Dog leukemia or canine leukemia is a specific type of blood cancer that interferes with the normal growth of white blood cells, or leukocytes. The spleen and the bone marrow produce the leukocytes. When the cells grow out of control, the animal's immune system fails to work properly leaving it susceptible to contracting an infection or disease.
Acute lymphoid leukemia develops suddenly in the dog's bone marrow and spreads through the blood to various parts of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, liver, bone, spleen, and lymph nodes. With chronic lymphoid leukemia, the disease continues over a long period. This form of the cancer impairs production of cells necessary to battle allergies, infections, and inflammation.
Most of the symptoms associated with dog leukemia are non-specific. They are similar to those seen with several different systemic diseases, so pet owners must rely on a proper diagnosis by a qualified veterinarian. General symptoms may include fatigue, nausea, weakness, weight loss, and diarrhea.
Veterinarians typically diagnose dog leukemia through a series of tests. These include a urinalysis and a complete blood profile with a blood count and chemical analysis. The vet will perform a bone marrow biopsy to inspect the cells under a microscope and determine if they are malignant. Sometimes abdominal x-rays will reveal an enlarged spleen, liver, or both.
Many dogs with this canine lukemia can effectively receive outpatient treatment. The vet will prescribe a chemotherapeutic medication for the owner to administer to the pet. In severe cases, dogs with insufficient platelets or other blood clotting substances must receive blood transfusions in a hospital to eliminate the risk of excessive bleeding. These animals often need to receive antibiotics and intravenous fluid therapy. Nutritional support is also available if the dog has gone several days without eating.
Veterinarians will employ aggressive therapy with acute cases in an attempt to restore normal blood cell growth. Surgery will not treat the condition. This leaves chemotherapy as the only effective option. Treatment for a chronic condition is only necessary if the animal has an overabundance of leukocytes or if it is anemic.
After diagnosis, dogs with this condition should be kept isolated because they are at risk of contracting diseases and prone to infection. Chemotherapy affects white blood cells, red blood cells, and blood platelets. A lack of sufficient red blood cells is a condition called anemia. Blood platelets play a crucial role in coagulation. Low platelet counts make a dog susceptible to hemorrhage and bruising.
Chronic cases are typically seen in older dogs. Middle-aged dogs, approximately six years old, are more likely to suffer with an acute form of the disease. Dogs of any age, however, are at risk of contracting the disease.
Dog leukemia is a disease that veterinarians are able to manage and treat even though there is no known cure. Goals for treatment are to eliminate cancerous cells and restore normal bone marrow function. Some animals will go into remission, which means there is a temporary absence of or reduction in signs of the disease.
There are also many natural remedies to prevent and control dog leukemia. Some are derived from the aloe vera plant - acemannan contained in the aloe vera plant has been shown to help improve the animal's immune system and help cope with canine leukemia symptoms.
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