Canine Leukemia Symptoms

Canine leukemia is a severe disease that is indicated by an increased white cell count in the blood stream and the bone marrow. Leukemia has no determined causes; however, it may be due to radiations, certain viruses and the exposure to certain chemicals. There are a few types of canine leukemia, depending on the cancerous cells that cause the condition.

Types of Canine Leukemia

There are 2 main types of canine leukemia, depending on the cancerous cells that cause the disease:

  • Lymphocytic leukemia caused by the lymph node cells
  • Myelogenous leukemia is caused by the cells in the bone marrow

Both these types of leukemia may be acute (a rapid growth of blood cells) or chronic leukemia which refers to the gradual production of cancerous cells. Acute leukemia may appear in younger dogs (typically over 4 years of age) while the chronic leukemia occurs in senior dogs over the age of 10.

Symptoms of Leukemia

The symptoms of leukemia will depend on the type of leukemia that affects the dog.

The symptoms of acute leukemia include:

  • Frequent bruising and slow healing of bruises, due to a deficient blood clotting
  • Bleeding, caused by the sudden increase of immature blood cells
  • Deficient immune system, delaying the healing period and making the pet more susceptible to infections
  • Lack of appetite followed by weight loss
  • Lack of activity and lack of interest in activities
  • Pale gums
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Lameness, in rare cases
  • Behavioral changes and aggressiveness

The symptoms of chronic leukemia will be similar to the symptoms of acute leukemia, but the dog may not experience all these symptoms.

The symptoms of canine leukemia may be mistaken for symptoms of other diseases (autoimmune diseases, pancreatitis or cancers) so a proper diagnosis is needed to confirm the dog has leukemia.

Some dogs affected by leukemia may show no symptoms at all for up to 2 years.

Diagnosing Leukemia

The vet may diagnose leukemia by running a few blood tests. The white blood cell count will be very high and the red blood cells will be lower than normal.

The vet may perform urinalysis, ultrasounds, x-rays, a bone marrow or lymph node aspirate test to determine the type of leukemia that is present in the dog.

Leukemia Treatment

The treatment of leukemia must be applied immediately, especially if the dog is affected by acute leukemia. If left untreated, a dog with acute leukemia may die within a few weeks.

The treatment of leukemia consists of chemotherapy, which should control the development of the cancerous cells. The chemotherapy can be effective in approximately 30% of dogs affected by leukemia; complete remission is possible in these dogs.

Typically, the immune system will be weak and the dog may suffer from various secondary diseases that may be fatal. The leukemia treatment should include the management of secondary diseases.

Leukemia may also cause severe anemia, so blood transfusions will be required.