Dog lymphoma is one of the most common types of cancer in dogs. Known as lymphosarcoma, it is a malignant cancer that involves the lymphoid system, specifically the white blood cells or lymphocytes. Just like in humans, the lymphoid system plays an important part of a dog’s immune system. It acts as part of the bodyas defense system and helps protect your dog against bacteria and viruses. Although lymphoma can attack almost any organ in a dog’s body, it usually occurs in organs that are part of the immune system. This includes lymph nodes, liver, spleen and bone marrow. It can also be seen in the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract.
The most common type of lymphoma in dogs is the multicentric lymphoma in which the cancer first becomes apparent in the lymph nodes. Other common lymphomas in dogs include cutaneous lymphoma (affecting the skin), alimentary or gastrointestinal lymphoma (affecting the stomach or intestines), and mediastinal lymphoma (a cancer that affects organs within the chest such as the lymph nodes or thymus gland). Apart from locational classification, lymphoma is also classified according to aggressiveness (high or low) and what type of cells are involved (T-lymphocytes or B-lymphocytes).
Symptoms of Dog Lymphoma
The most common and telling symptom of dog lymphoma are swollen glands or lymph nodes. These can be seen or felt under the neck, in front of the shoulders and behind the knees. Some lymph nodes are not visible such as those found in the chest or the abdomen. Other dogs may also show signs of depression or lethargy, difficulty in breathing, increased thirst and urination and may vomit, lose weight, lose fur or hair, become feverish, or have a decreased appetite. Lymphoma is also the cause of hypercalcemia or high blood calcium. Cutaneous lymphoma may manifest as redness or flakiness of the skin, ulceration, itchiness and lumps on the skin. The signs will vary, according to the stage of disease, volume of the tumor and location of the lymphoma.
Lymphoma is considered to be a genetic disease but a pet’s environment can also be a factor. Some breeds are also more susceptible to this type of cancer including the Scottish and Airedale Terriers, Boxer, Chow Chow, German Shepherd, Basset Hound, Poodle, St. Bernard, Bulldog, Beagle, Rottweiler and Golden Retriever. Lymphoma may occur at any age but is most commonly occurring in dogs that are in the middle or older age brackets.
If you’re seeing some of the above signs, a trip to the vet to get the right diagnosis should be a priority. Your dog should undergo a thorough physical examination in order for the vet to determine what further tests are required. This should include a complete blood count (CBC), platelet count, biochemical profile, urinalysis and a biopsy of the lymph nodes. A biopsy is a minor surgical procedure to remove a piece of lymph node or other organ affected by cancer. The larger the sample from the biopsy, the more accurate the diagnosis will be. Apart from confirming the diagnosis, these tests are also needed to determine if chemotherapy can be safely administered X-rays and ultrasounds can also help in diagnosing lymphoma and may be performed depending on the location of the tumor.
Dog Lymphoma Diagnosis
Should lymphoma indeed be diagnosed on your dog, the next step would be for your veterinary oncologist must stage the cancer. This process will determine to what extent the lymphoma has spread. Lymphoma spans one to five stages. Stage I affects a single lymph node or lymphoid tissue. Stage II affects several lymph nodes in the same general area, stage III involves all peripheral lymph nodes. By stage IV, lymphoma has spread to live and/or spleen or has affected the chest area in the case of mediastinal lymphoma while Stage V involves the bone marrow.
Dog Lymphoma Conventional Treatment
The most effective conventional treatment for canine lymphoma is chemotherapy. Surgery or radiation therapy may also be recommended in some cases. There are also a wide range of therapeutic drugs that can be given in tandem with the chemotherapy sessions. Medications such as prednisone and steroids can improve quality and sometimes even the length of your canine companion’s life. There is no known medical or veterinary cure for lymphoma but chemotherapy can result in a remission, the first usually lasting six to eight months. A second remission, however, is harder to achieve and will last for a shorter period.
Although there is no cure for lymphoma, the right therapeutic protocol can certainly extend your beloved pet’s life by 9 to 12 months or even longer. A dog that is treated appropriately and as soon as possible can live a relatively comfortable and productive life for many more months. The key is an early diagnosis and personalized treatment to slow the progression of the lymphoma. Most of all, a lot of care, affection and love will definitely help in the treatment of dog lymphoma.
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