Diagnosing Leukemia in Dogs

Leukemia in dogs is a condition that affects the white blood cell count, which is larger than usual. The increased white cell count will affect the dog's overall health. Canines may suffer from acute or chronic leukemia, and the condition is considered idiopathic, as there are no known causes. The diagnosis of canine leukemia may be done through clinical tests, but the dog's initial symptoms may also help you identify that there is a problem with your pet.

Signs of Leukemia in Dogs

A dog with leukemia will have an increased number of white cells in the blood and the bone marrow and typically, the red blood cells will be decreased. The dog may also present some symptoms such as:

  • When injured, the bleeding will persist for a longer time than usual (caused by the lack of blood cells that are responsible for the clotting process)
  • Frequent bruising and the bruises take a longer time to heal;the bruises may pass unnoticed, especially if your dog has long hair that covers the bruised skin
  • Deficiency of the immune system and frequent infections, which may be recurrent
  • Slow healing time
  • Lack of appetite, followed by weight loss
  • General state of weakness
  • More sleeping hours
  • Pale gums and mucus membranes
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Lameness in the limbs

Except for the extended bleeding time and the bruising, the rest of the symptoms may not be specific for canine leukemia, so tests will be needed to confirm the diagnosis and to establish the type of leukemia that affects the pet. The same symptoms may point to an immune mediated disease, pancreatitis or lymphoma.

Complete Blood Count

The first tests performed by the vet will be the complete blood count (CBC), which will not only reveal if the white blood cells are in excess, but may also point out if there are other abnormalities or infections impacting the pet. A blood sample will be required.

Bone Marrow Aspirate

A bone marrow aspirate is also needed to diagnose canine leukemia. If the dog only has increased white cells in the blood, this may be due to an infection and not necessarily leukemia. The test may indicate if the dog's bone marrow has a high concentration of white cells. The test will be performed under anesthesia, because it can be very painful. The vet will be employing a fine needle to extract the bone marrow, and will analyze the sample under a microscope.

Other Clinical Tests

Other clinical tests to diagnose leukemia in your dog will be performed at a vet clinic and may include:

  • Analysis of the urine, because it may contain certain substances that can indicate the condition causing the high white cell count
  • X-rays (typically the thorax and abdomen)
  • Ultrasounds
  • Needle aspirate of other organs that are suspected of infections
  • Lymph node needle aspirate