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Cancer in Labrador Retrievers

About one in four dogs develop cancer at some point in their life. Cancer in Labrador Retrievers is not as common as with other dog breeds, but they are predisposed to certain types of cancer. 

Cancer in Labrador Retrievers


One of the common factors associated with the development of cancer in all dog breeds is aging. The exact relationship between advanced age and cancer is yet to be fully understood by veterinarians, but the best speculation is that the weakened immune system of dogs in the late stages of their life makes it easier for cancer cells to mutate from normal cells. 

Genetic factors also play a role, particularly when it comes to certain types of cancers that have higher incidences in specific dog breeds. The genetic predisposition of specific pure breeds may be mostly due to the generations of genetic refinements and selective breeding that also passed down specific gene markers for certain cancers. Certain physical traits, such as a white-colored coat, can predispose your dog to some types of cancer. 

Prolonged exposure to well-known carcinogens that are found in the environment or the diet has been shown to directly contribute to the development of cancer in dogs and other animals. These carcinogens include ultraviolet rays; second-hand tobacco smoke; herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides; and air pollution. Exposure to nickel, uranium, benzidine, benzene, radon, vinyl chloride, cadmium, and asbestos can also lead to cancer. 


Cancer in Labrador Retrievers

The most common cancer in Labrador Retrievers is a lymphoma, also known as lymphosarcoma. This cancer affects Labrador Retrievers more than other breeds. Lymphoma is a cancer of the white blood cells and can occur anywhere in the body. Symptoms include swollen glands or lymph nodes under the neck, in front of the shoulders, and behind the knee; weight loss; and labored breathing. 

Other symptoms that are common in most types of cancer include:

  • Masses, especially if they are growing in number and/or size
  • Lesions that won’t heal, even with treatment
  • Difficulty urinating and/or defecating
  • Prolonged vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Significant weight loss
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Lethargy and unwillingness to exercise
  • Stiffness or lameness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A bad smell that won’t go away even after bathing

If you notice any combination of these symptoms, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. When it comes to cancer, as with most other diseases, the earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of recovery. 


When it comes to lymphoma in Labrador Retrievers, a simple blood test is all that is often needed to detect the cancer. If you have a Labrador Retriever, it’s even more important that your dog gets a complete blood count twice a year. 

The most common diagnostic tool for cancer is a biopsy, particularly when an abnormal mass is discovered. The procedure involves taking sample tissue from the mass for laboratory analysis. 

Diagnosis is also done through imaging, such as X-ray, MRI scans, CT scans, and ultrasound scans. 

Treatment and Prevention

Cancer in Labrador Retrievers

Especially when detected in their early stages, some cancers respond well to treatment. Lymphoma is usually treated through chemotherapy and most Labrador Retrievers fully recover from the disease with timely and appropriate medical attention. 

Chemotherapy may also be combined with radiation and/or surgery. The course of treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer your dog has. 

Chemo treatment involves the use of drugs, and it is common for veterinary oncologists to use human chemo drugs to treat a dog’s cancer. Recently, Palladia, the first drug formulated specifically for canine cancer, was approved by the FDA; it is for the treatment of mast cell tumors that occur near the skin. 

Making sure your dog gets regular check-ups becomes even more important as your pet gets on in years, and especially if you know that he has an increased risk for certain cancers. Your veterinarian will require regular diagnostic testing if your dog has cancer risk factors. Early diagnosis and treatment often lead to success for some cancer types; otherwise, timely detection and treatment can also add some more months or years to a dog’s life and improve his quality of life to a certain degree. 

In addition to limiting your dog’s exposure to known carcinogens, you should also prioritize your canine companions fitness and nutrition. As with humans, being fit and healthy minimizes risks for cancer and many other diseases. Make sure your pet is the ideal weight, gets plenty of exercise, and has a well-balanced diet. You can also consult your vet about giving him nutritional supplements. 

If you notice any unusual signs in your dog, schedule a visit to your vet at the earliest possible time. If he has cancer, he’ll have higher chances of recovery with early diagnosis and treatment.