Canine Leukemia

Routine examinations and blood tests are sometimes the first indicators of canine leukemia.
Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Your dog may show symptoms that alert you and your vet to the possibility of leukemia, but sometimes dogs with no symptoms are diagnosed by chance when a routine blood test is performed. The type of leukemia a dog has -- chronic or acute -- determines his prognosis and how successful treatment will be.


Canine leukemia can affect specific cells in a dog's blood, wreaking havoc on his bone marrow, platelets and white blood cells. The disease is typically determined to be one of two types: chronic and acute. Chronic leukemia is usually seen in older dogs and is highly treatable, with many dogs living without treatment for the first year or two after being diagnosed. Acute leukemia is more aggressive, though, spreading quickly through the blood to affect organs and causing anemia.


While some dogs live for years with chronic leukemia without showing any outward signs of having the disease, some nonspecific symptoms are associated with both chronic and acute canine leukemia. Weight loss, decreased appetite, fatigue and sometimes noticeable limping are symptoms of leukemia. If your pup shows any of these signs, have your vet examine him. She may discover that his liver and spleen are enlarged and will likely order blood tests to confirm the presence of leukemia.


Canine leukemia can be cell-specific, but the bottom line is that it is cancer and needs to be treated as such. Acute leukemia requires aggressive treatment with chemotherapy and steroids. Chronic leukemia is a slower-moving disease. If your dog is diagnosed with the chronic type, your vet may chose not to treat him immediately. The typical protocol is to monitor your dog's blood, taking samples every two or three months, and administering treatment only if the number of cancer cells in your dog's blood increases or if he starts showing symptoms of the disease.


Cancer in general is a devastating disease, but your dog's prognosis is better if he develops the chronic form of canine leukemia instead of acute leukemia. The acute form is very aggressive and, even with treatment, only about 30 percent of dogs will survive and go into remission. Chronic leukemia, on the other hand, doesn't entirely take over the bone marrow and blood. Many times dogs with chronic leukemia have regular red blood cell and platelet counts, and they remain fairly healthy without treatment. Even if your dog has chronic leukemia and requires treatment, he could live for 2 years or more after diagnosis.