The short answer is YES, there is hope if your dog has Lymphoma.
Cancer is a group of unhealthy cells that either stay in one place (benign tumors) or spread throughout the body (malignant). Lymphoma is one of the most common forms of cancer in dogs.
According to an article on PETMD.com, cancer, including lymphoma, will usually be diagnosed by a vet via blood tests, MRIs, ultrasounds, and biopsies. More invasive tools, such as surgeries, are sometimes used to determine the stage (or severity) of cancer once diagnosed.
In the intensive scary world of canine oncology, a lymphoma diagnosis does NOT have to be considered a “death sentence.” Treatment is now available that can extend your dog’s life from a few months to potentially many years. Though the initial diagnosis may be a devastating blow, knowing your dog’s options can be the best way to overcome the illness.
If you need a big boost of hope, check out the survival stories from the National Canine Cancer Foundation website, see Bocker’s story here and check out Ty’s personal journey below and the excellent information on Some Pets.
Could My Dog Have Cancer?
Weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness, signs of pain, and lumps under the skin can all be signals of potential cancer. Kilo’s best friend Stanley suddenly started really slowing down on our ravine walks and had a fast growing lump under the skin. The earlier your dog is diagnosed, the better the possible outcomes with treatment. It is always a good idea to keep up with vet visits, especially if your dog is elderly as age is a huge risk factor for illness. Certain dog breeds may be more susceptible to certain types of cancer, so it is ideal to check for breed specific issues throughout the lifespan of your pet.
What is Lymphoma?
The National Canine Cancer Foundation has stated that lymphoma is one of the most common varieties of canine cancer with Bulldogs, Basset Hounds, Boxers, St. Bernards, and Scottish Terriers being at the highest risk of developing it. Affected dogs are usually middle-aged (7-9 years old) to elderly, although cases with younger dogs have been documented. There are five stages of the development of cancer, ranging from a single lymph node being affected (Stage 1), to the entire central nervous system including the cortical structures (Stage 5). Each stage will present with varying symptoms from weakness to general lethargy and confusion.
Lymphoma is a severe cancer type that can be hard to treat due to its relation to the immune system and white blood cells. When white blood cells are affected, they travel throughout the body in the circulatory system which can cause the cancer to spread quickly. The name “Lymphoma” comes from the type of white blood cell affected, known as a “lymphocyte.” Lymphocytes are broken down into T-cells and B-cells. T-cells signal the need for backup when they encounter a virus or harmful substance in the body. B-cells are responsible for targeting and killing the foreign material. Lymphoma can affect T-cells, B-cells, or both. The type of cell that is affected will distinguish what type of lymphoma your dog may have.
The breed, sex, stage of cancer, type of lymphocyte affected, and age of your dog may be influencing factors that help to determine their survival after the diagnosis, as well as your treatment plan. For example, spayed females typically have a better prognosis apparently.
Types of Lymphoma and what that means for your dog
There are over 30 subtypes of lymphoma, but these are the 5 most common according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation along with their general prognosis:
Multi centric lymphoma: Affects the external lymph nodes. Chemotherapy can cause remission in up to 90% of patients with survival time a median of 12 months (remember many of the dogs affected may be seniors). In 20% of cases, dogs continue to live for up to or even more than 2 years. Other newer treatments appear to be improving survival rates even further.
Alimentary lymphoma: Affects the gastrointestinal tract. Responds to treatment in about 90% of cases, with dogs usually living for an additional year or more.
Mediastinal lymphoma and Cutaneous lymphoma: Affects lymph nodes in the chest and around the lungs (mediastinal) or the skin (cutaneous). A fairly rare T-cell lymphoma, about 40% of treated cases responded to treatment with a wide variety of survival time due to the mixed complications from several months to over a year. This was what ended Kilo’s friend senior dog Stanley the Border Terrier’s life too soon.
Extranodal lymphoma: Very rare, affects a variety of body tissue including the eyes and organs. Local radiation therapy is usually used, though little research has been done on survival time.
Available treatments and outcomes
First of all, find a vet or vets you trust and do your research. Untreated, a vet will usually give the prognosis of 2 months and treatment can extend this to 12 months or more in many cases. Some dogs respond remarkably well to treatment and have their lives extended by years. Each dog is different. Their age, treatment plans, type of disease, stage of disease, and results may vary significantly, so there is absolutely room for hope.
Choosing a Treatment Plan for Lymphoma can be very daunting and expensive. It may include chemotherapy, radiation, prednisone, pain management, surgery, and natural holistic care or some combination. There are various chemotherapy protocols to choose from and things to be aware of (for example starting on prednisone alone can preclude the use of chemotherapy later). In some cases, new technology like photodynamic therapy or immunotherapy may also be used. There are the new monoclonal antibody treatments (MAb) and T-Cell infusion which we are very excited about.Holistic vets and conventional vets sometimes disagree on diet and the use of various supplements although Hills has done some promising studies on the benefits of a high protein/fats and low carb diet.
According to the Purdue University Veterinary School’s publications on lymphoma and canine cancer, surgery is often used for individual tumors, where the growth can be removed easily to alleviate local symptoms for example in the Cutaneous Lymphoma. Unfortunately, as lymphoma is a cancer of the blood, it is not usually that effective in beating the disease.
Instead, chemotherapy may be used to treat your dog. Canine chemotherapy is relatively safe as the dosage is much smaller than in humans. Although it is not always an absolute cure for the disease, Chemotherapy can be very effective in slowing down the progression of cancer, and can potentially add years to your dog’s life. Typically, an IV treatment of chemotherapy is given to dogs with lymphoma for 25 weeks. Pain management, immuno-treatments, and high-calorie foods may also be a part of your dog’s care.
Working towards a cure with Bocker Labradoodle
Our wonderful friend Bocker Labradoodle, the loveable celebrity therapy dog, was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2014 aged 11. He did the 25 weeks of chemo therapy plus radiation and kicked cancer’s butt. Sadly, he eventually passed over the rainbow bridge a year ago but the treatment certainly extended his life by more than 2 years so I personally got to enjoy more Bocker kisses and hundreds of thousands of people felt hope and strength through his popular Facebook Page and charitable efforts.
Bocker Labradoodle’s Mom Marie has written a beautiful article for us detailing how she kept hope alive for Bocker through his treatment. Bocker’s story inspires us to know that “No one fights alone.” In memory of Bocker, his mum has been an avid supporter of the Animal Cancer Foundation, a group dedicated to fighting cancer in pets and animals.
Join us in helping this wonderful cause! We will be donating 10c for every new Facebook Like on www.facebook.com/TalentHounds (from 38,365) and every new YouTube Subscriber www.youtube.com/TalentHounds (from 1,690) for the next 7 days from July 19th to July 26th (up to $200). We will donate 50% to the Animal Cancer Foundation and 50% to our friend Norman the Scooter Dog’s Go Fund Me – see below.
Ty the Corgi’s Journey to Remission
In May 2015, my good friend Carleen from Some Pets learned that her beloved and extremely cute corgi Ty had lymphoma. “She felt like the world was ending. She was told that her sweet little 6 year old boy suddenly had perhaps as little as a few weeks to live without treatment.” She learned that Ty’s cancer was B cell, which often responds better to chemo treatment. Dogs with B cell lymphoma are also potential candidates for T-cell infusion, which is a very promising new treatment. See her post here for her helpful list of questions to ask.
She decided to do full chemotherapy using the Madison Wisconsin protocol, also known as CHOP. This is an intensive protocol that is also the most expensive, but it also has the best remission and survival rates. She later became enrolled in the Canine T-Cell Infusion Project, which is a new immunotherapy treatment that offers the potential for a very long or permanent remission for dogs with B cell lymphoma. Follow Ty’s process with that here. He is in remission and just passed 2 years- woohoo!!!
Here is her list of the resources that she found most helpful when dealing with the personal decisions around diet, supplements, treatment and options, and her resources for personal stories of hope and financial support like Paws 4 a Cure, an organization that she recently donated to, and Magic Bullet Fund.
Our talented friend Norman the Scooter Dog was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma and has been told the only chance for a possible cure is to do chemo and then a bone marrow transplant. He is undergoing treatment including chemo with oncologist Dr Terrance Hamilton at BluePearl Veterinary Partners
He has a Go Fund me campaign https://www.gofundme.com/help-norman-the-scooter-dog which we will be donating to.
Making the most out of your time together
As Purdue University mentions, chemotherapy is not for every dog. For some pet parents, the idea of putting an elderly dog through intensive treatment can be unappealing. In this case, palliative care may be the preferable option. With pain management, an elderly dog with lymphoma can live out a happy last few months with their owner until it’s time to cross the rainbow bridge. Time can be taken to play the dog’s favorite games, give them their favorite treats, and spend lots of quality time together. The memories from this time are extremely meaningful and should be cherished.
Stanley did initial treatment but did not react well or improve. At 12 years old, he did not continue. He had the best last few months with family and went peacefully in his Dad’s arms.
If you’re struggling with a sick pet, it is never easy to know when to keep fighting and when to let go. Grief consultant Marybeth Haines has done two incredible guest posts for us. One about How to know when it’s time to say goodbye to your pet and How to deal with loss.