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In humans, detection of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) using nucleic acid-based methods such as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) has proven to be of prognostic relevance. However, similar procedures are still lacking in veterinary oncology. To assess the correlation of CTC markers with the metastatic potential of canine mammary tumours, 120 peripheral blood samples from bitches with mammary carcinomas with (group 1) and without (group 2) histological evidence of vascular invasion and/or presence of lymph node metastases and mammary adenomas (group 3) were analyzed. Blood samples were collected in EDTA tubes and RNA was extracted within 48 h. Subsequently, the samples were tested by RT-PCR for a panel of seven CTC mRNA markers. CRYAB was the most sensitive single marker with a sensitivity of 35% and also the most specific marker with a specificity of 100% to detect group 1 blood samples. A multimarker assay combining four genes enhanced the sensitivity up to 77.5%, but decreased the specificity to 80%. CRYAB appeared to be highly specific but only moderately sensitive at detecting blood samples from dogs with metastatic tumours and detection significantly correlated with vascular invasion of primary mammary tumours. However, a multimarker assay of four genes significantly enhanced the sensitivity of the assay and is therefore preferable for CTC detection.