Canine lymphoma is a cancer that affects white blood cells called “lymphocytes.” Lymphocytes are an important part of your dog’s immune system, and when working properly they fight off infections and protect the body from life-threatening illnesses.
What makes lymphoma dangerous is that lymphocytes travel throughout the body. They interact with all of the major organs and the entire bloodstream, so when these cells become cancerous they affect the entire body. Lymphoma is a systematic cancer which means it affects the whole body, making it more threatening and a bit more complicated to treat than localized cancers.
Learn more about Canine Lymphoma on our blog
While most of cancer’s causes are unknown, scientists have discovered some links between certain home environments and the likelihood for your dog to develop lymphoma at some point in their lives.
Some breeds have a genetic predisposition, the notable breeds being Dobermans, Rottweilers, Boxers, and Bernese Mountain dogs. However, Golden Retrievers are the most likely breed to develop lymphoma with 1 of every 8 being diagnosed in their lifetimes.
It has also been found that dogs living in homes with consistent use of garden pesticides are more likely to develop lymphoma in their lifetime. Though not outwardly dangerous, many pet owners forget that pesticides are poisonous to all who interact with, and more specifically, ingest them, and our pets are especially susceptible since they have a habit of licking themselves clean.
Living in a home with a smoker can also increase your dog’s likelihood of developing lymphoma, as well as other cancers and illnesses.
Learn more about causes in our Fundamentals Blog
For most dogs with lymphoma, the cancer won’t necessarily cause them any pain. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is good. No pet parent wants their fur babies to be in pain.
However, with the most common form of lymphoma—multicentric—your dog will likely feel a bit off, which you will also notice in their behavior. They’ll be more thirsty than normal and need to use the bathroom to urinate either more frequently or with an increase in volume. They will also probably lose their appetite and won’t be as food motivated as they once were.
For alimentary lymphoma, which affects the stomach and gastrointestinal tract, stomach issues may present themselves to your dog, and at a certain point, these may become painful for them. Vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms before treatment starts, and you’ll want to address these with your vet early on before they have a chance to cause any pain to your pup.
Extranodal lymphomas will develop as lumps, bumps, or lesions on the skin that most of the time will not be painful—though they can be itchy and lead to consistent scratching that may make the area tender and sore.
Learn about more Symptoms of lymphoma
Unfortunately, canine lymphoma is not currently curable. However, that doesn’t mean that a lymphoma diagnosis is the end of the world for your dog. Treatment plans for lymphoma are constantly improving and work to get the cancer into remission, they are not aiming to cure the cancer but to bring it instead to a symptomless state.
Remission means that while there are still cancer cells within the body, they aren’t actively impacting your dog’s health. Your pup is almost totally back to their normal health and will just need more monitoring to make sure that they haven’t relapsed or come out of remission.
It can seem like lymphoma is a fatal disease because it is not curable. Due to new and better drugs, there are many dogs that will continue to live happy, healthy lives for several years if treated.
For some lucky dogs, a lymphoma diagnosis will come at the best time for optimal treatment and they will be able to reach a remission that outlasts the anticipated time before relapse with the help of a good oncologist and new drug treatments. Other dogs may not have the chance to see remission. The most important way to keep your dog safe and healthy is to pay attention to any signs that they might not be feeling well and to take them seriously. Finding any illness early in its development will lead to a better outcome in the end.
A relapse is when a dog with canine lymphoma comes out of remission. This means that one of their regular blood tests came back with active cancer cells.
When your dog relapses you will have to work with your oncologist on a new treatment plan, and depending on how long their recession lasted the treatments may be the same as the previous plan or they may need to be different.
Some pet parents may choose not to restart treatment and may instead choose a palliative care option for their pet. This choice often depends on the likelihood of their dog achieving a second remission. This is always a difficult decision. You should discuss your options with your vet, they will be the best person to go to if you have questions or uncertainties.
Learn more about Relapses
Though incurable, there are a few really effective treatment options for canine lymphoma. The most effective and commonly used are multi-agent chemotherapy treatments, the most popular of which is the CHOP protocol. Chemotherapy treatments are able to help treat cancer in any part of the body, and with lymphoma being a systemic cancer, treating the whole body is very important for bringing the patient into remission.
Learn more about the CHOP protocol
While chemotherapy is the most common treatment, some pet parents may opt for a steroid-only, prednisone-based treatment plan. This treatment can help limit the effects of lymphoma on your dog’s body but will typically not have the same results and prognosis as chemotherapy treatments.
Learn more about Steroid treatments
For some patients, radiation therapy may be a beneficial addition to their treatment plan; it can be used either in place of a chemotherapy treatment or in addition to one. Radiation therapy can be incredibly helpful to dogs with high stage B-cell lymphomas and the more aggressive T-cell variations.
Learn more about Radiation therapy
The likelihood of achieving a similar or better remission time without using chemotherapy treatment is highly unlikely in most canine lymphoma cases. This is because chemotherapy—especially multi-agent chemotherapy—, is able to address the cancer cells within the body with the most efficiency for a systemic disease like lymphoma. And due to lymphoma being a cancer of highly adaptive immune system cells, using multiple chemotherapy agents to address the cells will make it harder for them to adapt and overcome the treatment process.
Determining the worth of treatment for your dog is up to you as a pet parent, and there’s a chance that a lot of that decision will depend on how much chemotherapy treatment costs in your area. While there is no wrong answer for your personal situation of whether or not chemotherapy is worth it, the results of chemotherapy treatments speak volumes.
Chemotherapy is going to impact your pet during their treatment, though a lot less dramatically than it would impact a human companion. Thankfully, dogs have very mild reactions to chemotherapy in the majority of cases.
Side effects of chemotherapy treatment in dogs include
Learn how you can limit some of these side effects in our Side Effects of Chemotherapy blog
Chemotherapy is the most likely treatment plan that will be suggested by your vet, as it works in the majority of cases. The more pressing question then becomes how can you know that the combination and dosages of chemotherapy drugs that your vet chooses will work on the first try.
The old way of designing chemotherapy treatment plans for patients involved your veterinary oncologist using their knowledge and history of treatments, as well as reference materials of how other patients' treatments went to make a decision on how to treat your pet.
However, now you aren’t limited to trial and error. ImpriMed is a precision medicine company that uses advanced technology, state-of-the-art labs, Artificial intelligence, a huge database of information on dogs with lymphoma, and your dog’s live cancer cells to find the best possible treatment for your pet as an individual.
The best way to know if chemotherapy will work on your dog’s canine lymphoma is to make sure before starting treatment that you’re taking the right steps first.
Learn more about how ImpriMed is the future of canine lymphoma treatment