Lymphoma in Canines: Types and Symptoms Explained

Lymphoma in canines, or lymphosarcoma, is malignancy of the lymphatic system, striking the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and other organs in dogs. Untreated, lymphoma spreads aggressively and can be fatal. Effective treatment, however, can add months, even years, to your dog's life expectancy. Recognizing the symptoms of lymphoma can save your dog's life.

Characteristics of Lymphoma

Lymphoma strikes the immune system of primarily middle-aged to older dogs, but dogs of any age can get the disease. Normally, a dog's lymphatic system manufactures and circulates lymphocytes (white blood cells) in the bloodstream to fight off disease. Upon the onset of lymphoma, lymphocytes begin to proliferate unchecked, eventually disabling other cells.

Different Forms of Lymphoma and Associated Symptoms

General symptoms of lymphoma include swelling, lethargy and loss of appetite. Other symptoms may be present, depending on the location of the tumor.

  • Multicentric lymphoma, forming in the lymph nodes-causes swelling and large lumps, some the size of baseballs, in the neck, front legs and groin.
  • Alimentary lymphoma, forming in the stomach, intestines, liver and lymph nodes in the abdomen-causes vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite and emaciation.
  • Mediastinal lymphoma, forming in the thymus in the chest-causes shortness of breath and muffled heartbeat.
  • Cutaneous lymphoma, forming under and on the skin-causes ulcerations in the skin and mouth, which may be red and itchy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will choose from a variety of diagnostic tools to determine if your dog has lymphoma, including blood tests, tumor aspirations, biopsies, and X-ray and ultrasound scans. Treatment options include chemotherapy, surgery and administration of "immune modulators." Nutritional therapy involves offering your dog a low-carbohydrate diet and a diet rich with Omega 3 fatty acids. Lymphoma, a systemic disease, cannot be targeted through radiation therapy.