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German Shepherd Cancer Symptoms & Types

German Shepherd cancer

Cancer affects approximately 1 in every 4 German Shepherd dogs, and about 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer at some point in their life.

Statistically speaking, the chances of an older German Shepherd being diagnosed with cancer at some point in time are high since the breed, in general, is unfortunately prone to certain types of cancer.

So in this article, I will provide you with information about symptoms of cancer in German Shepherds and a list of some common types of cancer that occur in GSDs.

What is Canine Cancer?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, Canine cancer or neoplasia in dogs refers to the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells, leading to the formation of a mass or tumor or neoplasms.

Neoplasms can be benign or malignant, and they can arise in various tissues and organs throughout a dog’s body.

  1. Benign Tumors: These tumors are generally slow-growing and do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. While they are not usually life-threatening, they can cause problems if they press on vital structures or organs.
  2. Malignant Tumors: Malignant neoplasms are more aggressive and have the potential to invade surrounding tissues and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors can pose a greater threat to a dog’s health.

Similar to cancer in humans, canine cancer can affect various parts of a dog’s body, including the skin, bones, organs, and blood.

The causes of canine cancer are not fully understood but may involve a combination of genetic factors, environmental factors, and exposure to certain carcinogens.

Early detection and timely treatment are crucial for improving the prognosis and quality of life for dogs with cancer.

cancer in German Shepherds

Are German Shepherds More Susceptible to Cancer?

Yes, German Shepherds are indeed more susceptible to cancer compared to some other dog breeds.

Various studies and research have shown that German Shepherds have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, including hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, and lymphoma.

One of the main reasons for the higher cancer risk in German Shepherds is their genetic predisposition.

For example, German Shepherds are known to have a higher incidence of a specific gene mutation that increases their risk of developing hemangiosarcoma, a type of cancer that affects the blood vessels.

Similarly, Golden Retrievers are more prone to developing lymphoma, while Boxers have an increased risk of mast cell tumors.

German Shepherd Cancer Symptoms

Although the following are signs of cancer in German Shepherds, it’s important to note that symptoms can vary depending on the type and location of the cancer.

Additionally, many symptoms of cancer in dogs can overlap with signs of other health issues.

If you notice any changes in your German Shepherd’s health or behavior, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Here are some general signs that may indicate the presence of cancer in German Shepherds:

  1. Lumps or Bumps: Check for any unusual lumps, bumps, or swellings on your dog’s body. These can be indicative of tumors. Pay attention to changes in size, shape, or texture.
  2. Changes in Weight: Unexplained weight loss or weight gain can be a sign of various health issues, including cancer.
  3. Changes in Appetite: A sudden change in appetite, either an increase or decrease in food consumption, may be a cause for concern.
  4. Lethargy: If your German Shepherd is unusually lethargic, lacks energy, or seems more tired than usual, it could be a sign of an underlying health problem, including cancer.
  5. Difficulty Eating or Swallowing: Cancer affecting the mouth or throat may cause difficulty in eating or swallowing. Your dog may show signs of discomfort or reluctance to eat.
  6. Changes in Bathroom Habits: Difficulty urinating or defecating, blood in the urine or stool, or changes in frequency can be signs of various health issues, including cancer.
  7. Coughing or Labored Breathing: Respiratory symptoms such as persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, or labored breathing can be indicative of lung or chest-related cancers.
  8. Persistent Lameness or Stiffness: Cancer affecting the bones or joints may cause persistent lameness, stiffness, or difficulty moving.
  9. Changes in Behavior: Any noticeable changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, anxiety, or changes in interaction with family members, may indicate underlying health issues.
  10. Wounds That Don’t Heal: Cancer can interfere with the normal healing process, so if your dog has wounds that don’t seem to be healing or if there are recurring skin infections, it’s worth investigating.

What Causes Cancer in German Shepherds?

Cancer in German Shepherds can be caused by a variety of factors.

  1. Genetics: German Shepherds have a genetic predisposition to specific types of cancer.
  2. Environmental Factors: Exposure to certain environmental factors, such as carcinogens, pollutants, and toxins, can increase the risk of cancer.
  3. Age: As German Shepherds age, their cells may undergo changes that make them more susceptible to uncontrolled growth, leading to the development of tumors.
  4. Hormonal Factors: Hormonal influences can play a role in the development of certain cancers. For example, intact (non-spayed or non-neutered) dogs may have a higher risk of certain reproductive-related cancers.
  5. Immune System Health: A weakened or compromised immune system may be less effective at identifying and eliminating abnormal cells.
  6. Lifestyle Factors: Factors such as lack of exercise, obesity, and exposure to secondhand smoke can influence a German Shepherd’s overall health and potentially contribute to cancer development.


Common Cancers in German Shepherds

Some of the cancers that are relatively common in German Shepherds include:

  1. Hemangiosarcoma: This is a malignant cancer that affects the blood vessels. It can occur in the spleen, liver, or heart, and is unfortunately common in German Shepherds.
  2. Osteosarcoma: This is an aggressive bone cancer that often affects the long bones, such as the limbs.
  3. Lymphoma: Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, and it can affect various organs. German Shepherds, like many other breeds, may be susceptible to lymphoma.
  4. Mast Cell Tumors: These tumors arise from cells in the skin or other tissues and can vary widely in their behavior. German Shepherds can be affected by mast cell tumors.
  5. Anal Sac Adenocarcinoma: This cancer affects the anal glands and is more common in certain breeds, including German Shepherds.
  6. Melanoma: Melanoma in dogs typically originates from pigment-producing cells and can manifest as skin, oral, or ocular tumors.
  7. Mammary Gland Carcinoma: Mammary gland carcinoma begins as a nodule near the nipple and it is a common type of cancer in unspayed female dogs.
  8. Lung Cancer: Lung cancer in dogs can arise from primary lung tumors or metastasize from other locations.
  9. Oral Tumors: Oral tumors refer to cancers that develop within a dog’s mouth or throat. These tumors can be found on the gums, tongue, tonsils, or roof of the mouth.

Please remember this list is not exhaustive, so if you know or suspect that your dog has cancer, it is important to talk with a veterinary oncologist.


German Shepherd cancer symptoms

Diagnosing Cancer in German Shepherds

Diagnosing cancer in German Shepherds involves a combination of physical examinations, diagnostic tests, and, in some cases, specialized procedures.

Here are common steps taken by veterinarians to diagnose cancer in GSDs:

Blood Tests

Blood work can provide valuable information about the dog’s overall health and may indicate the presence of certain markers associated with cancer.

Elevated levels of certain enzymes or blood cell counts may prompt further investigation.

Imaging Studies

X-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI scans may be used to visualize internal structures and identify the presence of tumors, metastasis, or abnormalities in organs.

These imaging studies help determine the location, size, and extent of the suspected cancer.


A biopsy involves taking a sample of tissue from the suspected tumor or affected area. The tissue sample is then examined under a microscope by a pathologist to determine whether cancer cells are present, what type of cancer it is, and its grade or aggressiveness.

Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA)

FNA is a less invasive procedure than a biopsy. It involves using a thin needle to extract cells from a mass or lump, which can then be examined under a microscope.

While it may not provide as much information as a biopsy, it can help determine if a lump is likely cancerous.


Cytology involves examining cells obtained from a mass or fluid aspirate. It is often used for tumors near the surface of the skin or in body cavities.

Cytology can provide quick preliminary information about the nature of the cells.


Histopathology involves examining the architecture and cellular characteristics of tissue samples. This detailed analysis helps in identifying the specific type of cancer and provides insights into its behavior and potential for spread.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the veterinarian will discuss treatment options, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these, depending on the type and stage of the cancer.

Treatment Options for Canine Cancer

The treatment options for German Shepherd cancer vary depending on factors such as the type of cancer, its stage, and the overall health of the dog.

Here are common treatment modalities used for canine cancer:

1. Surgery

Surgical removal of the tumor is a common approach for localized cancers. The goal is to excise the tumor, along with a margin of healthy tissue to ensure complete removal. Surgery is often effective for tumors that are well-defined and haven’t metastasized.

2. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to target and kill rapidly dividing cancer cells. It is commonly employed for cancers that have spread or cannot be completely removed through surgery. Chemotherapy may be administered orally, intravenously, or through injections, and the specific protocol depends on the type of cancer.

3. Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses targeted radiation to destroy cancer cells or inhibit their growth. It is often employed for localized tumors or as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Radiation therapy may be delivered externally or through implantation of radioactive sources.

4. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy stimulates the dog’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. This treatment modality aims to enhance the body’s natural defenses against the cancer. Immunotherapy may be used alone or in combination with other treatments.

5. Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapies use drugs designed to specifically target certain molecules or pathways involved in cancer cell growth. These therapies aim to minimize damage to healthy cells while disrupting the mechanisms that support cancer growth.

6. Palliative Care

In cases where a cure is not possible, palliative care focuses on improving the dog’s quality of life and managing symptoms. This may include pain management, nutritional support, and other measures to enhance comfort.

7. Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal therapy is used for certain types of cancers, such as mammary gland carcinoma, that are influenced by hormones. This treatment aims to alter hormone levels to slow or inhibit cancer growth.

8. Electrochemotherapy

Electrochemotherapy combines chemotherapy with the application of electrical pulses to enhance the uptake of drugs by cancer cells. It is particularly useful for treating certain skin tumors.

9. Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy involves freezing abnormal cells or tumors using extremely low temperatures. It is often used for localized tumors, particularly in the skin.

The choice of treatment depends on factors such as the type and stage of cancer, the dog’s overall health, and the preferences of the owner.

Survival Rates for German Shepherds with Cancer

Survival rates vary depending on the specific type of cancer a German Shepherd has been diagnosed with. For example:

  • Lymphoma: This is one of the most treatable cancers in dogs, with remission achieved in approximately 80% of cases.
  • Osteosarcoma: The survival rate for dogs with osteosarcoma depends on whether or not amputation is performed along with chemotherapy. With both treatments combined, around 50% – 60% of dogs survive beyond one year.
  • Hemangiosarcoma: Unfortunately, this aggressive form of cancer has a lower survival rate ranging from a few weeks to several months, even with treatment.
  • Mast Cell Tumors: The prognosis for mast cell tumors depends on the grade and stage of the tumor. Dogs with low-grade tumors have a better prognosis, with survival rates ranging from 75% – 90%.

It is important to note that these survival rates are generalized and can vary depending on individual factors such as the dog’s overall health, response to treatment, and other specific circumstances.


Remember, regular check-ups with your veterinarian can aid in early detection and increase the chances of successful treatment. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle for your German Shepherd, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, can contribute to their overall well-being and potentially reduce the risk of developing cancer.

By staying informed and taking necessary precautions, you can provide the best possible care for your four-legged companion.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are German shepherds at high risk for cancer?

German Shepherds are considered a higher-risk breed for certain cancers, including hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma. Responsible breeding practices, regular veterinary check-ups, and a healthy lifestyle can contribute to overall well-being.

2. What are the signs of cancer in a German shepherd?

Signs of cancer in German Shepherds may include lumps, changes in appetite, weight loss, lethargy, lameness, and respiratory issues. Early detection through routine veterinary visits is crucial for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

3. How long do German shepherds live with cancer?

The survival time for German Shepherds with cancer varies widely depending on the type, stage, and treatment received. Some may respond well to treatment and live for an extended period, while others may have a shorter prognosis.


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