Home » Pet Health » Genes and Cancer » What are Genetic Disorders?


Changes in DNA (known as mutations) can cause genetic disorders that pass from adult dogs and cats to their offspring. After humans, dogs are one of the most genetically well-studied species. Research has identified nearly 700 inherited disorders in dogs and about 350 in cats.

Not all cancers are inherited disorders. For instance, spontaneous DNA mutations that occur over a pet’s lifetime can cause cancer. Mutations introduce errors into the DNA as it makes a copy of itself during cell division. The chances of incorporating mutations in DNA can increase with age. Additionally, exposure to some physical, chemical, or biological agents (mutagens) can cause DNA mutations.

However, some parents pass on cancer-causing mutations to their offspring. Approximately 40% of purebred dogs will have genetic defects passed down from their ancestors. Because each breed of dog is different, the risk associated with each breed also varies. For example, German Shepherds can inherit cancer that may affect the kidneys, skin, and uterus. Other studies have shown that Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Greyhounds can inherit genetic mutations related to bone cancer. Awareness of the potential risks associated with your pet’s specific breed is essential.

In some instances, inheriting a particular mutation does not lead to cancer. Genes come in pairs, where offspring inherit one copy of a gene from their mother and one from their father. Cancer may develop when both inherited gene copies contain a mutation. However, if the offspring inherit a damaged gene from one parent and have a normal copy of the same gene from the other parent, cancer may not develop.

For this reason, many pet owners have used genetic testing to better inform themselves of potential risks that face their pets. Moreover, any pet owner interested in breeding their pet should undergo genetic testing for the prospective parent animals. Any reputable breeder should be able to give you an accurate account of what the parents’ genetic tests reveal in terms of risk and genetic mutations. Testing can also help to slowly reduce the incidence of diseases in pets over time and generations. For example, the responsible breeding of Basset Hounds has almost completely eradicated X-linked Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (X-SCID).

If you have questions about your pet’s risk for genetic disorders, talk to your breeder and your vet to learn more. Understanding your pet’s genetic background gives you the knowledge needed to recognize if your furry friend is likely to develop diseases such as cancer.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s Website Editorial team is comprised of veterinarians, veterinary oncologists, and veterinary technicians, as well as scientific writers and editors who have attained their PhD’s in the life sciences, along with general editors and research assistants. All content found in this section goes through an extensive process with multiple review stages, to ensure this extended resource provides pet families with the most up-to-date information publicly available.

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Last Updated: November 17, 2022

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The following sources were referenced to write the content on this page: 

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Sakthikumar, S, Elvers, I, Kim, J, Arendt, ML, Thomas, R, Turner-Maier, J, Swofford, R, Johnson, J, Schumacher, SE, Alföldi, J, Axelsson, E, Couto, CG, Kisseberth, WC, Pettersson, ME, Getz, G, Meadows, JRS, Modiano, JF, Breen, M, Kierczak, M, Forsberg-Nilsson, K, Marinescu, VD & Lindblad-Toh, K 2018, ‘SETD2 is recurrently mutated in whole-exome sequenced canine osteosarcoma’, Cancer Res, vol. 78, no. 13, pp. 3421-3431.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s medical resource for pet owners is protected by copyright.

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