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Canine Leukemia: Cancer Of The Lymphatic System In Dogs

canine Leukemia

We often think of leukemia as an illness that affects humans. However, like many other illnesses, leukemia can affect pets as well, including cats and dogs. Here is a starter guide to understanding more about canine leukemia.

What Is Canine Leukemia?

Canine leukemia is a cancer of the lymphatic system that occurs when the immune system produces too many cancerous white blood cells. These white blood cells, called lymphocytes, naturally flare up in number due to certain stimuli that incite the immune system to activate. Leukemia is the dangerous overproduction of these cells. These lymphocytes develop in the bone marrow, or lymph nodes. With canine leukemia, the body will produce an excess of cancerous lymphocytes at the expense of other necessary blood cells.

Know The Two Types Of Leukemia

There are two different types of canine leukemia: chronic and acute. There are several distinctions between the two broad types of leukemia, including signs, age, and severity. Leukemia is most often diagnosed with a blood test that would reveal an extremely high lymphocyte count.


Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) often occurs in younger dogs, with the average age of diagnosis being 6.2 years old. Just over a quarter of affected dogs are under the age of four, according to Veterinary Partner. ALL is characterized by a high population of lymphoblasts, which are immature lymphocytes. Upon examination, these dogs will often show deficiency of a variety of blood cells due to the dominance of the cancerous white blood cell production.

Canines may be deficient in platelets, red blood cells (red blood cell deficiency is also called anemia), and a certain type of white blood cells called neutrophils. Dogs with canine leukemia may also have enlarged spleens and livers. They may also have enlarged lymph nodes.

Symptoms of acute leukemia include weight loss, lethargy, nausea, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. ALL is a more potent version of leukemia, and as such it requires intense chemotherapy in addition to possible blood transfusions due to anemia (read more about anemia in dogs.) Unfortunately, because of the aggressive nature of ALL, few pets make full recovery even with treatment. Dogs left untreated could die within weeks.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is much less severe than ALL and primarily occurs in older dogs between the ages of 10 and 12. There are three different types of CLL, and they affect dogs differently, so it is important to perform a blood test to reveal which type of CLL a dog has. Dogs with the T-cell version of CLL have the best projected survival time, though CLL is generally less malignant than ALL.

Many dogs do not show any symptoms of CLL, in which case the cancer is only discovered during a normal blood examination at the vet. In the event that the pet does not show any symptoms and the lymphocyte counts are below a certain level, treatment may not even be recommended. Dogs with CLL can live up to several years after the original diagnosis, with a fairly good quality of life.

Distinguishing Between Acute and Chronic

Veterinarians will look for a few key markers to determine if your pet has ALL or CLL. The age of the dog and their symptoms are two major factors used to tell the two conditions apart. As previously mentioned, ALL takes a more significant and visible toll, and it more often occurs in younger dogs. Another factor used to differentiate the two is the maturity of the lymphocytes upon blood cell inspection. The cancerous cells in dogs with chronic leukemia are more developed and mature than the cells in dogs with acute leukemia.

What Causes Canine Leukemia?

It is often difficult to attribute leukemia to a specific cause. Some breeds, such as golden retrievers and German shepherds, are predisposed to CLL. Exposure to radiation and benzene have been linked to leukemia in humans, so it is possible that exposure to those toxins could also cause leukemia in dogs.

Take Your Dog to A Trusted Veterinarian in Pompano Beach

If you suspect your dog may have canine leukemia or if you are just looking for a new vet care provider for your pet, look into All Aboard Animal Hospital. We provide high-quality veterinary services for dogs and cats. Contact us today for more information on what we can do for you.


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