Lymphoma is a fast-growing cancer that attacks the lymph tissue, present in virtually every organ in the body. It is the most common form of canine cancer in the US, and can be very aggressive. Left untreated, lymphoma in dogs is almost always terminal.
Common Symptoms of Canine Lymphoma
The symptoms of the disease are varied depending on which organs it attacks. The two most common forms of this cancer target either the intestinal tract, or the lungs. Gastrointestinal lymphoma will cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss. With respiratory lymphoma you may notice that the dog has difficulty breathing. The disease can also affect the central nervous system, heart, bone marrow, eyes and the skin.
If your dog displays any of the symptoms mentioned above it is vital that you seek veterinary help right away. The vet will need to do a series of diagnostic tests. This will usually start with a biopsy of the affected organs and lymph tissue. If this confirms the presence of lymphoma further tests will be needed to determine how far the disease has spread. These may include blood tests, a bone marrow biopsy, x-rays, and ultrasound.
Untreated dogs usually die within 2 months of the initial diagnosis, so it is important to start treatment immediately if the dog is to have any chance of survival.
Treatment of Lymphoma
As with humans, the primary treatment for lymphoma in dogs is chemotherapy. This creates similar side-effects to those sufffered by humans. The dog will likely suffer acute nausea and infections, and in severe cases may have to remain in hospital for the duration of treatment. If the disease is first detected at an advanced stage, then chemotherapy may be ineffective, and the focus needs to be on making the dog’s remaining time as comfortable as possible.
It has been suggested that fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, may slow the growth of cancer cells, but there is no documented clinical proof to support this.
However, recent studies suggest that in most cases the dog does not die from the lymphoma itself, but rather from liver or kidney failure. Changes to the dog’s diet can certainly have an impact on the health of these organs.
Prognosis for Dogs with Lymphoma
In many cases where there is early diagnosis, chemotherapy can have a beneficial effect, adding months, if not years to the dog’s life.
Unfortunately, this is a disease that often recurs, and if it does then a second round of chemotherapy will be far less effective than the initial treatment.
The chances of your dog getting lymphoma are very small. However, if it does happen, you want to be able to afford the very best care for your dog. I’d therefore strongly suggest that, if you don’t already have a pet health insurance plan, you consider taking one out.