a flat-coat retriever, and to the fact that goldens are prone to various immune disorders, like allergies. Some speculate that the original dogs carried genes that led to the immune system dysfunction in golden retriever dogs.

A Canine Anti-Cancer Diet

Despite the above statistics, most golden retrievers can live a long, full life, especially those who follow a healthy, wholesome diet. In fact, dogs who eat nutritious foods from day one, including a moderate amount of protein, low carbohydrates, and foods without artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, have a good chance of remaining cancer-free.

But golden retriever owners can go a step further to keep their dogs healthy by adding the following anti-cancer foods and nutrients to their dog’s diet:

  • oily fish, like salmon or herring
  • pureed cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower
  • flaxseed or flaxseed oil
  • other anti-inflammatory supplements, such as selenium and Vitamin E
(Note: Always be sure to check with a veterinarian or vet nutritionist before adding supplements to a dog’s diet.)

Other Dog Cancer Preventive Health Tips

In addition to including anti-cancer foods and supplements in a golden retriever dog’s diet, there are a number of other health tips owners can follow to aid in canine cancer prevention. They are:

  • Limit the amount of time a golden spends in the sun
  • Manage a golden’s weight and avoid overfeeding during the puppy years
  • Include daily exercise, like play and walks, in a golden's routine
  • Make a point to get regular veterinarian exams, including routine checks for skin problems
  • Limit the dog’s exposure to second-hand smoke, pesticides, herbicides, coal and kerosene
  • Keep dogs away from paint fumes
There is mixed data on whether spaying or neutering a dog (and at what time in his or her growth) can affect a dog’s cancer risk. For example, although neutering a male golden retriever dog may prevent prostate cancer, studies have indicated that it may increase his risk of developing cardiac hemangiosarcoma.

While canine cancer in golden retriever dogs is nothing to celebrate, it shouldn’t stir up unnecessary fear, either. Owners can help their goldens stay cancer-free by having them eat a healthy, anti-cancer diet, limiting their exposure to carcinogens, and taking other preventive health measures. A golden’s life is definitely worth it.

For information on a much rarer disease affecting golden retrievers, see Golden Retriever Muscular Dystrophy: A Canine Duchenne’s Disease.


  • Beck, Melinda. "When Cancer Comes With a Pedigree." Wall Street Journal (May 4, 2010),
  • Flaim, Denise. “Fighting Cancer the Natural Way.” Dog Fancy’s Natural Dog (Winter 2009).
  • Golden Retriever Club of America
  • Hovan, Rhonda. “Understanding Cancer in Golden Retrievers.” Perspectives (undated).