T-Cell Lymphoma in Dogs

Lymphoma in dogs is one of the most common forms of malignant cancer. A dog's survival rate is dependent on whether the cancer originated in the B-cells or T-cells. T-cell lymphoma is the harder form for a dog to beat. Most dogs with T-cell lymphoma succumb to the cancer within a year.

Understanding T-cell Lymphoma in Dogs

T-cells form in the blood marrow. These white blood cells are essential to the immune system. There are six key types of T-cells:

  • Cytotoxic cells: Destroy viruses and infections growing in cells

  • Gamma Delta cells: Help recognize the antibody needed

  • Helper cells: Release proteins vital in creating an immune response within the body

  • Memory cells: Store antigens to viruses the body has had in the past

  • Natural killer cells: Acts as a pathway in the immune system and help recognize infected cells

  • Regulatory/suppressor cells: Shut down the immune reaction when viruses have been killed off

With T-cell lymphoma, the immune system fails to respond properly because the T-cells are under attack. As a result, cancerous cells are able to multiply and spread to other areas of the body.

Symptoms and Testing for T-cell Lymphoma

Monitoring your pet's moods and behavior can help pinpoint when something's wrong. Key symptoms of T-cell lymphoma in dogs include some of the following:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Appetite loss

  • Depression

  • Fever

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Weight loss

If you notice any of these signs, it's best to have your dog checked by your veterinarian. Many other diseases and conditions cause similar conditions, so blood panels will be ordered. Your veterinarian is looking specifically at the white cell count. If the count is off, additional tests will be ordered. If masses are felt or there is a tender area, specifically in the abdomen, your vet may order an x-ray or ultrasound.

When a tumor is suspected and located, your vet will perform a biopsy to check for cancer. This is usually the best way to identify if the mass is cancerous so that the best treatment plan is offered.

Breeds Susceptible to T-cell Lymphoma in Dogs

Some dogs have a higher risk of developing lymphoma. Those breeds include:

  • Airedale Terriers

  • Basset Hounds

  • Beagles

  • Boxers

  • Bulldogs

  • Chow Chows

  • German Shepherds

  • Golden Retrievers

  • Poodles

  • Rottweilers

  • Saint Bernards

  • Scottish Terriers

If you have one of these dog breeds, you should check your pet frequently for unknown bumps, lesions or skin growths, usually appearing on the chest , legs or mouth. Also, ask your veterinarian to show you how to check your pet's lymph nodes. If you notice they are swollen, seek veterinary care immediately.

Treatment Plan for Lymphoma in Dogs

Chemotherapy is used to treat lymphoma. There is no way to completely stop T-cell lymphoma, but chemotherapy can prolong the dog's life by causing the cancer to go into remission.

Most dogs receive chemotherapy once a week for four to six months. Typically, the type of medicine used is alternated to prevent the cancerous cells from building up resistance to the drug. If the cancer goes into remission, the chemotherapy agent will be reduced to a bi-weekly or monthly schedule.

Chemotherapy is generally well tolerated by dogs. If there are any side effects, they tend to include diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Hair loss isn't very common, but some dogs may show signs of excessive shedding or have slowed hair growth.