An Owner’s Guide to Lymphoma in Pets
Cancer comes in all shapes and forms in pets and people alike. While we use the term to describe any condition that results in an unchecked growth of cells within the body, different types of cancer can behave very differently.
Lymphoma in pets is a common diagnosis here in our oncology department, and a condition that we want all pet owners to know about.
One of the most common forms of cancer seen in both dogs and cats, lymphoma results from a cancerous mutation in one of the cells in the bloodstream, the lymphocyte. Lymphoma can begin in several areas of the body responsible for lymphocyte production, including the:
- Lymph nodes
- Lymphoid tissues in the gastrointestinal tract
Because lymphocytes travel throughout the body within the bloodstream, cancerous cells can be found in many other places, including the skin, eyes, nervous system, reproductive organs, and bone marrow.
Symptoms may include weight loss, decreased appetite, and lethargy. Enlarged lymph nodes are often visible. Diagnosis is typically made based on physical examination, blood tests, tissue samples, and diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasound.
While lymphoma in pets is common in cats and dogs, there are some subtle differences between the species. Like most forms of cancer, we don’t know why lymphoma develops in some pet patients.
We do know that cats who are infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) are at much higher risk of developing lymphoma. This makes it important for felines who are at risk of contracting this incurable viral disease to be vaccinated.
We also know that cats who live in an environment where they are exposed to tobacco smoke are also at higher risk of being diagnosed with lymphoma. Though no definitive research has been done with dogs, this likely holds true for canines as well.
Battling Lymphoma in Pets
If your pet is diagnosed with lymphoma, staging is often recommended in order to determine prognosis and the best course of treatment. In some cases, treatments include surgery and radiation therapy, but for most patients, systemic chemotherapy is the cornerstone of treating lymphoma in pets.
In pets, chemotherapy protocols rely on slowing down the disease rather than curing it. This results in shorter treatment with fewer side effects than what we envision when we think of chemotherapy in people. This does mean, however, that relapses are more likely.
Chemotherapy in pets typically results in an extended lifespan and better quality of life rather than a cure.
In some situations, oral medications, such as prednisone, can be helpful. Alternative techniques, including acupuncture, may also be of benefit in alleviating side effects and improving quality of life.
Lymphoma in pets can be a disheartening diagnosis, but there are options. We are dedicated to helping pets with this disease enjoy a longer, better life in spite of cancer.