Canine lymphoma is one of the more serious medical conditions that can plague dogs. This particularly aggressive form of cancer affects the immune system and while treatment can help to improve the quality of life for affected dogs, there is no true cure for the disease. It can be a heartbreaking diagnosis for dog owners, but it is important to understand the disease as much as possible so that you can make the right decision for your dog.
The lymphocyte cells are a part of the immune system, the system that helps to naturally defend the body from infection and disease. There are two types of lymphocytes: B and T. While lymphoma can affect either type of cell, in dogs it most commonly affects the B-lymphocytes. Lymphoma can occur in the bone marrow, lymph nodes or visceral organs.
While canine lymphoma is not unheard of in Australian Shepherds, it most often affects Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Bassett Hounds, Airedale Terriers, Scottish Terriers and Bulldogs. Symptoms can vary depending upon the location and stage of the tumor, but the most common symptoms are lack of appetite, weakness, lethargy and weight loss.
Of course, when a four-legged friend is diagnosed with lymphoma the first question most owners have is why did this happen? Unfortunately, doctors have not been able to pinpoint a particular cause for some dogs developing cancer. In most cases, it is a combination of factors including environment, diet and genetics that is responsible. Some dogs just have a genetic predisposition to cancer and there is no way to know that before symptoms present.
Once you do notice "symptoms" that could be an indication of canine lymphoma, it is urgent that you get your dog to the vet as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis. Your vet will need to run a series of tests to determine if, in fact, the symptoms are being caused by cancer or if they have some other source. The primary diagnostic tool is a blood test but your vet may also need to use X-rays or ultrasound to determine the exact location and size of the tumor.
Again, there is no cure for this disease but once a diagnosis has been made your vet can then make recommendations for treatment. The treatment options may include chemotherapy, radiation or some combination of the two. The exact form of treatment will depend on several factors including the age of your dog, the severity of the illness and your dog's overall well-being.
Since treatment for canine lymphoma is primarily about maintaining a good quality of life, it may become necessary to decide whether continued treatment is even in your dog's best interest. Chemotherapy medications can not only have a significant impact on your dog, they can also be dangerous to humans, so you will need to take special precautions when administering them.
Unfortunately for most pet owners dealing with a diagnosis of lymphoma, the ultimate decision comes down to how much trauma you want to put your dog through. Though saying goodbye is hard, it may be preferable to watching your best friend suffer. This is why it is so important to consult with your vet and get his or her advice on which steps to take to help your dog through this difficult journey.