What to Expect in Dogs With Lymphoma

By Jane Meggitt

If your dog is diagnosed with lymphoma, it's hard to know exactly what to expect in terms of length of survival. How long he lives after diagnosis depends on the type and stage of the disease, as well as on the treatment. While no cure for lymphoma exists, many dogs can live for a long period with a good quality of life. Other dogs might succumb fairly quickly.

Canine Lymphoma

Among the most common types of cancer in dogs, canine lymphoma exists in more than 30 forms that behave differently. Lymphoma usually starts in the lymph nodes and spreads to any organ, with the liver, bone marrow and spleen most often affected. Lymphoma might also spread to the skin, the gastrointestinal system and the thymus gland within the chest.

Lymphoma Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the lymphoma's location. You might notice that your dog's lymph nodes are swollen, especially those under the jaw or behind his knees. The swelling isn't painful, but it's important to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Other symptoms include an increase in drinking and urinating, appetite and weight loss, lethargy and edema or swelling on the legs or face. Skin lymphoma appears as flaky, reddish patches anywhere on the animal, with the lesions soon becoming ulcerated. Dogs with gastrointestinal lymphoma might experience vomiting and dark, especially bad-smelling diarrhea.

Lymphoma Diagnosis

Your vet will make a definite diagnosis by aspirating one of your dog's lymph nodes -- placing a small needle in the node and retrieving cells, which are then examined under a microscope. In some cases, a biopsy is required, which means your dog must receive anesthesia. Your vet will conduct X-rays and ultrasounds on various parts of your dog's body to see if the disease has spread. They usually include the abdomen, to search for gastrointestinal masses, and the chest.

The Stages of the Disease

After diagnosis, your vet will "stage" your pet's cancer. If your dog has Stage 1 lymphoma, only a single lymph node appears to be involved. Stage 2 involves several nodes;in stage 3, all lymph nodes are affected. Stage 4 includes spleen, chest and liver involvement. In Stage 5, the disease has spread to the bone marrow.

Treatment and Prognosis

While treatment depends upon the stage and type of lymphoma, most dogs receive chemotherapy. The goal of chemo is remission -- temporary disappearance of the cancer. The overwhelming majority, up to 90 percent, of dogs receiving chemo achieve remission of six to nine months. However, the remaining cancer cells again rear their ugly heads, and the lymphoma eventually recurs. Your dog can receive another round of chemo, which might extend his survival another six months or more. Dogs with gastrointestinal lymphoma have a poorer prognosis and generally survive about three months after treatment.