Leukaemia in dogs – know the signs

September is blood cancer awareness month, a time when we look to raise awareness of this serious disease in dogs.

Referred to as the silent killer, the symptoms of blood cancer can be difficult to recognise until the cancer has become advanced.

In dogs, leukaemia accounts for 10% of all blood cancers diagnosed. Lymphoid leukaemia  results from an excess of white blood cells in the blood. These cells can originate in the bone marrow or spleen.

There are two main types of lymphoid leukaemia including acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

The acute disease

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia spreads quickly and is aggressive in nature. It accounts for 35-39% of all leukaemias in dogs.

Some of the symptoms include anorexia, lethargy, weight loss, increased urination, increased water consumption and anaemia.

It appears there is a higher risk of German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers contracting this type of leukaemia. It is also a disease that affects younger dogs.

The chronic disease

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia doesn’t spread as quickly or appear as aggressive as the acute type. It accounts for 24-42% of leukaemias in dogs.

Symptoms are usually subtle and easily missed including mild lethargy and slight loss of appetite. These dogs can also get an enlarged spleen and lymph nodes.

This disease is seen more commonly in British Bulldogs and some other small breed dogs such as Cocker Spaniels, Jack Russel Terriers and Dachshunds. It is a disease that affects middle aged to older dogs.

Tiger’s story

Animal Referral Hospital oncologist, Dr Kathleen O'Connell with owner and dog12 year old Tiger visited his regular vet for a routine check-up when abnormal blood results indicated he had a possible issue with his liver. He also had a slightly elevated lymphocyte count. Tiger had an abdominal ultrasound and multiple lesions were found in his spleen and liver. He was referred to our oncology department where a CT scan confirmed Tiger’s abnormal spleen, lesions in his liver and an enlarged lymph node close to the liver.

Due to the size of the mass on his spleen and the risk of it rupturing our surgeons removed it. Tiger was diagnosed with cancers in his spleen and liver and leukaemia in his blood.

He started chemotherapy last week and so far he is going well. Tiger is on oral chemotherapy and will continue this treatment indefinitely. He will have frequent visits to our oncologists for rechecks and blood tests to assess his disease. The prognosis for this disease is quite good, with an average survival time of 18 months. There are very few side effects from the chemotherapy treatment and his quality of life should be fantastic.

We will keep you updated on his progress throughout his cancer treatment.


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