Lymphoid Leukemia in Dogs

Lymphoid Leukemia in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Lymphoid Leukemia ?

Lymphoid leukemia occurs when there are too many neoplastic white blood cells (called lymphocytes) in the peripheral blood. Typically, the lymphocytes develop from the dog’s bone marrow but they can be created in the spleen also. Elevated lymphocytes are the key indicator of lymphoid leukemia, though in the initial stages of the disease the number of white blood cells will be low, which will make it hard to diagnose the condition. 

Occurring in either an acute or chronic form, lymphoid leukemia is a condition where there are too many neoplastic white blood cells, which begin attacking your dog’s body as if it were foreign.

Symptoms of Lymphoid Leukemia in Dogs

In the acute form of the disease you may observe the following symptoms in your dog:

  • Disinterest in eating
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Increase in thirst
  • Lethargic

Should your dog be experiencing the chronic form of the condition, he may not show any symptoms, though a decrease in appetite and lethargy have been noted in some cases, as well as a slight swelling of the lymph nodes and an enlarged spleen.


There are two types of lymphoid leukemia:

  • Acute - The disease develops suddenly and multiplies rapidly; the disease begins in the bone marrow and will quickly spread throughout your dog’s body
  • Chronic - In the chronic form the disease has been continuing over an extended period of time; the bone marrow of your dog will be impaired and a sufficient number of other blood cells that are needed to fight inflammation, allergies and infections will not be produced (in the chronic form, the cancerous cells will be hard to make out from normal small lymphocytes)

Causes of Lymphoid Leukemia in Dogs

Lymphoid leukemia occurs as a result of too many neoplastic white blood cells (lymphocytes) that are in the peripheral blood. Usually developing from the bone marrow of your dog, they can also be created in your dog’s spleen. The excess white blood cells will behave to other parts of your dog’s body as if they are invaders. This will lead to inflammation.

Diagnosis of Lymphoid Leukemia in Dogs

Should you notice anything amiss in your dog, it is a good idea to have him examined by a veterinarian. Regular check-ups are also a good idea as abnormal blood test results may point to a problem before any symptoms manifest themselves in your dog. 

Your veterinarian will make sure to get a complete history of your dog and will ask questions about any medications or supplements that he is currently taking, as well as any past illnesses he has experienced. After conducting a complete physical examination and asking you for information regarding your dog’s symptoms (when you first noticed them and any changes you have seen), your veterinarian will request a complete blood count.

Testing in your dog may show anemia, a small number of platelets in his blood and an unusually low number of white blood cells (neutrophils). Your veterinarian may also look at your dog’s bone marrow, obtained either through aspiration or a bone marrow core biopsy. Should your dog be suffering from acute lymphoid leukemia, there will be a much greater number of lymphoblasts than what is typical.

Treatment of Lymphoid Leukemia in Dogs

In the acute form of the condition, it is necessary to be aggressive with treatment in order to restore the growth of blood cells since the disease will cause the bone marrow to be compressed. The only option to treat the disease is chemotherapy; dogs typically receive treatment using CHOP-based protocols, which include cyclophosphamide, hydroxydaunorubicin, oncovin and prednisone/prednisolone. Adding doxorubicin and L-asparaginase is thought to lead to improved outcomes. 

In the chronic form, the method of treatment initially is often observation, as progression of the disease is so slow. Treatment will be started if your dog is anemic, experiencing a decrease in thrombocytes, has swollen lymph nodes, too many white blood cells or shows signs of an enlarged liver or spleen. Chlorambucil is usually the drug administered in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. If chlorambucil is not effective, your veterinarian may choose the combination chemotherapy of l-asparaginase, lomustine and prednisone.

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Recovery of Lymphoid Leukemia in Dogs

Should your dog go into remission from lymphoid leukemia, you will want to continue to have his blood monitored over the course of his life to catch any changes that occur should the disease return. It will be important to follow the recommendations of your veterinarian and attend follow up appointments as requested in order to ensure the best outcome for your dog.

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