Which Canine Lymphoma Treatment Is the Best Option for Your Pet

June 12, 2021
A cute dog wrapping stethoscope around its neck

Every pet’s situation is unique, as is every pet parent’s. Making the right decision about treatment for your pet is incredibly important, and it’s a good idea to go in with some knowledge on the pros and cons of each type of treatment for canine lymphoma.

Chemotherapy to treat canine lymphoma

Due to lymphoma often affecting multiple parts of the body, the best method for treating it is through a systematic approach. Chemotherapy can treat all locations where your pet may have affected cells and brings their chances for remission up higher than some of the other treatment options.¹

The most effective way of treating lymphoma is with a CHOP chemotherapy program. CHOP consists of multiple different chemotherapy medicines being used together to combat lymphoma cell resistance. Because lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system’s lymphocytes, they are designed to learn how to combat anything that becomes a threat to them. In this case, the cancerous cells learn to resist the medicine. By combining multiple different medicines in one program, the body doesn’t have a chance to develop that resistance—allowing the medicine to become more reliable and effective.

Through their AI system, ImpriMed can test the different combinations of medicines to figure out which would work the best for your pet's CHOP program. To learn more about how ImpriMed’s system works take a look at this post, in it we explain our process.

Pros

Chemotherapy is one of the most effective ways to treat systematic or multicentric lymphoma. Because multicentric is also the most common form of lymphoma it’s important to understand how it is best approached. The expectation with chemotherapy is that once the treatment is completed the dog will go into remission and have months to years of time to spend feeling like they had before they got diagnosed with lymphoma.²

Dogs also respond better to chemotherapy treatments than humans do. The way treatment is developed for your pup will likely not impede on their quality of life as drastically as chemo would affect a human patient.

Cons

Chemotherapy can be costly and the cost out-of-pocket may be too much for some owners to cover. Having great pet insurance is a good precaution to take for this very reason, and will allow you to get the best treatment option to be available to you, no matter what comes up for your pet.

And similar to human chemotherapy treatments, there will of course be some side effects during the treatment. Common side effects include stomach problems (vomiting, diarrhea), loss of appetite, hair loss in some breeds, and bone marrow suppression (not as many blood cells are being produced by the bone marrow). In a few rare cases, some side effects may be drastic enough to need intensive care, though it shouldn’t be expected for most chemotherapy patients.³


Surgery to treat canine lymphoma

In some very early cases of lymphoma where only one spot on the body has been affected, surgery may be a viable treatment. While surgery is less likely than chemotherapy to get your pet into complete remission after the treatment is over, it can have an impact on the dog quicker than the chemotherapy treatments do.

In about 10% of cases, surgical removal of a lymph node is part of the process for diagnosing lymphoma.⁴

Pros

Early in lymphoma development, surgery can have a good impact. In stages I-III the cancer is usually confined. But when lymphoma progresses and starts to enter the bloodstream it begins to affect multiple locations. Surgery alone cannot combat that progression. It can slow it down by removing the primary source but there is still reason to look into further treatment.

Cons

There isn’t as much certainty that your dog will go into remission. The only way to tell if your pet has more affected areas in their body would be to wait for them to show more signs that the lymphoma is still prevalent. This may require multiple treatments, starting with surgery and following either with another one, or chemotherapy later on. This accelerated treatment may temporarily change your pet’s quality of life as they shift from treatment to recovery to possible treatment again.


Radiation for treating canine lymphoma

Radiation is often used as a supplemental treatment for pets with cancer. It’s usually used after surgery to maintain that all of the cancerous cells have been altered in a way that they can not continue to replicate. Radiation damages any cancer cells left behind by the prior treatments and alters them so that they can’t continue to damage the body.⁵

Pros

When radiation is recommended by your veterinary oncologist, they work to make sure your dog’s quality of life during the treatment is the least affected it can be. Radiation can directly target certain areas of the body closer than surgery can, to make sure cancer is removed from that area.

Cons

Radiation is not a solo treatment for lymphoma. For other cancer forms that are more localized, radiation could be a great option. but for lymphoma, it is usually only used as a supplemental treatment.


Holistic approaches to treat canine lymphoma

A holistic approach is one that focuses on natural processes rather than scientific ones. Holistic approaches are along the lines of home remedies. There is often anecdotal evidence of a method working to help cure an animal or soothe them for some time. Typically, these methods involve natural products and environmental changes to treat the dog’s ailments.

Holistic approaches can include anything from changing diet and nutrition, to taking supplements like vitamins or oils, to speaking with a holistic doctor like an acupuncturist, or a reiki (energy healing) practitioner.⁶

Pros

For some pet parents, there is a matter of morality. Some parents don’t believe in putting chemical medicine into their pets when there is a more natural option available. And for other pet parents, it could be a matter of financial availability; holistic approaches cost less in the long run than chemotherapy or other doctor treatments. Especially if you don’t have pet insurance, a lymphoma diagnosis can make a big impact on your financial situation.

Cons

There’s not a lot of scientific proof that these treatments work to combat cancer. It’s more a matter of whether or not they help your pet feel better in their time of need than whether they help them get into remission. Holistic approaches are also less likely to keep your pet around as long as standard medical treatments would. Every piece of information given about holistic approaches needs to be taken with a grain of salt and a lot of personal research. Some holistic treatments are designed to sell their method rather than provide a genuine option that will treat your pet.

Talk with your veterinary oncologist to learn about the best options for your pet and your situation.