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LIVING WITH: Lymphoma by Georgia Burton

Getting a cancer diagnosis is absolutely devastating news for any dog owner. It's true to say that early detection can get your dog as comfortable as possible and on the right path of treatment. So what should you look out for? Bulldogs are famous for hiding their pain - it is a very well known, stoic and soldier-like Bulldog trait "Nothing to see here! I'm fine! Move along please!" But that does not mean he is not suffering or in pain. Learn to know what is normal for your dog and if and when that changes, act quickly to rule out anything acute or serious. Signs include: a change in energy levels either lethargy or restlessness; change in appetite particularly refusing to eat; sudden weight loss; change in drinking habits; changes in breathing; behaving in an odd or strange way; wees and poos should all be what you know to be "normal" for your dog ie colour, smell, consistency and finally, it's a really good idea to get to know what your dog's normal membrane colour is - meaning gums and tissue around the eyes. Paler than normal gums could indicate shock or a bleed somewhere internally. Watch him closely for lumps and bumps, swellings or bleeding. It's always handy to keep a digital thermometer (clearly marked "for the dog" for obvious reasons!). Thermometers should be inserted straight then tilted 45 degrees ish to either side so that the tip is touching the inside of your dog's back passage and not into any faecal matter. Normal temperature is around 38 degrees. Thermometers are super handy to keep indoors, especially if you ever find yourself treating your dog for heat exhaustion in the summer months. They are a good indicator of health for you to tell your vet when you call with your concerns. 

 
Lymphoma is a blood cancer and most commonly presents as enlarged lymph nodes but can also show as lumps in the skin or internally in the stomach and spleen or bone marrow. Nodes can appear to suddenly come up overnight.  Lymphoma affects middle aged to older dogs typically and is sadly a common cancer in dogs, affecting all breeds. The most common type is multicentric and affects strings of lymph nodes throughout the body, under the jaw, in the neck, down the chest, in the armpits behind the front legs, the groin area or the "popliteal" glands which are behind the knees on the back legs - these are really easy to feel in our breed when enlarged. Other symptoms include lack of appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, weakness, skin ulcers and difficulty breathing.
 
You must seek veterinary advice as soon as possible if you feel enlarged lymph nodes. Your vet will likely want to take fine needle aspirates (FNA) and send these off to a lab for analysis. In our experience, lymphoma can be very aggressive or a slower burning cancer, both progressive and both sadly incurable. Once your vet has a confirmed diagnosis, he or she will then talk you through treatments, including a discussion about chemotherapy. Two friends and fellow volunteers, have recently lost their own dog to lymphoma, they made the decision to go ahead with chemotherapy. He did exceptionally well and went on to live over 12 months with them. My family also said goodbye to our girl Molly 2 years ago, she had the very aggressive version and we did not opt for chemotherapy, instead we kept her comfortable with high doses of steroids and CBD oil - she should have succumbed to her cancer within a couple of weeks and we got 10 weeks with her. She was very well and happy until 4 or 5 hours before she died, refusing food for the first time in her life and we knew that it was then time for her.   
In Rescue we generally do not opt for referral medicine as it is very, very costly, there is also an argument that some dogs won't cope with intensive, exhausting treatment like chemo other views may include a concern that dogs "don't understand" or discussions about whether it is fair to put them through it. Ultimately, chemotherapy is not a cure and will only put your dog into remission BUT it's entirely down to personal choice and exploring the options with your vet and the rest of your family at this point is very much the right thing to do. If a suggested treatment buys you a whole year or more with your best friend then we can totally see why owners might choose this path. There are relatively high rates for survival to 12 months for this type of cancer treated with chemotherapy. You should ALWAYS be guided by your vet, but equally you should also know there are choices here and you should always go with your gut feeling too and be focused on what is best for your dog.  
Bulldog Rescue are always at the end of the phone to listen to you, offering help by discussing the options with a friendly and sympathetic ear, supporting you alongside your decisions, while you do the very best that you can for your beautiful friend. 
 
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