As a pet owner, I have experienced cancer firsthand and had to say goodbye to my best friend. As a practicing veterinarian, each time I break the news to one of my clients, it hits very close to home.
I have experienced lymphoma many times in my career as an emergency veterinarian. I see and diagnose a fair amount of lymphoma cases through our emergency room. I also help manage dogs with lymphoma who either are experiencing complications of their disease or side effects from chemotherapy. The one thing I have come to learn is that lymphoma is not a death sentence. Despite this terrible diagnosis, many dogs can do very well and gain quality time with their owners if treatment is pursued. Depending on the type of lymphoma, remission is possible and some animals can live over a year with chemotherapy. For this reason, I always recommend owners consider chemotherapy and meet with a veterinary oncologist.
Unfortunately, cancer is very common in dogs with lymphoma being one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed. Lymphoma represents 7-14% of cancer diagnosed in canines. Lymphoma is a general term for up to 30 different types of cancer, each having its own unique behavior. It is characterized by a cancerous process of a specific type of white blood cell called the lymphocyte. These are immune cells used to protect the body, but when they mutate into cancerous cells, they can have serious consequences.
Let’s review how lymphoma affects dogs and how we can estimate life expectancy of a dog diagnosed with lymphoma.
How Will the Vet Treat Lymphoma?
Hearing your pet has been diagnosed with lymphoma is devastating, but luckily there are several treatment options available. After diagnosis, your veterinarian will discuss these options with you. I always recommend that owners book a consult with a veterinary oncologist for the long-term management of their dog with lymphoma. Treatment options available are highly dependent on the type of lymphoma but generally, chemotherapy is always recommended.
Chemotherapy is the most effective treatment option for lymphoma. Depending on the location of the cancer, surgery or radiation may also be recommended. Chemotherapy is not a one size fits all treatment. There are many different drugs and regimens that are tailored to your pet based on the type of lymphoma and the guidance of your veterinary oncologist. Unlike the perception in humans, chemotherapy is well tolerated in veterinary patients. Yes, there are potential adverse effects depending on the drugs used, but overall many animals do not have significant complications.
If chemotherapy is not a treatment that an owner wants to pursue, there are other options such as corticosteroids like prednisone that can still increase longevity.
Finally, palliation is never a wrong option. This means that instead of seeking therapy directed at treating cancer, instead, you choose treatment focused on making your pet comfortable. This is also a very fair decision as chemotherapy is not necessarily right for everyone or every patient.
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Can Dogs Survive Lymphoma Without Treatment?
If left untreated, many animals will succumb to lymphoma or from complications of the disease. The amount of time your pet has from the moment of diagnosis is truly dependent on the type and location of their lymphoma. Many dogs will only live a short time frame, usually 1-3 months without treatment. This may be significantly shorter in dogs that are systemically ill or have lymphoma affecting their internal organs or nervous system.
Life Expectancy and Survival Rate with Lymphoma (With and Without Treatment)
Without treatment for lymphoma, most dogs will only live for a few weeks to months. Dogs treated with corticosteroids have a median survival time of 1-2 months.
Dogs with multicentric lymphoma who are treated with chemotherapy have a great chance of achieving remission. 80-90% of dogs can achieve remission which can last for up to 6-9 months. The average overall survival is 12-14 months. Survival times are also dependent on the response to chemotherapy. Not all dogs respond favorably.
Dogs may succumb to disease sooner if they are systemically ill, have infiltration of their internal organs, impaired breathing, or if cancer spreads to their nervous system.
It is important to remember that dogs with lymphoma cannot be cured, but instead, the goal is that they reach remission.
Does Life Expectancy and Survival Rate Vary by Lymphoma Stage and Type?
Staging and type of lymphoma will affect life expectancy:
- Dogs with T-cell lymphoma generally have a median survival time of 6-9 months.
- Dogs with B-cell lymphoma have a median survival time of 12 months.
- Higher stages of lymphoma carry a worse prognosis. Stage V dogs have the worst prognosis and Stage I dogs have the best.
Substage also plays a role in longevity:
- Substage A animals are otherwise well and have a healthy appetite.
- Substage B dogs are sick due to their lymphoma.
- Substage B dogs generally do not do as well as substage A dogs.
How Will Lymphoma Affect My Dog?
As cancer can spread anywhere in the body, it can present in a wide variety of ways. The most common type of lymphoma is multicentric lymphoma, which means the cancer is present in the lymph nodes. Dogs with multicentric lymphoma will generally develop enlarged, painful lymph nodes in various areas of the body.
These are most commonly apparent to owners below the jaw in the submandibular lymph nodes. Lymph nodes in other areas of the body can become swollen such as behind the knees, in front of the shoulders, or the groin. These swollen lymph nodes are uncomfortable and your pet may exhibit signs of pain or lethargy. They may develop a fever and poor appetite. Swollen lymph nodes under the jaw or around the throat can interfere with swallowing or make breathing more difficult. Swelling of the lymph nodes can lead to poor fluid drainage in the body, leading to edema in the areas affected.
Dogs with cutaneous lymphoma can develop non-healing patches on the skin. These can become ulcerated or infected if left untreated.
Lymphoma can also be present in the internal organs. Lymphoma of the liver or kidneys can inhibit the function of these organs making your pet sick as a consequence. Dogs with lymphoma of the gastrointestinal tract may have difficulty with digestion or even a blockage of the small intestines can occur. These dogs may have vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, or dark/bloody stools.
Dogs with lymphoma of the chest cavity may have difficulty breathing either secondary to fluid build-up or interference with lung function.
Some dogs with lymphoma may have no obvious clinical signs until the disease has progressed, while others can show signs of illness very quickly.
How Can I Make My Dog’s Life Better with Lymphoma?
Dogs with early or low-stage lymphoma will likely be unaware that they have cancer at all. Most will behave normally and can live a normal dog life. Dogs with aggressive or higher-stage lymphoma may have limited time. They will often need to be treated with medications to combat the side effects of systemic illness secondary to their lymphoma. If you have elected to treat your dog with chemotherapeutics, they may also experience side effects from these medications.
Your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist will work hard to provide palliative options to keep your dog as comfortable as possible. These options may include pain medication, especially if they have masses causing discomfort. Anti-nausea medications and appetite stimulants will be used to encourage good nutritional intake. Antibiotics can be administered to keep infections at bay, especially if your pet has low white blood cells secondary to their chemotherapy.
As pet owners, our job is to keep our pets as comfortable and happy as possible. Make sure they have a comfortable place to rest. Allow them to dictate their exercise. Some dogs will still have great energy levels, while others may get tired more easily. Provide them with things they enjoy like their favorite toys and treats. Entice them to eat if they are no longer interested in their dog food with pet-safe foods like chicken, ground beef, turkey, eggs, and salmon.
How Quickly Does Lymphoma Progress in Dogs?
Progression of lymphoma is dependent on the type of lymphoma and stage of the disease. Higher stages of lymphoma may progress quickly and some dogs may only have one to two months of survival after initial diagnosis.
Is Lymphoma in Dogs Always Fatal?
Unfortunately, lymphoma is not a curable type of cancer in dogs. Treatment will offer your dog some longevity and even remission, but unfortunately, all animals will relapse at some point. Lymphoma is sadly a fatal disease.
Is a Dog with Lymphoma in Pain?
Not all dogs with lymphoma will experience pain. Dogs with extremely swollen lymph nodes, dogs with masses expanding their organs, or dogs with obstructive small intestinal masses are likely to experience pain. For the most part, lymphoma itself is not overtly painful and many animals do not act like they are feeling unwell.
Which Dog Breeds are Most Prone to Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is more often diagnosed in the following breeds
- Golden Retrievers
- Basset Hounds
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
While lymphoma is more common in these breeds, it is important to remember that any dog can be diagnosed with lymphoma.
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.