Cancer in rottweilers is one of the health risks you must know if you’re thinking of getting this breed. If you’re already a proud owner of one, then you should know what to expect and what you can do to give your beloved rottie a healthy and happy life.
Rottweilers are predisposed to develop hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma. For both cancers, a hereditary component is the most likely contributing factor, but as with most cancers, aging is also a significant risk factor.
A genetic predisposition typically occurs in breeds and popular lines of high-risk breeds as a result of the limited gene pools that get passed down through selective breeding. When a particular dog has desirable attributes and is bred repeatedly, the dog’s descendants share the same genetic mutations - both the good and the bad - which then becomes fixed within the gene pool.
The selective breeding that produced today’s pure-breeds involved a lot of inbreeding, which is a known risk factor for many diseases, including cancer.
Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer that affects the circulatory system; more specifically, it is a cancer of the cells that line the blood vessels. It can appear practically anywhere in the body, but it usually starts in the spleen. The cancer is almost impossible to detect during its early stages and is most often only diagnosed when it has already spread to other organs and caused severe internal bleeding. Hemangiosarcoma is among the three most common cancers that affect large dogs and has a high incidence among rotties.
Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that is highly aggressive and often affects large dogs. It is the most common cancer in rottweilers and is also the leading cause of death for this breed. The tumor typically develops in the forelegs; when it metastasizes, it usually spreads to the lungs but it can also spread to other areas of the body, especially when left untreated.
Rottweilers and other high-risk breeds usually do not present any symptoms when they first develop hemangiosarcoma. Non-specific and serious symptoms that prompt owners to bring their dog to the vet and lead to the diagnosis of the disease include:
- Loss of appetite
- Significant weight loss
- Recurring lethargy and increased sleeping
- Acute weakness and unwillingness to engage in any physical activity
- Labored breathing
- Swollen abdomen
- Very pale to almost-white gums
- Sudden collapse
An emergency trip to the clinic as a result of any combination of the abovementioned symptoms often necessitate specific diagnostic tests that screen for internal bleeding - which is a fatal complication of hemangiosarcoma. Unfortunately, most dogs are diagnosed too late and only live a few more days, weeks, or months.
The primary tumor typically presents as a noticeable lump on a limb, usually just below the shoulder of the foreleg, above or below the elbow, or above the wrist. Other symptoms include:
- Chronic and severe pain, particularly in the affected limb
- Swelling of the affected limb
- Weight loss
- Breathing problems, especially when the tumor has spread to the lungs
The appearance of an abnormal lump in the legs, jaw, or pelvis warrants an immediate physical check-up given a rottie’s increased risk for bone cancer.
Hemangiosarcoma is very difficult to diagnose as it is a silent disease. When symptoms finally manifest, they’re often already life-threatening. High-risk breeds such as rottweilers should have the proper screenings for this cancer done on a regular basis to ensure that the disease is detected and treated as early as possible. Diagnostic tests for hemangiosarcoma include fine needle aspiration, abdominal ultrasound, x-rays, biopsy, and CT scan.
If your rottweiler has a suspicious lump, your vet may require a biopsy and x-rays to confirm the diagnosis of osteosarcoma. Additional diagnostic tests usually follow to determine if the cancer has spread and the best course of treatment.
Treatment and Prevention
Several studies have found that keeping high-risk breeds, including rottweilers, intact longer can reduce their risk of developing either cancers; dogs that are neutered or spayed before they turn one year have been shown to have an increased incidence of both cancers.
While some cancers can be prevented by early spaying/neutering, the risk of developing hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma in highly susceptible breeds can be significantly reduced by doing just the opposite - keeping them intact longer.
Treatment for hemangiosarcoma may include surgical removal of the tumor, depending on its size and location; chemotherapy; and supportive care, mostly to manage/prevent internal bleeding. Symptoms of the cancer often appear when the disease has already become severe and is no longer curable. In most cases, treatment is only aimed at adding a few more days, weeks, or months to the dog’s life and making him as comfortable as possible.
Osteosarcoma is often treated by surgically removal of the tumor/s, if the size and location are ideal and the tumor has not yet metastasized. Amputation of the affected limb may also become necessary. To ensure complete elimination of the cancer and minimize the risk of its recurrence, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also follow. Pain medications are part of supportive care, although the pain from osteosarcoma is progressive and eventually stops responding to medications.
Knowing that your rottweiler has an increased risk for both of these cancers, it is crucial that you keep an eye out for the characteristic symptoms of each one. Take your pet to the vet for regular check-ups and make sure he also undergoes specific screenings for these diseases.