Lymphoma in Dogs
No pet owner ever wants to hear their dog has lymphoma–But getting a diagnosis of canine cancer does not have to mean you have limited treatment options that can extend the life of your beloved pet and in many cases help your dog live a long, happy, exceptionally normal life.
Lymphoma is a complex disease with many different factors that can impact your dog’s health. Scientifically speaking, lymphoma is a blanket term used by veterinarians to describe a specific group of cancers that originate from the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps the immune system fight off infection. They are highly concentrated in organs that play a role in the immune system, like the spleen, bone marrow and lymph nodes.
Lymph nodes are small masses of tissue found throughout the body and your dog’s immune system depends on these little glands to filter blood and store white blood cells. While lymphoma can affect any organ in the body, these organs and their associated lymph nodes tend to be where the most canine lymphoma cancers are found.
Lymphoid Cancer in Dogs
Lymph node abnormalities are often one of the first signs of a disease process at work in the tissues of a dog’s body. Inflamed tissues drain into lymph glands, causing them to also become inflamed and swollen as the number of white blood cells increases in response to the presence of infection. This response is called Reactive Hyperplasia — it occurs when there’s an increase in production of white blood cells and plasma cells–the result is enlarged, inflamed lymph nodes.
Currently, veterinary science does not have a clear understanding of what causes lymphoma in dogs. But there is definitely an increase in diagnosed cases of it especially in certain breeds of dog like the Golden Retriever. And it’s becoming more prevalent in younger dogs as well.
Canine Lymphoma Cancer
According to The Merck Veterinary Manual:
Canine malignant lymphoma is a progressive, fatal disease caused by the ‘malignant clonal expansion of lymphoid cells’. Although lymphoid cell neoplastic transformation is not restricted to specific anatomic compartments, lymphoma most commonly arises from organized lymphoid tissues including the bone marrow, thymus, lymph nodes, and spleen.
In addition to these primary and secondary lymphoid organs, common extranodal sites include the skin, eye, CNS, testis, and bone. Lymphoma is reported to be the most common hematopoietic neoplasm in dogs, with an incidence reported to approach 0.1% in susceptible, older dogs.
Despite the prevalence of malignant lymphoma, its etiology remains poorly characterized. Hypothesized etiologies include retroviral infection, environmental contamination with phenoxyacetic acid herbicides, magnetic field exposure, chromosomal abnormalities, and immune dysfunction.
The most common type of canine lymphoma is multicentric lymphoma. This cancer is usually spotted first in the lymph nodes under the dog’s jaw. Other common types of canine lymphoma include:
- Alimentary or GI lymphoma (stomach and/or intestines) causes vomiting and watery diarrhea which can be very dark in color and foul-smelling. Weight loss is also common with this type of lymphoma.
- Mediastinal lymphoma (chest organs, such as lymph nodes or the thymus gland) typically involves difficulty breathing, either due to a large mass or an accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity. Dogs with this type of lymphoma can also have swollen faces or front legs, and increased thirst and urination.
- Cutaneous lymphoma, which involves the skin. This type of lymphoma starts as dry, flakey, red patches of skin, and progresses to angry red, thickened skin with ulcerations. It can also develop orally and involve the gums, lips and roof of the mouth. Cutaneous lymphoma is frequently misdiagnosed in its early stages as either a skin infection/allergy or if it’s in the mouth, gum disease.
Symptoms of Dog Lymphoma
Sadly, cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs–in the US up to 50% of pets will die of cancer but early detection and intervention can contribute to your dog living a longer, healthier life even after being diagnosed. Symptoms are variable depending upon the location and stage of tumor, but generally, the symptoms that are common in all forms of lymphoma are:
1. Unusual Swellings – Swellings that don’t go away or that grow in size. Swollen lymph glands can often be felt beneath the jaw, around the shoulder area, the back of the leg, behind the knee joint and in the groin. Most enlarged lymph nodes feel firm, can be moved around under the skin, don’t cause pain and are a normal temperature.
2. Non-healing Sores – Sores that won’t heal can be a sign of infection or cancer.
3. Weight loss – Infection or illness could be the reason your dog is losing weight. If there are swollen nodes in the abdomen, it can make bowel movements difficult. Severely enlarged glands can make it hard for a dog to eat, drink or sometimes to breathe.
4. Loss of Appetite – Reluctance or refusal to eat. Nausea and the urge to throw up after eating can result in loss of appetite. Fever is common, and many dogs just feel generally miserable as their body attempts to fight off the infection.
5. Bleeding or Discharge – Bleeding can occur for even minor reasons but could signal a problem. Other unexplained discharges like vomiting and diarrhea are considered abnormal.
6. Offensive Smell – An unpleasant odor is a common sign of tumors (especially mouth, nose and anal cancers).
7. Difficulty Eating or Swallowing – This is a common sign of cancers of the mouth or neck.
8. Low Energy Level – Reluctance to exercise is often one of the first signs pet parents notice their dog is not feeling well.
9. Difficulty Breathing – Persistent problems with urinating or defecating.
10. Persistent Lameness – there are numerous causes of lameness, including nerve, muscle or bone cancer.
NOTE: If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog you should seek medical advice & have your dog evaluated by your veterinarian or animal oncologist as soon as possible. More specific testing may be required for a confirmatory diagnosis. Diagnostic imaging, including X-rays and ultrasound, are often used to evaluate the size of regional lymph nodes. Your veterinarian may need to take bone marrow samples to be sent to a veterinary pathologist for further evaluation and to determine the extent of disease.
Possible Causes of Canine Lymphoma
GENE EXPRESSION THROUGH GENERATIONS
The fact that all dogs have a common ancestor, the wolf, plays a role in the perpetuation of gene mutations that increase the risk for canine cancer. Certain breeds of dog have a higher incidence of cancer; like the Boxer (Mast Cell Tumors), the Bernese Mtn. Dog (Histiocytic Sarcoma), the Golden Retriever (Lymphoma & Hemangiosarcoma) and the Rottweiler (Osteosarcoma).
As was earlier hypothesized in the Merck Veterinary Manual, a possible cause of lymphoma in dogs can be due, in part, to gene mutations and chromosomal abnormalities. Over time, these genetic alterations can lead to a modification in the normal regulation of the immune systems monitoring & eradication of tumor cells. The natural surveillance to detect and remove cancer cells has been congenitally altered–opening the door to more dogs being diagnosed with lymphoma.
Scientists believe that there are multiple genes that play a role in the development of cancer in dogs. Since many large and giant breeds develop bone cancer (osteosarcoma) but dogs under 55 pounds rarely do–it appears genes that program the size of a dog are also involved in possible development of canine lymphomas.
But mutated genes can also work in favor of certain breeds to forestall or prevent cancer. For example, dogs with black coats appear to have a much higher incidence of squamous cell carcinoma affecting the nail bed of one or more toes than lighter coated dogs of the same breed, for example, Poodles. The gene mutation that produces the cancer is present in dogs of both coat colors, but the Poodles with white, apricot, and brown coats also have a ‘variation in a different gene’ that provides a protective effect against the squamous cell carcinoma mutation. Two other black-coated breeds with predisposition to this type of cancer, the Briard and the Giant Schnauzer, also have this protective gene mutation.
NUTRITIONAL FOUNDATIONS OF DISEASE
Traditional thinking about canine cancer holds that it’s a genetic disease and therefore outside the control of pet parents. Whereas a veterinary oncologist would see cancer as a disease of certain carcinogens; like exposure to radiation, retro-viruses or carcinogenic chemicals (lawn fertilizers, volatile aerosols), or even lifestyle that can impact the cell nucleus to cause mutations resulting in cancer — there is however, more recent acceptance of the idea that cancer is actually a disease of ‘chronic inflammation’ & that it’s possible to alter this state of constant, uncontrolled inflammation with modifications to a dog’s daily diet and nutrition.
Current research suggests cancer is actually a chronic inflammatory disease. The inflammatory process creates an environment in which abnormal cells grow & proliferate. Anything that creates or promotes inflammation in the body increases the risk for cancer. A major contributor to inflammatory conditions is a diet too high in omega-6 fatty acids and too low in omega-3’s. Omega-6’s increase inflammation while the omega-3’s do the reverse. Processed pet food is typically loaded with omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in omega-3’s.
A healthy diet for your dog – one that is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer – consists of real, whole foods, preferably raw. This species-appropriate diet is high in moisture content and contains no grains or starches. A diet with high-quality protein, including muscle meat, organs, and bone should also include moderate amounts of animal fat and high levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids, such as krill oil) to add a protective layer against long-term inflammation.
Additionally, cancer cells generally can’t use dietary fats for energy–they require the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and multiply– so using appropriate amounts of good-quality fats and dietary measures like raw feeding & Low-carb diets (Keto Diet) are nutritionally healthy and can potentially impact the cancer disease pathway. The idea that cancer could be prevented or actually defeated by using common-sense, species specific nutrition is no longer considered a ‘fringe’ therapy but is fast becoming the mainstay of canine home care and medical intervention treatment.
Treatment for Canine Lymphoma
It appears Western medicine has reached the limit of what science and traditional chemotherapy have to offer today’s veterinary lymphoma patients. Although canine lymphoma is very responsive to chemotherapy – it doesn’t yet cure the disease!
Finding a cure for lymphoma continues to elude the veterinary community. No real advances have been made in the treatment of canine lymphoma and little more can be expected for progress in improving remission as well. The prognosis for dogs with lymphoma depends on what type of lymphoma is present and what type of chemotherapy is used. Dogs tend to tolerate chemo better than humans. They don’t feel as ill for as long, and only a few breeds experience hair loss. About 70 to 90 percent of dogs with multicentric lymphoma treated with certain chemo drugs experience partial or short-term remission of the cancer.
Unfortunately, in most dogs, the lymphoma will recur. A second round of chemo will usually bring about a second remission in the majority of these dogs, but it is of much shorter duration than the first remission because the cancerous cells grow resistant to chemo drugs. And chemotherapy for lymphoma is expensive–typically running several thousand dollars.
Empirical evidence from dog owners looking for something above & beyond conventional cancer therapy are crediting Cannabidiol (CBD) as an effective alternative-cancer-treatment to help increase longevity while bringing much needed comfort to their beloved family pets.
CBD & Lymphoma – Pioneering Breakthrough Therapies
Lymphoma CBD Treatment
Conventional veterinary medicine has traditionally treated canine lymphoma with chemotherapy, surgery or radiation. But there is a new medicine that is now being touted as the next best cancer fighter for dogs with lymphoma — Cannabidiol.
There is mounting evidence that cannabinoids (THC and CBD) may represent a new class of anti-cancer drugs that retard cancer growth, inhibit angiogenesis and stall the metastatic spreading of cancer cells in dogs. A growing number of pet guardians are actively sourcing cannabis and hemp oil extracts to alleviate pain in their companion animals, and there are companies legally selling a form of CBD from industrial hemp.
Research shows that cannabidiol (CBD), a potent antitumoral compound, acts synergistically with various anti-cancer pharmaceuticals, enhancing their impact while cutting the toxic dosage necessary for maximum effect. While conventional chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic and indiscriminately damage cells in the body and brain; by contrast, THC slows tumor growth in certain cancers by significantly reducing the ability of cancer to spread. THC selectively targets and destroys tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed.
Cannabis Oil For Lymphoma
Cannabinoids have been known to exert palliative effects in human cancer patients to increase appetite and alleviate pain. But when it comes to canine cancer patients, pet parents are also using cannabis for palliative or End-of-Life care for their pets to ease their pain and discomfort. At the end of their lives, animals tend to withdraw and quietly pass away, but cannabis products help them regain their appetite, increase their energy and restore their personality.
However, CBD is more than just an end-of-life mitigation for symptom relief. Research also shows that cannabinoids can induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells. Cannabinoids are effective not only for cancer-symptom management (nausea, pain, loss of appetite, fatigue), they also confer a direct anti-tumoral, anti-cancer drug effect.
There are real-life examples where a dog’s life has been extended by months and years and in some instances there’s been a complete reversal of tumors with clinical evidence showing no signs of cancer using only cannabis extracts as sole therapy. In laboratory models, cannabis oil containing both THC and CBD have been demonstrated to induce apoptosis in leukemic cell lines. Empirical evidence shows that dogs treated with cannabis demonstrate a faster healing rate with tumor size reduction within a very short time–sometimes just weeks–with very small dosage quantities of these natural plant phytonutrients.
CBD Oil Dog Lymphoma
Within the medical science community, the discovery that cannabinoids have anti-tumoral, anti-inflammatory properties is increasingly recognized as a fundamental advancement in cancer therapeutics. CBD is fast becoming accepted as an effective alternative cancer treatment with a better ‘safety profile’ than conventional cancer drugs for the treatment of canine lymphoma.
The therapeutic potential of cannabis appears limitless, extending far beyond just relieving nausea or pain in terminally ill dogs. Backed by scientific research, plant-based cannabis therapies can target multiple clinical conditions including pain, seizures, inflammation and cancer, thereby making the phyto-chemical properties of CBD a viable, cost effective, safe alternative cancer treatment.
Most importantly, evidence shows that used in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents, cannabinoids may produce a more potent clinical outcome for your dog, without toxic complications or future lymphoma recurrence.
CBD Oil Tumors
CBD works as an anti-inflammatory at the cellular level by effecting the production of TNFa (Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha). TNFa is a cell signaling protein (cytokine) that’s involved in systemic inflammation & is the primary activator of acute-phase cellular response reaction. The primary role of TNFa is the regulation of immune cells to produce fever, apoptosis (cell death) and inflammation associated with tumorigenesis. CBD (whole plant extract, not isolates) suppresses TNFα production and reduces swelling from fluid accumulation.
Lymphoma In Dogs – A Treatment Summary
As is the case with all cancers, the scientific community hasn’t yet figured out the exact combination of “triggers” that create lymphoma in dogs. Though the immune system is implicated in the many forms of this disease, there are clearly dietary measures and home-environmental remedies pet parents can institute to help prevent lymphoma by reducing their dog’s exposure to known carcinogenic compounds.
We all know that current veterinary cancer treatment options are expensive and aren’t all that effective. The best cure for cancer is to just not get it in the first place. No matter what medical interventions are available now or in the future — the best cure for cancer is prevention. Cancer occurs when carcinogens damage DNA, which then waits for just the right opportunity to create cancerous cells. The good news is your dog’s body has a built-in genetic mechanism to kill cancer cells. However, exposure to toxins and viruses can damage that gene expression and limit its ability to protect the body from the onset & spread of cancerous cells.
Happily, there are easy, actionable steps and daily nutritional supplements you can give your dog to prevent cancer. New scientific evidence indicates that adding cannabidiol (CBD) to your dog’s daily routine is an effective way to prevent inflammation as well as treat your dog with lymphoma. Though research is still needed on the benefits and potential risks of cannabis extracts for dogs, the future for a more natural, less toxic treatment option with better medical outcomes for canine lymphoma is not on the horizon–it’s here NOW!