Many of us have already heard of lymphoma. Lymphoma is a common kind of cancer that affects both dogs and humans. Needless to say, if you already know what lymphoma is, you also know the effect that it can have on a living being’s body. It can be devastating for a dog owner to receive the diagnosis that their dog has lymphoma.
But, you should know that properly understanding lymphoma can help the owners come to terms with the condition of the dog, and make it easy for them to decide whether to go the treatment route, or if they should just put the dog down. Many people often ask, “my dog has lymphoma, when should I put him down?” Obviously, the answer is not as simple as you might think.
What Is Lymphoma?
You can compare the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma common in humans with the lymphoma that animals suffer from. In fact, the similarities between the two are so high that many doctors and vets usually prefer using the same kind of chemotherapy protocols to treat the lymphoma.
From a purely scientific viewpoint, you should know that lymphoma is an umbrella term that doctors use to describe a large group of cancer that usually begins from the lymphocytes. The lymphocytes are a kind of white blood cell that are produced by the immune system to fight off infections in the body.
The organs that play a key role in establishing the immune system have the largest reserves of lymphocytes. For instance, the bone marrow, the lymph nodes, and the spleen all have the highest reserves of lymphocytes. While lymphoma may be found in any part of the body, you should know that these are the organs where it is found most often.
Kinds of Lymphoma
You should know that there are almost 30 types of different kinds of canine lymphoma. They all vary in terms of survival rates and symptoms, but you should know that out of the 30, there are four which are perhaps the most common. These are:
- The multicentric lymphoma
- Alimentary lymphoma
- Mediastinal lymphoma
- Extranodal lymphoma
Let’s talk about each of them one by one.
1. The Multicentric Lymphoma
This is by far the most common type of lymphoma that dogs suffer from. Almost 85% of all lymphomas in dogs are diagnosed to be multicentric lymphomas. This is a kind of cancer that has a direct effect on the lymph nodes. This usually results in a sudden enlargement of the lymph nodes, and leads to a multitude of serious issues.
2. Alimentary Lymphoma
This type of lymphoma is also common. Roughly 10% of all lymphomas diagnosed in dogs are considered to be alimentary. This kind of lymphoma directly targets the intestines, and you will notice a series of symptoms appearing in that particular organ. The doctors will confirm the diagnosis soon after.
3. Mediastinal Lymphoma
This kind of lymphoma is a bit rare. Basically, in this kind of cancer, the thymus as well as the mediastinal lymph nodes are affected. They become enlarged over the passage of time, which is usually caused by the presence of high-grade malignant T lymphocytes.
4. Extranodal Lymphoma
Finally, you have the extranodal lymphoma. This kind of cancer usually focuses on a particular organ, such as the eyes, the skin, the kidneys, or the entire central nervous system of the dog. Cutaneous lymphoma is often the most common kind of extranodal lymphoma, and it usually affects the dog’s skin. If it progresses, you might begin to see enlarged tumors appearing on the dog’s skin.
As mentioned, there are different kinds of symptoms that might appear when a dog is suffering from such a problem. The first symptom is usually the presence of enlarged lymph nodes. They usually grow to be 3 to 10 times their ordinary size. The dog won’t feel any pain, and they will move around freely under the skin.
Most dogs will also begin to suffer from other symptoms that are pretty easy to identify. For instance, your animal will begin to lose weight rapidly, and will develop anorexia. A large mass might appear on the dog’s chest, which will prevent them from being able to breathe properly (caused mainly due to pleural effusion).
Almost all dogs experience abdominal pain and vomiting when they are suffering from any kind lymphoma, so if you notice excessive vomiting, you might want to pay attention and take your dog to a vet as well. There are other symptoms as well, such as the appearance of tumors near the dog’s mouth. Certain symptoms are more severe, and can lead to renal failure in the dog as well.
Diagnosing the Lymphoma
When a vet suspects cancer in your dog, they are going to confirm that diagnosis by taking a small sample of the affected organ. A biopsy is usually done to determine this. A fine-needle aspiration is perhaps the most commonly used tool to extract the lymph nodes from the dog and then evaluate them.
A cytology exam is carried out to confirm the diagnosis of lymphoma. Many vets will also recommend staging tests after the diagnosis has been confirmed. These tests are conducted to determine the overall condition by the vet and also identify just how far the cancer has spread throughout the dog’s body.
Treatment for Lymphoma
The treatment for lymphoma in dogs usually varies depending on the stage of the cancer, but you should know that the most effective form of treatment is almost always chemotherapy. The type of chemotherapy that is recommended by your vet will differ depending on the kind of skin cancer that is identified.
In certain situations, the vet may also recommend that you go for radiation therapy, or get a surgery done to remove malignant tumors. For example, UW-25, a chemotherapy protocol, is most commonly administered to dogs that are suffering from multicentric lymphoma. This is based on the CHOP protocol that is administered to humans.
Furthermore, you should know that chemo does not have as bad of an impact on the animal as it does on humans. For instance, during chemo, dogs don’t lose a lot of hair, and they don’t even vomit all that much either. The most common symptoms of chemotherapy in dogs is that they tend to suffer from mild diarrhea and vomiting. Their appetite decreases sharply too, and overall levels of activity fall as well.
Should You Put the Dog Down?
Unfortunately, there are instances where treatment might not be the suitable option. For instance, you should know that canine lymphoma costs a considerable amount of money to treat. Most dog owners simply don’t have that much money for their dog’s treatment, and just can’t afford to spare the amount.
Unless you have pet insurance for your dog, you might end up paying a considerable sum of money for the dog’s treatment. So, one of the options available to you is to euthanize the animal. Obviously, it can be an emotional decision, and it’s one that you should make after particular care and thought.
Many people often suffer from serious guilt when they have to decide to put their dog down. You need to understand that the decision primarily depends on the stage of cancer that your dog is at. If the dog is at an advanced stage of malignant cancer, there might not be a way back, and as a result of that, your only option will be to put the dog down.
How to Do it
Thankfully, euthanizing the dog is not as complicated. You can decide to get the process done at your house, or at the vet’s clinic. Once you have shared the medical reports and come to the conclusion that putting the pet down is the best option, the vets will prepare for the procedure.
Many people like to sit with their pets during their last moments, and you should too. Usually, the vets will start by giving your dog a shot of sedative before administering the euthanizing drug. If the pet is incredibly frightened, the sedative becomes all the more important. There are seizure medications that are most commonly used for euthanasia in dogs. The medicine itself is administered through the dog’s leg, using an IV tube.
Once the medicine is administered, it shuts down the dog’s heart and brain functionality within a couple of minutes. You should know that when the dog passes, their eyes may remain open. As their muscles begin to relax, they are also likely to defecate or urinate. In some cases, the dog may twitch a few times too. It’s important to understand that the dog isn’t in pain here; it’s just part of the process.