Cancer and Your Senior German Shepherd|The Older He Gets, The Greater The Risk

Updated: Apr 10

Your senior German Shepherd has unwaveringly been by your side for the past ten years. He is your family and best friend, and you would do anything for him. Lately, you've noticed that he is not eating like he usually does or that he seems lethargic and depressed despite you taking him to all of his favorite places. You chalk it up to him being older and perhaps let this new behavior slide for a little bit while keeping a close eye on him. But after giving it some time, he doesn't seem to be bouncing back, so you take him to his trusted veterinarian for a full workup, including diagnostic imaging, and that's when you discover that he has cancer.

This diagnosis can be terrifying to senior German Shepherd parents. We know firsthand because we have been there many times. But it's essential for you as a senior German Shepherd parent to put your fears aside and arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can from prevention to treatment to expectations of survival.

Cancer is the number one cause of death in our fur friends, with approximately 6 million diagnosed annually. That's one in every four dogs. I don't know about you, but I find that number to be shocking and appalling. And 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. Furthermore, the probability of developing cancer increases by 50% once a German Shepherd becomes geriatric, around ten years of age, with about half of them succumbing to cancer.

In this blog post, we'll dive deep into what causes cancer in our distinguished fur friends, the most common cancers in senior German Shepherds, treatment, and steps you can take to help prevent your senior German Shepherd from getting cancer.

What is canine cancer?

Cancer is a disease caused when cells divide uncontrollably and spread into surrounding tissues.

What causes Canine Cancer?

  • Genetics

  • Environmental factors

  • Diet and lifestyle,

  • Overuse of vaccines

  • Certain viruses

Most Common Types of Cancer in senior German Shepherds:

  • Hemangiocarcinoma (malignant tumors derived from the cells lining in the blood)

  • Osteosarcoma (accounts for 85% of all skeletal tumors)

  • Lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system accounts for 24% of all new cancer cases)

  • Mast Cell tumors (most common skin tumor)

12 Signs of Cancer

  1. Swelling that doesn't go away and gets worse

  2. Unexplainable limping or stiffness that doesn't go away

  3. Sores that don't heal

  4. Weight loss

  5. Not wanting to eat (GI upset)

  6. Trouble eating

  7. Abnormal bleeding

  8. Loss of stamina/lack of energy

  9. Unusual odor

  10. Difficulty breathing/persistent cough

  11. Excessive drinking

  12. Trouble eliminating

How is canine cancer treated?

Each type of cancer requires a specific treatment plan. Treatment may include one or a combination of the following treatments:

  • Surgery

  • Chemotherapy

  • Radiation

  • Immunotherapy

After the type of cancer has been identified, the next step will be to discuss the stage of the cancer (how large and how far the cancer has spread), if your senior German Shepherd is well enough for treatment, and approximately how much treatment will cost. If it is agreeable to proceed with treatment, then your veterinarian will go into detail about the treatment plan, or she will refer you to a board-certified oncologist.

If it has been determined that the cancer has progressed to the point where treatment is no longer beneficial, or your fur friend is in great pain, or the cost of treatment is not within reach, then euthanasia may need to be considered right away or in time. It's sad to say, but sometimes that is the reality.

Canine cancer survival rate:

Survival depends on the type of cancer and response to treatment. That being said, longer survival rates are favorable if the cancer is caught early and not an aggressive form of cancer. Prevention:

  • Eliminate as many chemicals from your senior German Shepherd's indoor/outdoor environment as possible, No secondhand smoke, limit topical pesticide treatments

  • Do not over-vaccinate. Request a titer test instead

  • Feed human-grade, whole foods as opposed to commercial brand dog food as much as possible

  • Provide your senior German Shepherd with an active, fulfilling lifestyle

  • Do regular wellness checks with a trusted veterinarian