Symptoms of Acute Leukemia in Dogs

Leukemia in dogs may take the acute or chronic form, the acute form being more severe. In dogs, the most common form of leukemia is lymphocytic leukemia. It is important that you recognize the symptoms and contact your veterinarian.

Acute Leukemia in Dogs

Acute leukemia consists of a sudden increase in the number of new, immature blood cells. The bone marrow is not able to produce healthy blood cells. The cancerous cells rapidly invade the entire body and the vital organs (i.e., the liver and spleen) will be affected. The human equivalent of acute leukemia in dogs is children's leukemia. However, in dogs it is rather the seniors that suffer from this condition. Dogs over 6 years of age are more often affected, although it can also appear in younger dogs. The acute leukemia occurs more often in large breed dogs, especially in German shepherds.

Symptoms of Acute Leukemia in Dogs

Dogs affected by acute leukemia may present the following symptoms:

  • The dog bleeds and bruises easily due to the deficiency of blood clotting cells (platelets)
  • The immune system functions deficiently and the healing from any injury occurs very slowly
  • Recurrent infections
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lameness
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy
  • The liver increases in size
  • The spleen is swollen
  • Fever
  • Panting
  • Anxiousness
  • Tachycardia
  • The swelling of lymph nodes

Conditions with Symptoms Similar to Acute Leukemia in Dogs

There are conditions that have clinical signs resembling those of acute leukemia:

  • Lymphoma (cancer that resembles leukemia, involving cancerous lymphocites).
  • Autoimmune conditions, as in autoimmune diseases the body starts destroying its cells, destruction of platelets also happens.
  • Anemia, with symptoms such as pale gums and easy bleeding and bruising.
  • Sepsis is a generalized bacterial infection that spreads through the blood in the entire body.
  • Pancreatitis or pneumonia (inflammation of pancreas or lungs) may lead to the same clinical signs as leukemia.

Diagnosis of Acute Leukemia in Dogs

Various tests are required before diagnosing acute leukemia:

  • A biochemical profile
  • Analysis of urine
  • Chest and abdominal x-rays
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen
  • Complete Blood Count
  • Aspiration of bone marrow

Treatment of Acute Leukemia in Dogs

Chemotherapy is needed in order to stop the growth of cancerous cells. However, chemotherapy also causes secondary diseases, as the dog's immune system is weakened. The treatment of these secondary diseases is difficult because it may interfere with chemotherapy.

Blood transfusions are required if the anemia caused by leukemia is severe. In addition to treatment there will be need for supportive care for your dog. Intravenous fluids are needed to help fight dehydration and keep the electrolyte balance of the blood. Intravenous or tube feeding might become necessary at a certain point.

If the pet can be taken home, you will have to be prepared to monitor him closely for any changes. If you notice weight loss, lethargy or fever you need to call your veterinarian immediately.