What you should know about leukaemia in dogs

Just like in humans, dogs and cats can suffer from leukaemia. Fortunately, treatment of this disease is available at our Feilding clinic.

WHAT IS LEUKAEMIA?

Leukaemia in dogs is a form of cancer that results in an increased white blood cell count in the blood and bone marrow. It can be acute or chronic, with the acute form being more malignant.

There are two main types of canine leukaemia. Lymphocytic leukaemia is caused by cancerous cells in the lymph nodes, and myelogenous leukaemia is caused by cancerous cells in the bone marrow.

Symptoms can range in severity and may worsen over time. The condition can eventually result in severe illness or death if treatment is not given.

Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for leukaemia in dogs.

SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of leukaemia in dogs will vary depending on the type and whether the condition is acute or chronic.

Acute canine leukaemia - symptoms worsen quickly and must be treated immediately. It tends to affect middle-aged to older dogs after the age of six, although can occur earlier.

Symptoms to look out for include pale gums, pale or white color in the tongue, lack of appetite or weight loss, weakness, fever, vomiting, increased thirst or dehydration, irregular breathing and heart rate, lethargy, bruising or bleeding easily, recurring infections or delayed healing, chronic diarrhoea, lameness, aggression or behavioral changes.

Chronic leukaemia symptoms may not be as easy to spot, as the condition can take months or even years to fully develop. Some dogs show no signs at all at the time of diagnosis.

On some occasions the condition is discovered through routine examination or blood work, which is another good reason to get regular check-ups with your vet. Usually this type affects senior dogs ten years or older.
Symptoms that may appear with chronic leukaemia include lethargy, loss of appetite, anemia, swelling in the lymph nodes, enlargement of the spleen, bruising or bleeding easily. These symptoms are similar to other forms of cancer, autoimmune disease and other conditions so it is important to see your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis so that treatment can begin quickly.

CAUSES

The causes of leukaemia in dogs are not well understood. It is believed that it develops spontaneously from a mutation in the bone marrow. Certain factors can, however, create an increased risk of the development of the condition. These include exposure to radiation, certain viral infections, and exposure to toxic chemicals. Because the causes are not known, there are no reliable means of preventing the condition from developing in dogs.

TREATMENT

Many cases of leukaemia in dogs can be treated or managed, but it is rare that the condition is cured. The goals of treatment are usually to restore proper white blood cell production, reduce symptoms, and relieve discomfort.

Chemotherapy is the standard treatment and while it does not cure the condition it can put the cancer into remission or slow its growth.

Acute leukaemia is more likely to be fatal than chronic leukaemia, and it requires immediate and aggressive care. Usually this includes intravenous fluids, antibiotics, nutritional support, and possibly blood transfusions.

Chronic leukaemia may not require aggressive treatment at first. It will, however, need strict monitoring. As the condition worsens, your veterinarian may recommend chemotherapy.

Supplements, dietary changes, and alternative medicine will not cure leukaemia, but they can help in strengthening your dog’s immune system, which can prevent secondary infections that your dog may be susceptible to due to the chemotherapy or the leukaemia.

You should consult your veterinary clinic for advice if you see any of the symptoms of this disease.

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