Lymphoma in Dogs by Deborah Shores, DVM

What is Lymphoma? 

Lymphoma in dogs, or canine lymphoma, describes a diverse group of cancers that originate from white blood cells (lymphocytes). Lymphocytes aid the body in protection against illness. Although lymphoma can affect almost any organ, it is most commonly found in organs that help the immune system, including the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow. 

What are the types of Lymphoma?
Types of lymphoma include: 
•  Multicentric lymphoma (most common type, affects the lymph nodes)
•  Cutaneous lymphoma (affects the skin) 
•  Alimentary or gastrointestinal lymphoma (affects the stomach and/or intestines)
•  Mediastinal lymphoma (affects organs within the heart, lymph nodes, thymus gland)
Image by mcvmjr1971

What are the symptoms of Lymphoma?

•  Multicentric lymphoma: The main symptom of multicentric lymphoma is enlarged, exclaimed lymph nodes. These will feel firm to the touch, with a "rubber-like" texture. Usually they are of normal temperature. Lymph nodes are found under the jaw (mandibular lymph nodes) and behind the knee (popliteal lymph nodes).

•  Cutaneous lymphoma: Your dog's skin will appear dry, flaky, itchy and inflamed. As the lymphoma progresses, the patches will become moist and ulcerated. Cutaneous lymphoma typically progresses quite slowly and can be misdiagnosed as a skin allergy or infection. 

•  Alimentary or gastrointestinal lymphoma: this cancer causes symptoms of vomiting and watery diarrhea. Diarrhea is usually dark in color and foul-smelling. Weight loss is also common. 

How is Lymphoma Diagnosed?

There are multiple different types of illnesses that have similar symptoms so we recommend that you consult your veterinarian as soon as possible if you think your dog is ill. They will be able to perform the necessary tests to correctly diagnose your dog's condition. A new test was recently developed that uses a blood test to determine if the enlarged lymph nodes are cancerous. 

A referral to a veterinary oncologist may be necessary for diagnosis.

How is Lymphoma Treated?

If your dog is diagnosed with lymphoma, it is generally treated with chemotherapy. Surgery and radiation therapy may also be recommended by your veterinary oncologist. There are also new treatments on the horizon for dogs with lymphoma. Recent research has shown great promise in the use of certain unique vaccines to treat lymphoma in dogs.(1)

How do I keep my Dog Healthy During Treatment?

One of the most important factors is nutrition. Readily-available carbohydrates and sugars in your dog’s diet are quickly taken in by cancer cells; which can make the cancer grow faster. This process also leaves your dog struggling for energy for day-to-day activities and healing.(2) Feeding a diet higher in fats and protein will provide more readily available energy to the dog and not to the cancer. Feeding your canine a species appropriate, raw or conventional, grain-free diet is upmost in strengthening your dog's immune system. Raw diets are not appropriate for every cancer patient, so make sure to talk to the veterinary oncologist before making a switch.

Many cancer patients will turn up their nose to a dog food they used to love. Home-cooking a “cancer diet” (high-protein, low-carbohydrate or grain-free) can stimulate your dog’s appetite and improve their well-being.(2) Always consult with your dog’s oncologist and a veterinary nutritionist for balanced recipes.  

Environmental factors
Environmental factors also have a big impact on cancer. Recent studies have shown that dogs regularly exposed to household and lawn chemicals greatly increased the risk of developing canine lymphoma.(3) 

We recommend that you stop applying chemicals to your lawn -- or at least lawns that your dog is exposed to. If your dog has rolled or played in a pesticide-covered lawn, we suggest that you bathe your dog as soon as possible to rid him of pesticide residue. 

It is recommended that while your dog is undergoing cancer treatment that you stop routine vaccinations. 

Of course, there is always a genetic factor in your dog's health, despite all the measures taken to prevent and treat illness. Large breeds and purebred dogs are more prone to cancer. Lymphoma in particular is commonly found in Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Boxers.(4)

What are some Alternative Therapies for Lymphoma?

It is important to talk to a local holistic veterinarian for holistic or complementary treatment options. Many treatments, such as traditional Chinese herbs, acupuncture, classical homeopathy and mushrooms can be used with chemotherapy but others cannot. Many times a custom-made holistic protocol with chemotherapy produces the best treatment results in treating lymphoma. 

While your dog is undergoing chemotherapy, it is extremely important to support your dog's immune system in every way possible. There are many supplements available that are made specifically for cancer patients, such as Elimay's Chemo Detox and Onco Care, both designed to aid the immune system. 

Overall, battling cancer takes a lot of resources from your dog. By offering support with supplements, herbs, and nutrition, you can help his body heal and ward off infections. Keeping his immune system as strong as possible and keeping him comfortable should be your ultimate goal.

(1)     Sorenmo, K. et al., 2011. CD40-Activated B Cell Cancer Vaccine Improves Second Clinical Remission and Survival in Privately Owned Dogs with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. PLoS One, Vol. 6(8). 
(2)     Silver, R. 2013. Integrative Oncology: Blending the Best of Conventional with Evidence-Based and Supportive Complementary Therapies. Holistic Veterinary Medicine Club Symposium. Veterinary Information Network.
(3)     Takashima-Uebelhoer, B, et al. 2012 January. Household Chemical Exposures and the Risk of Canine Malignant Lymphoma, A Model for Human non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Environ Res. Vol. 112(0):171-6.
(4)    Dobson, J. 2013. Review Article: Breed-Predispositions to Cancer in Pedigree Dogs. Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. p. 5, 11-12.

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