Leukemia Treatment for Dogs

Leukemia treatment for dogs may involve chemotherapy, blood transfusions, antibiotics and supportive care. Leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow begins to produce cancerous blood cells rather than healthy ones. Treatment and prognosis will depend on whether your dog's leukemia is acute or chronic.

Acute Leukemia vs. Chronic Leukemia

There are two basis types of leukemia in dogs, acute and chronic. Acute leukemia typically comes on suddenly, and causes your dog's bone marrow to begin producing very large amounts of cancerous blood cells. In acute leukemia, 30 percent or more of your dog's blood cells will be abnormal. Dogs with acute leukemia typically survive for only a few days or weeks after diagnosis.

In chronic leukemia, the bone marrow produces smaller amounts of cancerous cells. The disease comes on slowly, and some vets may delay treatment until symptoms become more severe. Dogs with chronic leukemia typically live with the disease for months or years before they are diagnosed. They typically also survive much longer after diagnosis.

Symptoms of Leukemia in Dogs

Dogs with leukemia may display vague symptoms that can be difficult to pinpoint to one disease. They may become lethargic and seem to exhibit feelings of general malaise. Dogs with leukemia bruise and bleed easily, and their gums may become pale. They may also limp, due to pain in the affected bones.

Other symptoms of leukemia in dogs include:

  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal behavior

Diagnosing Leukemia in Dogs

Your vet will need a complete medical history and physical exam to diagnose leukemia in your pet. Your vet may also need to perform a number of specialized tests, to make sure that your dog is in fact suffering from leukemia and not from another illness that causes similar symptoms.

Blood counts, reticulocyte counts, urinalysis and biochemical profiles are often needed. Your vet may take chest or other X-rays. The vet may use a fine needle aspirate to take samples of bone marrow, organ and lymph node tissues for biopsy.

Treating Leukemia in Dogs 

Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for dogs with both acute and chronic leukemia. While dogs with acute leukemia often have a poor prognosis of just weeks, even with treatment, dogs with chronic leukemia may live for several years with appropriate treatment. 

If leukemia has rendered your dog anemic by lowering his red blood cell counts, he may need a blood transfusion to stabilize his condition before other treatments can be administered. This is more common in dogs with acute leukemia.

Your dog may have low white blood cell counts, and therefore a lowered immune response. Leukemia treatment often involves administering antibiotics to treat secondary infections, which can be life threatening. You'll need to monitor your dog closely for signs of infection during treatment.

Supportive therapy during leukemia treatment for your dog may involve the administration of IV fluids if he is dehydrated. Nutrition is a paramount concern for dogs with leukemia. Leukemia treatment can ruin your dog's appetite, and he may need a feeding tube or an IV feeding catheter.