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Leukemia in dogs

Leukemia in dogs, causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments

Blood cancer or canine leukemia affects dogs in various forms.

The term “Leukemia” means white blood and indicates the abnormal increase of white blood cells in bone marrow or the blood stream. Leukemia causes an abnormal increase in white blood cells and the underproduction of healthy blood cells. The type of canine leukemia depends on the cells and development stage of the cancerous cells.

Lymphocytic and Myelogenous leukemia are the two types of canine leukemia that affects dogs. Lymphocytic leukemia is the most common type of blood cancer that affects dogs. Lymphocytic leukemia is a type of blood cancer that is caused by lymph node cells while myelogenous leukemia involves the bone marrow.

Both types of leukemia can either be acute or chronic depending on the growth of cancerous cells. Acute lymphocytic leukemia in dogs refers to sudden and rapid increase in growing cancerous cells while chronic leukemia implies abnormal growth of matured blood cells. Chronic leukemia in dogs occurs over a period of time. Acute leukemia is considered more malignant than chronic leukemia. Middle aged and older dogs are more prone to such health disorders but younger dogs can also get affected.

Causes of Leukemia
The key causes associated with the development and growth of cancerous blood cells are:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Radiation
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and
  • Certain viruses can also cause leukemia

Symptoms of Leukemia
The key symptoms associated with the onset of acute lymphocytic leukemia are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive loss of blood in case of injuries
  • Recurring infections
  • Delayed healing
  • Pale gums

Most of the symptoms are inter-related given that loss of appetite will naturally cause weight loss and weakness among dogs. Similarly, healthy blood cells that speed healing are inhibited by the growth of cancerous cells healing of injuries and wounds get delayed.

There are various tests that are conducted before leukemia can be ascertained. Some common tests that are required to diagnose leukemia are:

  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal Ultrasound
  • Complete Blood Count
  • Chest and abdominal x-rays and
  • Bone marrow aspirate


Acute leukemia requires chemotherapy to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. Chemotherapy cannot be a sure solution given that cancerous cells can grow even after chemotherapy treatment. Low immunity among dogs due to cancer can trigger secondary diseases due to chemotherapy. Treating such secondary health disorders along with leukemia can severely affect the dog’s health. Dogs with severe anemia may require blood transfusion.

  Submitted on June 1, 2010  

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