Lymphoma is one of the most common types of cancer in dogs.  Lymphoma is cancer of the lymph nodes or lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system includes the lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, liver, and lymphatic vessels.  The lymphatic system is in charge of helping the body with certain immune system functions, as well as helping move fluids throughout the body effectively.  Lymphoma can affect only one area or be throughout the whole body.  Lymphoma is caused by the overgrowth of lymphocytes.  Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that help your immune system fight infections.  Lymphocytes are found in the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow. 

Lymphoma is very common in dogs that are middle aged or older.  There are several breeds that are predisposed to have a higher chance of getting lymphoma.  Those breeds are chow chow, basset hound, many types of terriers, golden retrievers, English bulldog, German shepherd, beagle, rottweiler, saint bernard, and poodle.  It isn’t clear what causes lymphoma in dogs.  Many vets believe that genetics play a role.  

There are four common types of lymphoma. 

The first is called Multicentric lymphoma.  This is the most common type of lymphoma in dogs.  80-85% of all lymphoma dog cases are multicentric lymphoma.  This type of lymphoma affected lymph nodes throughout the whole body.  The lymph nodes rapidly grow larger reaching between 3-10 times their normal size.  The swelling in the lymph nodes is not painful for the dog.  Other symptoms that come with this type of lymphoma are lethargy, fever, not wanting to eat, weakness, and dehydration. 

The second most common type of lymphoma in dogs is Alimentary lymphoma.  Alimentary lymphoma makes up about 10% of dog lymphoma cases.  It primarily affects the gastrointestinal tract, most of the time the intestines.  Alimentary lymphoma can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, lack of eating, diarrhea, and weight loss. 

The third type of dog lymphoma is Mediastinal lymphoma.  This is a rare type.  It affects the lymphoid organs in the chest, like the thymus.  This type of lymphoma can cause a lump or fluid buildup in the chest which can make it very difficult for your dog to breathe.  

The fourth type of lymphoma is Extranodal lymphoma.  Another rare type.  It targets the skin, eyes, kidney, lungs, gums, lips, roof of mouth or nervous system.  Most often with this type it targets the skin.  Extranodal lymphoma that targets the skin can cause red, itchy, dry, flaky patches on the skin.  


The first symptom that owners usually discover is firm, enlarged lymph nodes.  These lymph nodes feel hard and rubber under the skin.  They aren’t painful to your dog when you touch them.  Most common places you will find these enlarged lymph nodes are under the neck, under the jaw, behind the knees, in front of the shoulders, or in the armpits.  Other symptoms that occur with lymphoma are reduced appetite, fatigue, weight loss, swelling, increased thirst, frequent urination, diarrhea, vomiting, and trouble breathing.  


If your doctor suspects lymphoma they will want to take a tissue sample of an enlarged lymph node.  This can be done with a needle aspiration procedure.  Where a needle is put into the affected tissue, a sample is taken and sent away to a lab to be examined.  After lymphoma has been confirmed your normal vet may pass you on to a canine oncologist for further treatment options.  An oncologist may want to figure out what stage of lymphoma your dog has.  This can be done with a blood test, urinalysis, x-ray, abdominal sonogram, and bone marrow aspiration. 

There are 5 stages of lymphoma:  

Stage 1: Involves a single lymph node

Stage 2: Affects multiple lymph nodes

Stage 3: All lymph nodes are affected

Stage 4: Lymph nodes and organs such as the liver, spleen, or chest are affected

Stage 5: Involves the bone marrow.


After your doctor figures out what stage and what type of lymphoma your dog has they will then go on to treatment options.  Usually treatment does not cure lymphoma.  Treatment is used to give you more time with your pet.  Most of the time, most types of lymphoma will become drug resistant, and treatment will no longer work.  The main course of treatment to try to give you more time with your dog, and to help their quality of life is chemotherapy.  Dogs respond better to chemotherapy than humans do.  They usually don’t have severe side effects, and rarely lose hair.  Some side effects your dog may have after a chemotherapy treatment are not wanting to eat, being less active, vomiting, or diarrhea within one to two days after treatment.  Chemotherapy can be given to your dog in IV form, or in pill form.  Usually there is a combination of the two that will be given, and treatments may have to be as often as once a week for the first few months.  In some cases dogs with lymphoma aren’t treated. 


Dogs who aren’t treated have usually 4-6 weeks to live after being diagnosed.  Dogs who undergo treatment and respond well to the chemotherapy may go into remission of their lymphoma.  Remission is a temporary resolution of all signs of the lymphoma.  This does not mean your dog’s lymphoma is cured.  Remission usually only lasts about 8-9 months.  Dogs who go into remission usually have an additional year before passing.  


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