Leukemia or blood cancer in dogs is a broad term that covers neoplasm in the blood and blood-forming organs. It is a result of genetic mutation that alters the structure of bone marrow and is characterized by an abnormal increase in the number of white blood cells circulating in the blood stream or in the bone marrow. Leukemia is pathologically classified according to the type of cells involved and the course of the disease.
Acute and Chronic Leukemia
- Acute leukemia implies rapid proliferation of immature blood cells. The increase is so enormous that it restricts production (division and multiplication) of healthy blood cells. The magnitude of increase in malignant cells is such that there is immediate threat to the life of the dog.
- Chronic leukemia, on the other hand, is the abnormal build up of relatively mature blood cells over a period of time, usually months and years. Chronic leukemia is seen more in older dogs.
Lymphocytic and Myelogenous Leukemia
- Leukemia may be lymphocytic (involving lymph node cells- lymphocytes) or myelogenous (originating from the bone marrow). Both of these may either be acute or chronic, thus forming four main categories of leukemia.
- Dogs with leukemia bleed profusely. This is due to the high number of immature blood cells and lack of blood platelets that are responsible for blood clotting.
- White blood cells are a major component of the body’s natural defense against pathogens. This defense becomes dysfunctional due to the leukemia attack. This greatly hampers the immune system of the dog, leading to recurrent infections and delay in healing time.
- Besides these typical symptoms, fever, pale gums, lethargy, lameness, seizures, general discomfort and abnormal behavior are commonly seen in dogs suffering from leukemia.
Appropriate laboratory finding are critical to diagnosis of leukemia, as the symptoms of the disease can mimic many other diseases.
There are no known causes of leukemia. Certain breeds may be genetically predisposed to it. Leukemia may also result from radiation, certain chemicals and viruses.
Treatment and Prognosis
- In dogs, the proliferation of cancer cells may be halted by chemotherapy in certain cases, but the immune system is so badly affected by the treatment that patients often succumb to secondary diseases.
- Homeopathic cancer treatment for dogs may provide symptomatic relief, as natural remedies emphasize more on strengthening the immune system, which can restrict occurrence of secondary diseases.
- The prognosis of acute leukemia is poorer than chronic leukemia. Even in the case of chronic leukemia, the decision to treat largely depends upon the severity of symptoms and the stage of progression.