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Treatment of Lymphoma in Dogs

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. September 11, 2018
Treatment of Lymphoma in Dogs

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With advancements in veterinary medicine and a greater general knowledge about canine health, dogs have a better chance than ever to live a long life. Unfortunately, with an older dog population come more diagnoses of certain diseases exacerbated by age. Lymphoma is one such disease. Lymphoma is the general term for a group of different blood cancers and a diagnosis of this disease is a great threat to the health and well-being of a dog. AnimalWised looks at the treatment of lymphoma in dogs so that we can know what options are available and how they will affect a dog's life expectancy after diagnosis.

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What is lymphoma in dogs?

To get a clearer view of treatment options, we need to have a better understanding of how a dog is affected by lymphoma. This group of cancers, also sometimes known as lymphosarcoma, is a disease which appears in the lymph nodes or organs which contain lymphoid tissue. These include the spleen, liver and bone marrow. Lymphoma occurs in older and middle-aged dogs, but lymphoma can also be detected in younger dogs or even in puppies.

Although lymphoma is believed to be more common in breeds like the Labrador Retriever, there are actually few studies to confirm the veracity of this belief. According to a report by the Morris Animal Foundation in 2016, the Bull Mastiff is the breed with a significantly higher risk of developing lymphoma[1].

Lymphoma develops over several stages. They spread out from the lymph nodes to organs, including:

  • I: a single affected lymph node.
  • II: several lymph nodes affected in the same area.
  • III: lymph nodes generally affected.
  • IV: affecting the liver or spleen.
  • V: affecting bone marrow.

Symptoms of lymphoma in dogs

Depending on the clinical state of the dog or which parts of their body are affected, the symptoms of lymphoma can vary. However, lymphoma might at least be suspected if we find enlarged nymph nodes in the groin, armpit, neck or chest. Additionally, the dog might appear lethargic and seem to be losing weight. The liver and/or spleen might also appear enlarged, making it possible to see an increase in the size of the abdominal area.

If the breast area of the dog is also enlarged, there is a risk of fluid retention in the chest cavity. This is known as pleural effusion. In these cases, the dog will also exhibit breathing difficulties. When the lymphoma affects the skin, we can see itchy bumps or nodules. On the other hand, if the gastrointestinal system is affected, there will likely be vomiting and diarrhea.

Diagnosing lymphoma in dogs

Any of the signs and symptoms of lymphoma in dogs described above is a reason for a veterinary consultation. In order to reach an accurate diagnosis of lymphoma in dogs, a complete blood count will be required, sometimes referred to as a hemogram. This blood analysis can give us important information, letting us know if the animal has anemia, presence of immature lymphocytes (lymphoblast) or increased calcium levels (malignant hypercalcemia). Liver parameters may also be altered. Liver readings may also be altered.

Another important test is the diagnosis of canine lymphoma is a cytological study performed on enlarged lymph node cells removed by aspiration with a fine needle. These nodules may also be removed via biopsy. X-rays and ultrasound scans of the chest and abdomen allow evaluation of lymph nodes, organs and other growths. Other tests such as an MRI scan may also be carried out.

Treatment of Lymphoma in Dogs - Diagnosing lymphoma in dogs

Treatment of lymphoma in dogs

For the correct treatment, the individual dog's clinical picture needs to be assessed. In doing so, we take into account the dog's circumstances, the type of lymphoma and the extent to which is has spread. In the latter aspect, it is important to determine whether it is localized or has metastasised.The objective of treating canine lymphoma are an extension of the dog's life and maintain well-being during this time.

If the case means there is a single lymph node affected, it may be possible to have it surgically removed. Unfortunately, in many cases the lymphoma is widespread. This means chemotherapy treatments are likely to be the best option. Chemotherapy is a harsh treatment which can have side effects, particularly affecting the gastrointestinal system, but also decreasing lymphocyte levels and leaving the dog more susceptible to infection. Other side effects include irritation from drug extravasation, intravenous administration, hemorrhagic cystitis or allergic reactions.

In some cases, surgery is used palliatively to improve the dog's quality of life of the animal even if the prognosis in terms of life expectancy does not occur. Radiation therapy and immunotherapy may also be used. The prognosis depends on the stage of the lymphoma which the dog is suffering during the time of treatment. It is important to start treatment as soon as possible. If this does not occur, recurrence or metastasis may occur and complicate the picture.

Treatment of Lymphoma in Dogs - Treatment of lymphoma in dogs

Does canine lymphoma have a cure?

Whether or not a dog can be cured of lymphoma depends on the type and clinical stage of the disease. As we have seen in the previous section, there are cases where canine lymphoma has been cured thanks to surgical intervention or other treatment methods. However, there are others in which a cure is not possible and the treatment will be used to improve the quality of life. As always, the specialist who takes the case will be best suited to make the prognosis.

What is the life expectancy of a dog with lymphoma?

The life expectancy of a dog with lymphoma is variable. As with the possibility of recovery, it will depend on the type of cancer and the phase in which it is found. An untreated lymphoma can cause the dog's death in a matter of weeks. With chemotherapy treatment the average life expectancy of sick dogs is a year to a year and a half. It can even be as much as up to 3 years, but it will depend on the time of the diagnosis and other mitigating factors.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Treatment of Lymphoma in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

References
  1. Morris Animal Foundation, Dog Breeds With Increased Cancer Risk, 2016. Available at: https://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/article/dog-breeds-increased-cancer-risk.

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