How Different Stages and Different Types of Lymphoma Lead to Different Symptoms

Last updated:
July 10, 2023
A girl is stroking her golden retriever outdoor

With the various forms of canine lymphoma, there are equally as many different ways that symptoms can present themselves. Throughout the course of their diagnosis and treatment, those symptoms are bound to change both to show that they are improving and as a reflection of a change in the stage of the disease.

Prior to diagnosis

Some symptoms that may prompt pet parents to check in with the vet may not be particular to a specific lymphoma type. There are some overall health signals that all variations of lymphoma can experience prior to a specific diagnosis.

Nonspecific symptoms may include:

  • Distended abdomen/belly– showing some abnormal outward swelling in the stomach area, similar to bloating
  • Lethargy– increased tiredness, sleeping more, not getting excited about activities that would normally excite
  • Coughing 
  • Shortness of breath– labored breathing even when not hot or active, excessive panting 
  • Fever– common signs include red eyes, warm ears, warm/dry nose, shivering 
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen legs

How do symptoms change based on the different stages?

Lymphoma is a systemic cancer so it affects a lot more of the body than a localized cancer. The way that staging for lymphoma is diagnosed is based on how many lymph nodes or organs are affected. 

  • Stage 1: There is only one lymph node that is affected 
  • Stage 2: Multiple lymph nodes on the same side of the body are affected (diaphragm as the dividing point)
  • Stage 3: Multiple lymph nodes on both sides of the diaphragm are affected
  • Stage 4: The liver and/or spleen are impacted, either with or without swollen lymph nodes 
  • Stage 5: Bone marrow, blood, or another organ is involved 

While these classifications may impact the symptoms that your dog will experience, there are also subcategories that further classify symptoms experienced by the patient.

  • Substage A: The dog doesn’t show any external signs of illness.
  • Substage B: The illness is making an impact on the patient's daily life. Examples of symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy, weight loss, increased thirst, etc.

The most common stages for dogs are 3 and 4, and many dogs that start in Substage A will progress into Substage B and begin showing symptoms of their ailment. However, dogs who begin treatment in Substage A have a much greater chance of achieving long term survival. 

Lymph nodes pet owners can check

If your dog is diagnosed with lymphoma and perhaps is a Substage A case, keeping an eye on their affected lymph nodes and non-affected lymph nodes can be an effective way of tracking the progression of your dog’s cancer. 

In general, your vet will keep a close eye on the progression (changes seen) of the cancer cells at a microscopic level by checking your dog’s lymph nodes with fine needle aspirate (FNA) biopsies regularly and keeping tabs on the activity of the cancer cells. However, you can also use your closeness with your dog to monitor their condition. 

There are some lymph nodes that are easily accessible for pet owners to check for swelling, and depending on the location of the initially affected lymph nodes, a pet parent can help to track those nodes and alert their vet when swelling develops or lessens during treatment. 

Those easily accessible lymph nodes are located:

  • Under the jaw, called the Submandibular lymph nodes
  • In front of the shoulder, called the Prescapular lymph nodes
  • In the armpits, called the Axillary lymph nodes 
  • Behind the knee, called the Popliteal lymph nodes
  • On the inner thigh, called the Inguinal lymph nodes

Be sure to discuss with your vet where these are located on your dog and what to look for so that you can feel confident in keeping tabs on your pet throughout their lymphoma treatment. Some veterinary oncologists may not consider this a required part of monitoring, as it is not anywhere near as accurate as the measurements that are available in the labs, but for some pet parents it provides them with a sense of control over a situation that is almost entirely out of their power to control. 

The different kinds of lymphoma will lead to different common symptoms 

There are four main types of lymphoma, and every patient will have a range of symptoms that are unique to their individual case. 

Between the 4 types of lymphoma the expected symptoms can be quite different, as they impact the body more fiercely in certain areas. Going from the most common to least common, we’ll discuss some of those symptoms.


This is the most common variation of lymphoma, it is the most clearly systemic as well, affecting mainly the lymph nodes and immune system. Dogs diagnosed with multicentric lymphoma will have more general health symptoms than some of the less common variations. 

Symptoms include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes (anywhere from 3 to 10 times the normal size)
  • Increased thirst and urination 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lethargy 

Aside from swollen lymph nodes, many of these symptoms can be signs of any other disease or even emotional conflict for your pet. If you notice these symptoms prior to a diagnosis, it’s best to check in with your vet if there is anything to be concerned about and to run any tests that may need to be performed. 


Alimentary lymphoma develops in the gastrointestinal tract. This makes a lot of the specific symptoms more localized than multicentric. 

Dogs with alimentary lymphoma may develop one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy 

While alimentary lymphoma does not technically cause your dog any pain, the symptoms are not enjoyable for your pet or for anyone cleaning up behind your pet. The discomfort of regular stomach issues is something that will lead most pet parents to check in with their vet; this is definitely something that pet parents will want to get a handle on as quickly as possible in order to return their dog to a comfortable life. 


An unusual form of lymphoma that affects the respiratory system and has the overall least optimistic diagnosis in the entire lymphoma category, many of these symptoms warrant an immediate trip to a vet or animal hospital to prevent serious complications. 

Symptoms of mediastinal lymphoma include:

  • Respiratory distress (difficulty breathing or getting enough air)
  • Pitting edema on either head, neck, or forelimbs
  • A pitting edema is a swollen part of the body that when pressed with your finger, will hold a dimple
  • Increased thirst and urination

Should you ever encounter your dog having difficulty breathing that is not related to heat, exercise, or a choking hazard, getting them to a vet as quickly as possible can mean the difference between life and death. Should you find a pitting edema on your pet's body, please consider it an emergency and make certain to address it as soon as possible. Pitting edemas are often a sign that your pet is under severe stress and will require more severe medical attention quickly.


Extranodal lymphoma is the least common form of lymphoma to develop in dogs. Within this rare category, the most common and most studied subcategory is Cutaneous lymphoma, which affects the skin. 

Symptoms of Cutaneous lymphoma include:

  • Lesions on the skin 
  • Ulcers
  • Nodules/Lumps
  • Plaques
  • Reddish patches
  • Areas of scaling 
  • Hair loss
  • Itchiness 
  • Thicker skin that may release fluids 

While skin changes don’t always mean that your dog has lymphoma, it’s always better to check with a vet if any new skin irritations appear. 

A real example of the importance of identifying symptoms

ImpriMed has helped many dog owners and their veterinarians make the right choice for treatment. But the first step always comes from the pet parent recognizing that something doesn’t seem right with their pet. 

Take Yoki, for example. Yoki is a people-loving rescue who had the bad luck of receiving a lymphoma diagnosis. Luckily, Yoki’s mom noticed some changes in his personality and his general health and decided to bring him in for a check-up from the vet. Nothing major had changed in Yoki’s life. He was coughing, sneezing, and not eating as much or wanting to be as active. All symptoms that could quickly go overlooked as simply boredom or allergies. 

Yoki has been able to survive and thrive after his diagnosis for over 2.5 years now, thanks to his mom paying close attention to his health and expressing concerns to his vet. And with the help of ImpriMed’s Personalized Prediction Profile, he’s been able to navigate not just the initial diagnosis, but two relapses after successfully. 

Read more about Yoki’s story here. 

Find the best lymphoma treatment for your dog 

Lymphoma treatments are not a one size fits all situation, and you should be able to find the best treatment for your dog without putting them through months of trial and error treatments. 

ImpriMed is here to help you to prevent just that.

By using advanced technology, state-of-the-art labs, detailed databases, AI systems and your dog’s live cancer cells, ImpriMed can help your vet find the best drug combination for your dog. 

Find out how to get your vet involved with ImpriMed.

Find the best drugs for
treating your dog’s lymphoma
BEFORE treatment begins

Get Started
A woman gently holding her dog