A Few Facts About Canine Leukemia
Canine leukemia is a form of cancer, specifically cancer of the blood. Canine leukemia occurs when the bone marrow undergoes for whatever reason, a genetic shift, causing white blood cells to become malignant. The leukemia can also have its origins in the lymph nodes, leading to several types of leukemia, depending upon which white blood cells are involved. Leukemia originating in the bone marrow is called myelogenous leukemia, and that originating in the lymph nodes is called lymphocytic leukemia. The latter is by far the most common type experienced by dogs. Canine leukemia has many similarities to human leukemia, although the two types of cancer are by no means identical.
Chronic And Acute Leukemia - A dog may suffer from either chronic or acute canine leukemia. The former type often responds to treatment and remission can at times be achieved, while the latter type is much more malignant and happens very rapidly. A dog with acute leukemia usually does not live more than a few days or weeks. Leukemia of either type usually spreads through the system, to the lymph nodes and body organs, and is characterized by a lack of evidence of tumors or any solid masses. A blood test to confirm the presence of leukemia is usually the first step when the condition is suspected to exist, and is often followed by bone marrow examination and testing.
Chronic canine leukemia is not usually life threatening immediately. A percentage of the dog's white blood cells are cancerous, and a percentage are normal. As long as the percentage of cancerous cells remains low, the dog can live a normal life and often live for a number of years. The animal's life can often be prolonged through transfusions in which the number of cancerous white blood cells is kept low, though they can never be completely eliminated. Eventually the number of cancerous white blood cells will increase again. The dog's immune system could at some point in time then fail, and acute leukemia could set in, after which there is often little more that can be done.
Chronic canine leukemia is usually slow to develop, taking months and even years. For this reason it is mostly found in older dogs. Many show few if any symptoms of the disease, but when treatment is eventually required, most animals respond favorably to chemotherapy. In acute leukemia cases, chemotherapy can be helpful in some cases, as roughly one- third of treated dogs will experience some degree of remission. In most animals however the immune system has become dysfunctional or weakened to the point that the chemotherapy causes more problems than are solved, and the animal does not survive.
Symptoms and Diagnosis - A damaged immune system gives rise to a number of symptoms of the leukemia, especially or acute cases. The dog often becomes more susceptible to infections, bleeds easily, and may suffer weight loss. The dog often becomes lethargic and, may suffer from bouts of diarrhea and lameness. Diagnosis usually involves the taking of a complete blood count, a urinalysis, bone marrow aspirate, and aspiration of various bodily organs and lymph nodes, followed by prescribed treatment. Natural remedies are not a cure for the disease, but can at times help in early stages by strengthening the immune system, thereby keeping the dog in a better position to withstand the effects of the cancer.
Summary - Cancer is of course a terrible disease. Luckily for most dogs, they tend to get it at an advance age, and often live a normal life span, even in the presence of chronic leukemia. The best thing to do for a pet of course is to always be watchful for signs that all is not well. By catching leukemia at an early stage, much more can be done to prolong the dog's life, and delay any onset of the acute type of the disease.