Most people immediately associate the word cancer with death. In the past, this was true. Today, many cancers are treatable if caught early. Sadly, the two cancers to which the German shepherd is predisposed, suffering a significantly higher rate of recorded cases than the general dog population, are hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma. Both of these cancers are extremely aggressive and very difficult to treat.
Hemangiosarcoma characteristically strikes shepherds that are middle-aged or older, between nine and eleven years old. The German shepherd is the only breed noted as being predisposed to this cancer.
This malignant cancer attacks the cells of the blood vessels. Tumors can form literally any place that blood flows, although they are most often found in the spleen. From there, the tumors quickly spread to the liver and heart. Not only does this cancer spread swiftly, but the tumors are filled with blood. When a tumor bursts, the dog is in immediate danger of internal and/or external bleeding.
Symptoms of hemangiosarcoma are basically those that result from the bursting of a tumor: anemia, collapse, pale or white gums, bloated abdomen (from fluids), lumps under the skin, swelling of bones, or bones that are painful to the touch.
This cancer has long been recognized as a killer; it is also the most common type of bone cancer. Osteosarcoma is found more frequently in breeds that typically weigh in excess of fifty pounds. In addition to the German shepherd fitting this weight category, it seems the shepherd is one of the ten breeds most likely to suffer from this cancer.
The prognosis for a shepherd diagnosed with osteosarcoma is bleak. Sometimes, amputation of the affected limb followed by chemotherapy may increase the dog's life span up to ten or twelve months. If the dog is not treated, his life expectancy is only two to four months.
Early symptoms of this bone cancer include lameness, inflammation, and tenderness. Even though you might think that your shepherd is suffering from a little arthritis or perhaps strained ligaments or tendons in his leg, go to your veterinarian immediately. By the time your shepherd is showing additional symptoms, such as coughing, breathing difficulties, tiring easily, or not tolerating exercise at all, the cancer may have already metastasized, or spread to other areas of the body.
In general, it is difficult to spot initial signs of some cancers in dogs. The best way to keep on top of your dog's condition is to take him for regular check-ups with a veterinarian. This trained professional will be more sensitive to early signs and symptoms than you will.