German Shepherd Mammary Tumors: Everything You Need to Know

by David

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Today we will look at German Shepherd Mammary Tumors, a very common condition that affects female dogs.

Breast cancer can also occur in males, but this is extremely rare.

Several breeds are more prone to its development, these include Maltese and Yorkshire terriers, Cocker, English and Springer Spaniels, Poodles, Pointers, Dobermans, and German Shepherds. Smaller breeds tend to have more benign tumors than larger breeds.

We will look at the possible contributing factors of the condition, and discuss some precautions an owner may take to help limit the risk of development. We will also talk about the diagnosis, treatments, and prognosis.

German Shepherd Mammary Tumours

Mammary Gland Tumors affect the breast tissue of the body.

The condition can be a benign or malignant cancer and occurs most often in female dogs that aren’t spayed.

Mammary Tumors account for 50% of all tumors and 50% of Mammary Tumors are malignant.

These can metastasize and spread to other areas of the body, the rest are nonspreading and benign.

 It is the most common type of tumor to occur in unaltered female dogs. 

The function of the mammary glands is to produce milk for newborn puppies. The ten glands are located at the nipple and extend in two rows from the chest to the lower abdominal area.

Spaying reduces the risk of developing breast cancer, particularly before the first estrus. 

The incidence of mammary cancer in dogs spayed before the first heat cycle (6 months) is very small (0.5%).

After the first heat, the incidence is 8% and 26% after their second heat.

The fewer heats a dog has before spaying will lessen the chance of Mammary Tumor development.

Female dogs who are not spayed or spayed later than the first heat cycle are more likely to develop mammary tumors.

More than a quarter of unspayed female dogs will develop a mammary tumor during their lifetime.

However, it is still possible for spayed females to develop tumors in some cases.

The types of Mammary Tumor can be either malignant or benign.

Benign tumors are often small, smooth, and slow-growing and affect 50% of cases.

They can be classed into categories:

  • Simple Adenomas
  • Complex Adenomas
  • Duct Papillomas
  • Fibroadenomas

The other 50% are malignant tumors that are irregular in shape, firmly attached to the skin, and have rapid growth.

These can metastasize and spread to other areas of the body, although few of the malignant mammary tumors are fatal. They are classed as:

  • Fibrosarcomas
  • Osteosarcomas
  • Solid Sarcomas
  • Anaplastic Carcinomas 
  • Papillary Cystic Adenocarcinomas
  • Papillary Adenocarcinomas
  • Tubular Adenocarcinomas
  • Malignant Mixed Tumors

Mammary Tumour Causes

The cause of Mammary Tumor is not fully known, but genetics and hormones are thought to play a part.

Other possible causes may be linked to environmental factors such as pesticides, cleaning agents, or foods containing high amounts of additives and preservatives.

Bodyweight, obesity at one year of age, eating red meat, and feeding high-fat homemade diets may increase risk.

The median age for diagnosis is 10 – 11 years and less common in those 5 years or younger.

Breast tissue swelling can be linked to other conditions that are normal and abnormal.

Regular hormonal changes and pregnancy can cause changes. 

Mastitis, cysts, and inflammatory carcinoma (a more aggressive form of tumor) are abnormal changes that can cause tissue swelling. 

A breast or mammary nodule should not be overlooked, since the lump may only get larger, metastasize, and become much more difficult to treat further down the line.

Mammary Tumour Prevention

  • Spaying  before the first heat cycle (6 months )
  • Avoid the administration of hormones i.e progesterone or mixed estrogen-progesterone drugs
  • Be aware of environmental factors that could pose a risk i.e pesticide exposure or chemical cleaning agents
  • Feed a high quality, well-balanced diet ( avoid foods high in additives/preservatives)
  • Best to avoid feeding a diet of red meat, or home–cooked fatty meals – check out for tailored German Shepherd meals.
  • Try to avoid obesity early on at 1 year of age, and generally through the dog’s life. Provide a good diet and plenty of exercises.

Mammary Tumor Signs and Symptoms

  • Single or multiple masses in the mammary glands.
  • Swelling of nearby lymph nodes
  • Superficial tissue loss, ulceration, bleeding, from the skin over the mammary tissue.
  • Bruising, Inflammation, drainage at the site.
  • A fixed lump that is hard to move ( possible malignant tumor )
  • Moveable mass ( indicating a benign tumor )
  • Breathing difficulty  if metastasized to lungs )
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • The selected Optin Cat form doesn't exist.

Mammary Tumor Diagnosis

Due to several types of other disease-causing similar symptoms to breast cancer, the veterinarian will determine the correct diagnoses based on a pet’s previous history and thorough investigation.

A blood chemistry profile, blood count, clotting profile, and urinalysis will be taken (typical procedure for general health). X-rays or ultrasound of the chest and abdomen will be carried out, and sometimes CT scans to detect possible metastasis. 

Aspiration or biopsy of tissue is the best definitive way to diagnose canine mammary cancer. The lab sample will determine if the growth is benign or malignant. Lymph nodes will also be examined and samples were taken for analysis.

German Shepherd Mammary Tumors Treatment

There are different options available when treating mammary tumors. The vet will decide the most effective course based on a dog’s individual circumstances.

A cancer specialist may be consulted in addition, or the dog may be referred for advanced care.

Surgery is the main form of treatment, combined with other treatments to improve the overall prognosis.

The surgery will depend on the type of tumor present and if it has metastasized or not in other areas.

The vet will surgically remove the tumor plus a large area of the surrounding tissue.

This procedure is used in the case of 2-3 tumors. If there are more tumors present, surgical removal of the entire chain of mammary glands may be recommended.

Some tumors can be very invasive and difficult to remove, in this case, partial removal may be carried out. Chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy is recommended for invasive tumors.

Spaying at the same time as tumor removal  may also be recommended, as it can prevent unrelated diseases such as pyometra (uterine infection).

German Shepherd Mammary Tumors Post Surgery/Prognosis

Following surgery dogs return home with an Elizabethan collar ( head cone ) for 10-14 days, to prevent licking of the surgical site. Returning home usually occurs 1-5 days following surgery, depending on its extent and the dog’s comfort level. 

The pet is returned to the vets at a later date, for the removal of sutures or staples (if they are present).

Management advice will be given to the owner, and pain relief/possible antibiotics will be administered at home by owners. Activity should be restricted and limited for 2 weeks following surgery.

Bandage care may also be required.

Owners need to check the incision to see if the swelling subsides or if redness appears.

Concerns should be reported promptly in case of infection or further complication.

Follow-up visits with the vet / Oncologist will be required

A physical examination and X-rays may be necessary to check for any recurrence.

Owners can help by regularly checking their dog over in the area and in general for any possible issues.

The prognosis and course of the disease will depend on the type and size of the tumor and if it has spread or not.

Dogs with smaller tumors or those with a confined disease (mammary gland) will have a better outcome, compared to metastasis to outer lymph nodes.

The prognosis is not so good if cancer has spread to other areas, such as the lungs.

Dogs can go on to live for years after the total removal of a malignant Mammary Tumor. The earlier a mass is removed after detection, the better.

Surgery for dogs with inflammatory mammary carcinoma is not recommended, since the survival rate is not improved. Effective treatment, in this case, has not yet been discovered.  Radiation therapy combined with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug provides pain relief, but the prognosis is poor in this case.

Future medical advancements that develop targeted treatments for humans (cells specifically targeted for destruction, rather than whole areas of tissue) are being researched to see if veterinary medicine can apply human therapies, in the treatment of dogs.

If you are interested in learning more about health issues in German Shepherds check out our article on 11 German Shepherd Health Issues That Every Owner Should Know here.

German Shepherd Mammary Tumors Conclusion

Mammary Tumors are very common in female dogs, and German Shepherds are included on the higher risk list.

Unless there is planned breeding for a female, the best way to reduce Mammary Tumor development is to have a dog spayed early on in its life. Once breeding is over spaying can then be performed.

Be aware of environmental exposures that your dog may encounter, whether out and about or around the home/yard ( pesticides/chemicals ).  Feed a pet with the best quality diet you can afford. Avoid those that contain too many preservatives or additives, red meat, and fatty human foods

Discuss the use of hormonal drugs with your vet, if they are offered as a treatment for other conditions.

 Do regular general checks for early detection of any possible health issue.


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