Colorado State Veterinary Hospital Develops Unique Test for Lymphoma in Dogs

Lymphoma, the second most common cancer in dogs, can be difficult to diagnose because they begin with nonspecific clinical signs like fatigue and lack of appetite. But a new test developed at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is helping veterinarians pinpoint the disease.

Many canine illnesses are also sometimes difficult to diagnose because one illness can mask the signs of a more serious problem.

"If the veterinarian can detect a big lymph node, the cancer isn’t hard to find," says Dr. Anne Avery, an investigator at Colorado State University in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "But if the mass is inside the chest or in the bone marrow, it can be difficult to get at."

Morris Animal Foundation funding helped Avery and her investigative team to develop a highly sensitive blood test that can detect lymphoma in dogs, even when clinical signs are not yet apparent.

Because of the study, Colorado State University’s veterinary medicine facility is home to the only lab in the country that performs this test. Every year, the university receives more than 1,000 canine blood and tissue samples from around the world for testing. Often, a veterinarian will send a sample for testing when a dog has enlarged lymph nodes, but the biopsy doesn’t clearly indicate cancer. Veterinarians may also test samples when a dog shows abnormally high calcium levels, which can indicate lymphoma hiding somewhere in a dog’s body.

"Our test helps to distinguish between a big lymph node due to infectious disease and one that’s caused by a tumor," said Avery.

An early, accurate lymphoma diagnosis can save owners the unnecessary expense of extensive diagnostic testing, and it also helps owners and veterinarians make better treatment decisions. Avery says that knowing a dog has lymphoma is particularly helpful when the dog is obviously sick. Once lymphoma is diagnosed, an owner can take the next step of deciding whether to pursue chemotherapy. In the case of dogs that appear otherwise healthy but test positive for lymphoma, the owner and veterinarian can monitor the dog and begin treatment as soon as it’s needed.

Better lymphoma testing for dogs is just the beginning. Based on the success of this study, Avery is now using funding from Morris Animal Foundation to develop a similar test for diagnosing lymphoma in cats.

Morris Animal Foundation funding co-sponsors for this study include private donors in memory of their pets as well as the Greyhound Project in honor of all search and rescue dogs. Cancer research funding is a priority for the organization, which depends on private donations.

Cancer is the number one natural cause of death for cats and dogs, and Morris Animal Foundation this year is funding 13 cancer studies for dogs and two for cats.