Lymphoma is a lymph node and lymphatic system malignancy. This cancer may be restricted to a single area or extend over the entire body.
Lymph nodes, specialized lymphatic organs including the spleen and tonsils, and lymphatic veins make up the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system’s components work together to perform a variety of critical activities in the body, including the transport of fluids and other substances throughout the body, as well as immunological processes in reaction to toxins and infections.
Is Lymphoma Common in Dogs?
Lymphoma is a fairly frequent cancer in dogs, accounting for 15-20% of new cancer diagnosis. It is more frequent in dogs who are middle-aged or older, and particular breeds are susceptible to it.
Dogs at higher risk include:
- Golden Retrievers
- Boxer Dogs
- Basset Hounds
- Saint Bernards
- Scottish Terriers
- Airedale Terriers
This shows that lymphoma may have a hereditary component, albeit this has yet to be verified.
There are four different types of lymphoma in dogs, varying in severity and prognosis.
- Multicentric (systemic) lymphoma. This is, by far, the most common type of canine lymphoma. Multicentric lymphoma accounts for approximately 80-85% of cases of lymphoma in dogs. In multicentric lymphoma, lymph nodes throughout the body are affected.
- Alimentary lymphoma. This term is used to describe lymphoma that affects the gastrointestinal tract. Alimentary lymphoma is the second most common type of lymphoma.
- Mediastinal lymphoma. In this rare form of lymphoma. Lymphoid organs in the chest (such as the lymph nodes or the thymus) are affected.
- Extranodal lymphoma. This type of lymphoma targets a specific organ outside of the lymphatic system. Extranodal lymphoma is rare, but may develop in the skin, eyes, kidney, lung, or nervous system.
Clinical Signs of Lymphoma
Swelling of the lymph nodes is the earliest symptom of lymphoma in dogs with multicentric (systemic) lymphoma. Lymph nodes around the neck, chest, armpits, groin, and behind the knees are the most conspicuous and easy to spot. Swelling of these lymph nodes may be first noticed by the dog’s owner or by the veterinarian during a normal physical examination. Most of these dogs show no clinical signs of sickness at the time of diagnosis, but if left untreated, they will develop indicators including weight loss and lethargy.
Clinical indications vary depending on which organ is afflicted in other, less frequent types of lymphoma. Alimentary lymphoma results in gastrointestinal lesions, which can induce vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. Coughing and shortness of breath are common symptoms of mediastinal lymphoma, which causes lesions in the chest that take up space in the chest cavity. Extranodal lymphoma has a wide range of effects depending on the organ implicated.
How Canine Lymphoma is Diagnosed
Lymphoma does not affect all dogs with swollen lymph nodes. Infections or autoimmune illnesses can create enlarged lymph nodes, so your veterinarian will do tests to figure out what’s causing your dog’s symptoms.
A fine needle aspirate is the most common test for lymphoma diagnosis. A veterinarian uses a needle to extract a small number of cells from an enlarged lymph node (or other organ) in this test. After that, the cells are examined under a microscope for evidence of malignant cells, which suggest lymphoma.
Your veterinarian may perform a biopsy if a small needle aspirate is inconclusive or impractical due to the location of the lesion. This entails surgically removing a sample of tissue from a lymph node or lesion. This sample will be processed and inspected under a microscope to see if lymphoma is present.
In order to examine your dog’s overall health, your veterinarian will most likely perform baseline screening bloodwork. This bloodwork consists of two parts. A complete blood cell count is a test that looks at the different cell types in your dog’s blood and determines the amount of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets present. The function of your dog’s internal organs is assessed using serum biochemistry.
If Your Dog is Diagnosed
If your dog is diagnosed with lymphoma, your veterinarian may perform additional testing to find out more information about the lymphoma and develop a treatment plan. These additional tests may include:
- Immunohistochemistry. This test uses specialized stains to distinguish between two different types of lymphoma: B-cell lymphoma and T-cell lymphoma. Identifying whether your dog’s lymphoma is B-cell or T-cell lymphoma can provide information regarding prognosis.
- Flow cytometry. This is another test that can be used to distinguish B-cell from T-cell lymphoma.
Your veterinarian may also recommend additional tests to determine the extent of your dog’s lymphoma. This testing most commonly includes the use of imaging such as X-rays or ultrasound.
There are five stages of lymphoma. Stage I and II are rarely seen in dogs, while Stages III-V are more common.
- Stage I: involves only a single lymph node
- Stage II: involves lymph nodes on only one side of the diaphragm (only affects the front of the body or rear of the body)
- Stage III: generalized lymph node involvement
- Stage IV: involves liver and/or spleen
- Stage V: involves bone marrow, nervous system, or other unusual location
How Lymphoma is Treated Traditionally
Chemotherapy is frequently used to treat lymphoma. There are a variety of procedures employed, but the majority of them include a series of injections given once a week. Fortunately, dogs endure chemotherapy better than humans; they rarely lose hair or appear to be in any way unwell after treatment. Chemotherapy’s most common adverse effects include vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite, though not all dogs have these problems.
If chemotherapy is not an option, due to patient factors or owner financial constraints, prednisone can be used for palliative care. Although prednisone does not treat lymphoma, it can provide a temporary reduction in clinical signs and buy the pet some time.
Treating Lymphoma Holistically: Healing Your Dog Naturally
If you would rather take a natural approach, there are some options available to you. These options have been found to be successful without the harmful side effects. But, every dog is different and it’s important to keep that in mind. Consult with a holistic veterinarian if you are interested in these approaches.
Lymphoma-affected dogs may benefit from CBD. Dogs undergoing treatment may develop nausea and a loss of appetite. CBD may aid in the stimulation of appetite and the alleviation of nausea. CBD is a natural cancer fighter that reduces inflammation and strengthens the immune system.
Apoptosis, or cell suicide, plays an important role here as well. Cancer cells do not self-destruct. CBD causes the “bad cells” to die while the “healthy cells” live on. THC and CBD have been shown in studies to kill cancer cells and block their spread.
CBD also inhibits the growth of blood vessels in malignancies (angiogenesis). Cancer has the potential to “feed” itself by creating its own blood supply within the body. CBD prevents this from happening, effectively starving cancer cells.
Dr. Zac Pilossoph (DVM) and Angela Ardolino (Pet Cannabis Expert) offer low-cost consultations if you are interested in seeking out a cancer treatment involving CBD. Click here to learn more about the consult.
Kibble is Harmful for Healthy Dogs, But Extremely Harmful for those with Cancer
With any type of cancer, maintaining a good diet is essential. It is important in all dogs, whether or not they have cancer, but it is more important in circumstances like these. Sugar is a food that cancer cells love.
Unfortunately, most kibble diets include more than 50% sugar, which promotes the spread of cancer. Rodney Habib, one of the Dog Cancer Series’ producers, and Dr. Karen Becker (DVM) collaborated on a video that explains how much sugar is in each bag of dog food (even prescription dog food). It’s a must-see for any dog lover, and especially important for those who have dogs with cancer.
There are various alternatives to commercial dog food. You can get your dog’s food from a reputable pet food manufacturer that often develops it themselves (sometimes it arrives dehydrated and you simply add water).
Based on your veterinarian’s or canine nutritionist’s instructions, you can prepare the diet yourself. You could also feed them a raw food diet. Because each dog is unique, as is each dog’s body, speaking with an expert about which option to chose is essential. When establishing the optimal diet for your dog, your dog’s current health, history, and environment will all be taken into account.
Prognosis for Canine Lymphoma
The prognosis for lymphoma varies, depending on various characteristics that can only be determined by specialized testing.
Keep in mind, some dogs can beat the statistics. It’s crucial you think of best case scenario while preparing for the worst case scenario. You would be surprised how much a positive outlook affects your dog.
On average, dogs without any treatment survive 4-6 weeks, but keep in mind, this is with no treatment at all; holistic or traditional.
Your veterinarian may be able to provide more specific information on your pet’s prognosis if you pursue additional testing to better characterize the lymphoma.
Lymphoma is One of the Most Treatable Cancer Types
Dog lovers who choose to treat lymphoma with chemotherapy are often pleased with the results. With a little aid and guidance, cancer is known to go into remission. Most dogs are able to lead quite normal lives after therapy. We understand how frightening it is to hear the words “your dog has cancer,” but rest assured that this is one of the most treatable cancers.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide what’s best for your dog. Reviewing the possibilities, assessing the benefits and drawbacks based on what your veterinary oncologist considers the best option, and seeking a second opinion from a holistic veterinarian are all things to consider when it comes to lymphoma treatment.