Lymphoma in Pets

By Vanessa Vandersande DVM

In my opinion, cancer is the plague of this generation. I know few who have not been touched by cancer’s icy claws. Personally, I have lost both a dog and cat to cancer and both times it was lymphoma. In the past several months at Copper Hill Animal Clinic we said goodbye to two special pets under the age of seven who lost their fight to lymphoma and both times we were all angered and bereft at a disease that would take the young as easily as the old.

What is this horrible disease that kills with such relentless impunity? Lymphoma is a common cancer in both animals and humans so I think a discussion of lymphoma helps us to know and recognize our enemy.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. This system is a network of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes which serve as processing centers where foreign substances are presented to the cells of the immune system. Once presented, the immune system can mount a response to the foreign substance. Cancer occurs when a normal cell goes wrong and it begins to divide quickly and without control. It is a cell behaving badly, like a person who takes up too much room on a shared armrest in the airplane. Only this person is exceptionally rude and ends up sitting in your seat as well as taking up your armrest. The spread of cancer cells to other areas, like the rude person into your seat, is called metastasis.

As the cancer cells spread, the lymph nodes harden and swell. Further spread of the cancer cells affect the bone marrow, destroy the immune system, and the patient will die from weakness and an inability to fight off even the mildest of infections. With no treatment at all, most pets will live no more than 4-8 weeks after diagnosis of lymphoma. This is a staggering statistic. We do not know what causes many kinds of cancer and it is important to remember that many times there is nothing an owner could have done to prevent the disease. Things like chemicals in our environment and genetic factors play a role. Badly behaving cells arise in a pets body all the time and most of the time they are able destroy these cells before they get out of hand. Sometimes these cancer cells escape our natural safeguard mechanisms, allowing the young cancer to develop.

If you fear your pet may have cancer, the best thing to do is to attack the problem as quickly as possible. At Copper Hill Animal Clinic, every single one of our doctors has had or currently has a pet with cancer. We understand this fight and we can help you through it, no matter what route you choose.