Blood Cancer in Dogs: Hemangiosarcoma, Leukemia and Lymphoma | Healthy Paws Pet Insurance

reviewed for accuracy May 13, 2020 by brittany kleszynski, dvm

Canine blood cancer, also known as hemangiosarcoma, canine leukemia, or canine lymphoma, is not a diagnosis any pet parent wants to hear. Blood cancers are especially dangerous, as the disease can occur and spread to blood vessels or blood-forming organs throughout the body.

Reading: Blood cancer in dogs

Early detection is key to successful cancer treatment in pets, so it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of these devastating diseases.

hemangiosarcoma in dogs

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs is a malignant tumor arising from the walls of blood vessels. Described by one researcher as “one of the worst cancers out there,” the tumors are difficult to predict, and treatment only prolongs the dog’s life for a few months.

Like other types of cancer in dogs, hemangiosarcoma has a strong genetic component and is more likely to occur in certain breeds, specifically medium to large breed dogs, says the Flint Animal Cancer Center. Although dogs of any age can develop the disease, middle-aged to older dogs are more susceptible. Below is a list of breeds that are more likely to develop this type of cancer.

  • golden retrievers
  • german shepherds
  • boxers
  • labrador retrievers
  • english setters

Hemangiosarcoma can develop in any blood vessel, but most often presents as a mass in the spleen, liver, or right atrium of the heart. sometimes cancer develops on the skin, which is known as dermal hemangiosarcoma. Initial tumor growth is slow and painless, making it difficult to detect until it becomes more severe or metastasizes to other areas of the body. clinical signs are often nonspecific, such as lethargy or weakness. Pale gums, loss of appetite, weight loss, shortness of breath, and abdominal swelling are also signs of hemangiosarcoma. most dogs are taken to the veterinary hospital after collapsing once the tumor has ruptured and caused internal bleeding.

hemangiosarcoma treatment for dogs

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Unfortunately, there is no way to cure hemangiosarcoma. Cancer treatment may involve surgery and/or chemotherapy, depending on the severity and location of the tumors.

  • Surgery: If your dog has dermal hemangiosarcoma, it can be surgically removed and the chances of a full recovery are high. however, the internal form of hemangiosarcoma is usually fatal. surgery may be an option for some dogs, during which the tumor is removed with wide margins.
  • chemotherapy: since the vast majority of tumors have already metastasized to At the time of diagnosis, chemotherapy is recommended after surgery. It can also be given to reduce the severity and clinical signs of the disease if surgery is not an option. it is given intravenously every three weeks.

The average survival rate after treatment of hemangiosarcoma in dogs is 60 days with surgery alone and five to seven months with chemotherapy and surgery.

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leukemia in dogs

senior dog

Leukemia in dogs is more likely to occur in male and senior pets. (Flickr.com/jdehaan)

Leukemia occurs when abnormal white blood cells, specifically immature lymphocytes, are released into the blood at high rates. Lymphocytes originate in the bone marrow, thymus, and spleen and are crucial to the immune system. When they do not develop properly or are released from the bone marrow prematurely, the body’s immune system is dysfunctional. This type of blood cancer can be either acute or chronic.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is more serious and often goes unrecognized until it has progressed in severity. nonspecific clinical signs may occur, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is much rarer, but it can also be difficult to detect. some dogs experience increased thirst and urination, fever, or enlarged lymph nodes with this type of cancer. To diagnose leukemia in dogs, a complete physical exam, blood tests, and a bone marrow biopsy are done.

treatment of leukemia in dogs

Acute leukemia can be treated with aggressive chemotherapy, while continued monitoring may be recommended for chronic leukemia. The prognosis for pets diagnosed with acute leukemia varies widely, but is considered serious. Regular veterinary checkups for your dog can help catch this disease early and provide the best chance for successful treatment and longer survival times.

lymphoma in dogs

Canine lymphoma is a malignant disease that affects middle-aged to older dogs. This type of cancer arises from lymphoid tissue within the bone marrow, thymus, lymph nodes, spleen, and gastrointestinal tract. The exact cause is unknown, but environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role. VCA hospitals say that the following breeds have the greatest predisposition to developing this type of cancer:

  • boxers
  • labrador retrievers
  • basset hounds
  • saint bernards
  • scottish terriers

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Multicentric lymphoma, which arises from multiple sites, is the most common type, accounting for approximately 80% of canine cases. The main indicator of this form of cancer is the enlargement of the lymph nodes. a dog’s lymph nodes can swell up to ten times larger than normal. alimentary (digestive tract) lymphoma in dogs is quite rare. it accounts for only about 5 to 7 percent of lymphomas in dogs and causes gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite. other less common forms include mediastinal and extranodal lymphomas.

symptoms of lymphoma include:

  • enlarged lymph nodes, spleen, and/or liver
  • anorexia
  • weight loss
  • fluid in the abdomen
  • difficulty breathing
  • increased thirst
  • vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • fever
  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • skin lesions

How is lymphoma diagnosed?

After performing a complete physical exam, your veterinarian may perform a needle aspiration to identify cells within the enlarged lymph nodes. Other tests such as blood tests, urinalysis, chest and abdominal X-rays, and abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to assess your dog’s overall health and identify any metastases.

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dog lymphoma treatment

Treatment will be determined by the stage and location of the disease. your vet may recommend a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. With treatment, some dogs may live 6 to 12 months, but this varies depending on the type of lymphoma present and whether or not it has metastasized.

treatments include:

  • chemotherapy is usually given orally or intravenously. Most dogs treated with chemotherapy do not experience the serious side effects that humans do; however, it is common for them to lose their fur, experience vomiting and diarrhea, and have low blood counts. because chemotherapy causes immunosuppression, they are also at increased risk of infection. chemotherapy is given until remission occurs or is deemed ineffective, according to pennvet hospital.
  • radiation therapy may be recommended instead of or in combination with chemotherapy as a treatment more specific. Whole-body or half-body radiation is used since the cancer is usually not contained to one area. your veterinarian will determine an appropriate dosing schedule for your dog.
  • surgery may be an option for localized lymphoma that only affects a single lymph node. this usually has the best chance of treatment success, as the lymphoma is more likely to have been detected early before metastasis.

If treatments are unsuccessful, palliative care can be instituted to minimize pain and help your dog maintain a good quality of life for whatever time he has left. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine the best approach to caring for your dog at this emotional time. If you have dog insurance, it will allow you to get the highest quality of treatment without breaking the bank.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

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