Canine Leukemia Defined


"Canine leukemia defined as cancer of the white blood cells in the bone marrow (vs. lymphoma that comes from tissues outside the bone marrow, such as lymph nodes or the spleen). There are several types canine leukemia, defined by the types of cells that are affected (neutrophil, lymphocytes, eosinophils, monocytes, and basophils).

Since white blood cells defend the body against disease, a decline in their number can quickly affect the health of your dog.


There are two types of canine leukemia:

Acute - When 30% or more of the white blood cells in the bone marrow are cancerous. Dogs with this type of leukemia usually live for several days to several weeks.

Chronic (CLL) - Cancer cells in the bone marrow are a mix of normal and cancerous cells. As long as there are enough normal cells, your dog may avoid treatment and live an expected lifespan from months to years. There are several types of chronic canine leukemia defined as:

  • Granulocytic (neutrophil)canine leukemia
  • Lymphobastic canine leukemia
  • Eosinophilic canine leukemia
  • Lymphoid canine leukemia

As the immune system fails, cancerous cells are allowed to spread to other parts of your dog. It starts in the bone marrow and then moves to the blood which carries it to the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and other organs.

Canine Leukemia Symptoms

Symptoms of canine leukemia include loss of appetite, weight loss, tiredness and a limp. Your veterinarian will also look for enlargement in the lymph nodes, spleen or liver.

Other symptoms include increased drinking, more urination, bleeding disorders and pale gums.

Diagnosis of Canine Leukemia

Canine Leukemia is diagnosed with a blood test and a bone marrow biopsy. An analysis of white blood cells determines the type of leukemia present.

Canine Leukemia Treatment

Acute leukemia is treated with chemotherapy, although it isn't effective at extending the life of your dog for a long period of time.

Treatment for chronic leukemia tends to result in a good prognosis. Your dog might not be treated if there are no symptoms present. Your veterinarian will monitor your dog's health and only start treatment if there is a change in their condition. The reason for this approach is that in chronic leukemia there is a mix of normal and cancerous cells. As long as there are enough normal cells, only monitoring is called for. Treatment reduces the number of "irregular" white blood cells. When this level falls beneath a certain threshold, the cancer goes into remission. When levels rise additional treatment is needed.

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