Symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in Dogs

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a type of canine cancer that affects your dog's bone marrow. Bone marrow produces blood cells, including white blood cells, and ALL causes your dog's bone marrow to produce cancerous white blood cells, rather than normal, healthy ones. ALL can cause reduced immunity and susceptibility to infection. Here's what you should know about ALL and its symptoms.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Explained

Vets don't fully understand what causes a dog's bone marrow to produce cancerous white blood cells. Some vets believe that exposure to toxins or radiation might be a factor in the development of canine ALL. Some diseases may play a role in the development of the disease. However, there's currently no evidence to support either of these theories.

Vets do know that it only takes one malignant white cell to kick-start the condition. The solitary cancerous cell can reproduce rapidly, creating more cancerous cells which in turn reproduce rapidly. Eventually, your dog's bloodstream is overwhelmed by malignant white blood cells.

Diagnosing Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Vets typically diagnose ALL in dogs by taking a blood sample and performing a white blood cell count. A healthy dog has a white blood cell count of about 3,500, but a dog with ALL may have a white blood cell count as high as 100,000.

Symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

ALL in dogs can have a number of generalized symptoms that are common to a range of conditions, both serious and minor. Generalized symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in dogs include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms specific to acute lymphoblastic leukemia in dogs include:

  • Blood vessel hemorrhage, which can lead to small purple or red marks on the skin
  • Loss of color in the gums or other mucous membranes
  • Swelling or enlargement of the lymph nodes, spleen and liver
  • Reduced immunity and susceptibility to infection
  • Anemia due to lowered red blood cell and platelet counts

Treating Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in Dogs

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia in dogs tends to progress quickly, and treatment can be difficult. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment may be recommended, in an attempt to slow or stop the progression of your dog's cancer. If your dog is also suffering from low red blood cell counts or low platelet levels, your vet may recommend hospitalization and the use of blood transfusions to protect your dog from the risks of bleeding.

Dogs with acute lymphoblastic leukemia are particularly vulnerable to infection, since their immune systems are no longer functioning properly. Dogs with ALL should be kept isolated from other dogs, to lower the risk of contagion. Dogs with ALL can succumb to infections that would be considered very minor in healthy dogs. Dogs suffering from anemia and low platelet counts could suffer major blood loss from even a minor injury, so they should be protected from all harm.

Prognosis for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in Dogs

Unfortunately, ALL carries a very poor prognosis. Even aggressive treatment may only be able to extend your dog's life to a few months after diagnosis. With no treatment, your dog may survive for only a few weeks.