There is nothing more heartbreaking than talking to a Golden family who just lost their precious baby to cancer. No breeder will ever breed the perfect dog and at some point we will probably all be affected by this horrible disease. Though I have not lost any of my furry family to this, I have lost a Father and two Brothers.
There are many articles all over the internet about cancer in dogs and even specifically in goldens, but what I'd like to attempt to do is write a lay article that can be understood and embraced by people and not just medical researchers. I incorporate all the wonderful information that I have gained over time along with the current thinking about what happens and what causes cancer in dogs (and likely humans too!)
Cancer is a perfect storm of sorts. While it is believed to be genetically based in many cases, there are a variety of factors that go into making this perfect storm 'brew' in your dog. Cancer is actually the rogue multiplication of cells that have no purpose, no instructions. The cells multiply enough that eventually they form the cancer and kill by overtaking the proper function of those cells around them. There are two main varieties of cancer; sarcomas - which are structural tissues, bones, muscles, cartiledge, and carcinomas - which are non structural tissues, blood, glands, and skin.
So when we say it is genetic, does this mean that all dogs with it in their genes will develop cancer? Probably not. A variety of influences factor in to making the DNA instructions go terribly wrong. So for ease of discussion we will talk about 3 main factors; genes, environment, and aggravating factors. We have talked about the gene component a bit and this is perhaps the best area of research for which can draw an ability to reduce cancer. Studying populations of dogs is key to this. We must, as responsible breeders, produce from a population which is least affected by cancer in their ancestral lineage. We know what the statistics are and we must breed to improve. We need new studies however because imperical data suggest rates are on the rise.
So what do we do with dog populations that may have the propensity, the gene for cancer? We look at the factors we can control, or at least reduce. The first of these are environmental factors. So things like lawn chemicals, pesticides, vaccination schedules, flea and tick treatments need to carefully be considered. Look at any label on virtually any product and you will notice some comment on potential carcinogen. We certainly can't go without flea and tick treatments or vaccines, so what do we do to limit these exposures. Well, considering a reduced use of them is one. For instance, do you need to use flea and tick products year round or just in the summer? Could you use a less harsh yard treatment and allow a few days between application and dog exposure. What of air pollutants - how can we reduce that exposure? Perhaps walking dogs in a park as opposed to next to the street where cars exhaust. Now don't get me wrong, we could all go crazy with this and that would be impractical. What I am suggesting is a reduction where you can find them. Kind of like going on a diet - you still eat food, you just eat less of the bad ones!
What if there was something that could help a body reduce the exposure of these environmental factors as well? Now this goes farr off the track of research and enters the Old Wive's tale zone, but why not? Remember how a dog will eat grass and someone will say that is a tummy ache or a lack of nutrients in the diet? There is some school of though that suggests wheat grass is a toxin reducer. This is used widely in the Bovine industry as well as at your local Smoothie store. It is rich in vitamins and chlorophyll - the key ingredient of life in the plant world. Though I wouldn't suggest it medicinally because there is no proof and its inappropriate for a pregnant bitch as its too high in Vitamin A, but what if the occassional use of wheat grass had the properties to leach out harbored environmental toxins? First do no harm is the approach of any method, but go check out some Internet articles on wheat grass and perhaps you'll find it compellin enough to use periodically to benefit your dog.
So what else might we reduce to stop the perfect storm? The third component we'll discuss is Aggravating factors. These could be many things and are similar to environmental factors, but harm your dog in a different way. These factors would be exampled in food and water sources. Consider the additives of a municipal water system; chlorine and flouride. Chlorine is arguably necessary to keep water systems clean and pathogen free, but is it a good thing for your dog to consume. Probably in and of itself not so bad, but when you look at the overall exposure and the immune factors it may inhibit is it really a good thing for dogs? Same thing with flouride, for some reason we drink it for our teeth, its a poison!!! I'm just not sure we want our dogs drinking it and then carrying the poison around - will this be the final degradation of a system that causes the storm to brew up? Bottled or Spring waters might be impractical for many dog programs and I don't suggest that we all have to immediately start using them, but I want to start a thought process that is geared toward reduction of influence.
The other Aggravating factor is food source. Look at any grocery story brand and you will see garbage on an ingredient label. Now most of these ingredients would fall under environmental toxins, but what of the ingredient that is not designed to be digested by dogs but is used as a cheap filler in many foods? I'm speaking of Corn. Corn harms dogs in two ways. When used as a filler it deprives a dog of the protein nutrients they need by substituting an undigestable component for one that a dog needs very badly. The other harm corn causes is because it cannot be digested by canines, their bodies deplete themselves of nutrients trying to cope with expelling this product from their systems. This nutrition problem is a huge pet peeve of mine, so I won't write at length here about it, but you might consider checking out my page on Dog Food - Important! so that you can have a better grasp on this problem and what you need to be feeding instead.
Now that I've defined the 'Perfect Storm' it would be horrible if a puppy family then concluded that they could have done something and saved Rover. Chances are you couldn't have. BUT, you might be able to limit your risk next time around. Be mindful of the statistics of cancer in your breed and find out the differences between American lines and English lines. I have outlined the research below. Consider what exposures your new family member will have and how to possibly remediate them. Consider putting the best, most supportive, healthful products into your dog to keep the system operating at peak efficiency. There is a philosophy that rogues cells are present in all bodies, but some never get off to a grossly replicating harm like cancer because the body's own natural systems provide for fighting them off. Have we reduced the genetics as much as possible. Have we compromised the ability to fight and what can we do to support the battle. This is what we must consider if we truly intend to reduce the staggering incidence rate of cancer in Goldens, other breeds, and frankly, PEOPLE!
Here is a link to an article on cancer in American Goldens GRCA cancer article
While the article is well written and is well sourced, please keep in mind she is specifically speaking of American Goldens. There is some reference to Goldens in other Countries with a variety of cancer types occurring in higher rates from one Country to another, it does not point out the dramatic difference in overall occurrence rate. When it is stated that the occurrence in 'Goldens' is almost twice that of other breeds, she does not mention this is American Golden specific. The occurrence rate among English Goldens is more in line with the average occurrence rate across all breeds. It is a GRCA article and they are the parent club of the American Golden. Politics is everywhere!
So when (American) breeders want to scream and say this isn't true....I'll go ahead and put the statistics out there from the research studies themselves. No, you don't have to read them if you don't want to, I'm just playing the game they like to play and proving before I'm accused of faking it.
Here is the 1998-99 Study by the GRCA GRCA study
Here is the study conducted by The Kennel Club (England's Overall breed club, not just the parent club) Kennel Club study
The important thing to glean from the two studies, if you don't want to read them, is that the overall mortality rate due to cancers in American Goldens in 1999 , was a shocking 62%! No recent studies have been conducted and the average age of death was not given.
The overall mortality rate due to cancers in English Goldens was significantly lower at 39% in a more recent study and did not affect the overall life expectancy with average age at death of 12 years and 3 months.