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

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

Your older German Shepherd has 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 taking him to all 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 a week or so, 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.

A cancer diagnosis can be terrifying to the parents of an older German Shepherd. We know firsthand because we have been there many times. But you must put your fears aside and arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible, from prevention to treatment to survival expectations.

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 not only shocking but appalling as well.

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 older German Shepherds, treatment, and steps you can take to help prevent your older 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 older 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 cancer stage (how extensive and how far the cancer has spread). If treatment is an option, then determining if your older German Shepherd is well enough for treatment is the next step, along with approximately how much treatment will cost. Once you agree to proceed with treatment, your veterinarian will give detail about the treatment plan, or she will refer you to a board-certified oncologist for treatment.

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

Canine cancer survival rate:

Survival depends on the type of cancer and the 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 older German Shepherd's indoor/outdoor environment as possible, No secondhand smoke, and 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 older German Shepherd with an active, fulfilling lifestyle

  • Do regular wellness checks with a trusted veterinarian.

Final words: My final words on this subject are brief, the best way to help your older German Shepherd live his best life is to avoid cancer altogether by being proactive about his health and wellbeing. Still, if he should end up with cancer, then the next best thing you can do for him is to follow the advice of your veterinarian and be with him every step of the way, regardless of how much time he may or may not have.

Remember....dogs live in the moment, and their moments are brief, and we, as senior German Shepherd parents owe it to our fur friends to be completely present for them as they fight the battle within.

To listen to the coinciding podcast episode, click on the link:

***** Disclaimer: Throughout the "20 Most Common Health Issues in Senior German Shepherds" series, each blog post is expressed explicitly from our point of view and is not to be substituted for the professional medical expertise of your trusted veterinarian.

1 Comment

Thank you for this article. Our white 7-yr-old German Shepherd passed away in October from cancer in her spleen. Despite all the chemotherapy treatments she had, we only had her for two months after the diagnosis. We are still heartbroken.

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