November 7 is National Canine Lymphoma Awareness Day
National Canine Lymphoma Awareness Day was founded in 2015 by Terry Simons, a dog trainer and agility competitor, whose dog Reveille was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2011.
In the spirit of keeping our furry friends healthy and happy, we’re going to talk about lymphoma, one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in dogs. We’ll answer some critical questions, including:
- What is canine lymphoma?
- How is canine lymphoma diagnosed?
- How is canine lymphoma treated?
- What is the prognosis for canine lymphoma?
- How can you help raise awareness for canine lymphoma?
Let’s get started.
What is canine lymphoma?
Lymphoma, also known as a lymphosarcoma or LSA, is the term used to discuss the group of cancers related to lymphocytes—white blood cells generated by the immune system to help fight infection. Sadly, the cause of lymphoma in dogs is unknown and there is no definitive cure.
There are two primary types of canine lymphoma:
- Multicentric lymphoma is the most common type, affecting as much as 85% of cases. Dogs with multicentric lymphoma will present with clearly enlarged lymph nodes as well as hard (often painless) lumps found in the neck, armpits, and groin areas. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy and weakness.
- Alimentary lymphoma affects roughly 10% of lymphoma cases in dogs. Because alimentary lymphoma affects the intestines, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, painful abdomen and weight loss.
How is canine lymphoma diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will begin by performing a full examination of your dog, including the use of digital imaging (like x-rays and ultrasound) to look closely at the lymph nodes for swelling. They’ll also run blood tests to reveal any of the following:
- abnormally low levels of lymphocytes in the blood (known as lymphopenia)
- an abnormally high number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) in the blood (known as neutrophilia)
- an abnormally high number of monocytes (another type of white blood cell) in the blood
- abnormally low numbers of platelets (cells that help with clotting), a condition called thrombocytopenia
- abnormally high levels of liver enzymes and calcium, which is often found alongside lymphomas
If hard lumps are identified on your dog, your vet may use fine needle aspiration (FNA) to take a sample for closer examination under the microscope. In some cases, vets will send a bone marrow sample to a pathologist to confirm the diagnosis.
There are five stages of canine lymphoma:
- Stage I: single enlarged lymph node
- Stage II: multiple enlarged nodes on either the front or back half of the body
- Stage III: multiple enlarged nodes on both front and back halves of body
- Stage IV: cancer has spread (metastasized) to the liver and/or spleen
- Stage V: cancer has spread to bone marrow or other organs (ie: gastrointestinal, skin, nervous system)
Each numbered stage can be further divided into two substages:
- Substage A: your dog feels well
- Substage B: your dog is ill
How is canine lymphoma treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphoma in dogs, although some cases can be treated with surgery, or with chemotherapy alone or alongside radiation. While chemotherapy does not affect dogs in the same way it affects humans (causing illness and hair loss), the drugs—which may include any of the following: doxorubicin, vincristine, cyclophosphamide, prednisone, and L-Asparaginase—are highly toxic and can cause serious complications during and after treatment.
The course of treatment you choose will depend on what stage of lymphoma your dog has, as well as his age and overall health. If you choose not to treat your dog with chemotherapy, your vet may prescribe other medications to help keep your pup comfortable in his final stages of life.
Every case is different. If your dog is diagnosed with lymphoma, speak with your vet to determine the best treatment option for your dog.
Canine Lymphoma Prognosis
The average survival rate for dogs with lymphoma is 1 year. Most dogs treated with chemotherapy will experience a period in which there is no detectable cancer (also known as remission). During remission, your dog will feel well. The first period of remission generally lasts 6-9 months, while subsequent periods will become shorter and eventually stop.
While there is no cure for canine lymphoma, the disease can be treated with surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. In some cases, however, palliative care may be the right choice for your dog.
Speak to your veterinarian about your pet’s general health, age, and stage of lymphoma. Then decide which option will give your pet the best quality of life.
Raise Awareness for Canine Lymphoma
Help raise awareness for canine lymphoma. Learn how to recognize the signs of the disease, how it affects dogs and what to expect if you’re faced with a canine lymphoma diagnosis.
Help us raise awareness for canine lymphoma! Use #CanineLymphomaAwarnessDay to share this post on social media now.