Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in Dogs

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a condition in which, due to mutations in the bone marrow, the amount of white cells produced is in excess, while other important blood cells are in deficit. This is a lethal condition in dogs. As opposed to acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a slow progressing disease and is diagnosed later in a dog's life, usually at the age of 10 years.

The life expectancy of dogs suffering from this condition can be improved with chemotherapy and/or natural remedies.

Symptoms of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in Dogs

As the condition progresses slowly and symptoms appear late in its development, for half of the cases it may be detected with routine blood tests rather than judging by the symptoms.

However, if present, the symptoms may include:

  • Mild anemia signaled by paler gums
  • Swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination (polyuria)
  • Increased thirst (polydipsia)
  • Lethargy
  • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)
  • Recurrent infections which heal with difficulty due to dysfunctional immune system
  • Tendency to bruise and bleed easily because blood cells responsible for blood clotting are insufficient

Diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in Dogs

As the symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia in dogs are quite indistinct from those of other conditions or can be completely absent, tests are necessary in order to establish whether your dog is really suffering from lymphocytic leukemia:

  • Complete blood count will show an increased number of lymphocites. However, this test is not enough for a diagnosis, as there are several other conditions which may cause the same results. Infection with the blood parasite Ehrlichia canis, Addison's disease, fungus infection , blood parasites, other types of leukemia and even acute stress can cause an increased number of lymphocites.
  • Bone marrow tests
  • Aspiration of tissue from lymph nodes or abdominal organs
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urine analysis
  • X-rays of chest and abdomen

Treatment of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in Dogs

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia in dogs is best kept under control through monitoring the dog. As long as no other conditions appear, no treatment needs to be initiated.

If the condition is advanced and causes anemia or other symptoms such as enlarged spleen splenomegaly) or lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), treatment is needed. This usually consists of medication to reduce the number of white cells.

Remission is possible, however remission episodes are temporary and the treatment needs to be restarted.

The typical treatment consists of chlorambucil in various doses, depending on the degree of remission. If this treatment fails, chemotherapy is the alternative.

As chronic lymphocytic leukemia progresses slowly, some dogs can go on without chemotherapy for up to 2 years.

Once the disease has been diagnosed the disease can be slowed down.

Even though alternative treatments such as homeopathy, natural supplements, natural diets or herbal remedies might not eliminate the disease, they can strengthen the immune system and prevent infections and other complications resulting from leukemia, prolonging your dog's life and giving him an improved quality of life.