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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Signs of Dog Lymph Node Cancer

Updated: May 15th, 2024

Many find a bump or a lump on their canine companion at home.  The first question is usually, “what is this?” Sometimes the second question is, “Is it a gland or a lymph node?”

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These are good questions.  The reason is that glands, or lymph nodes, become swollen for different reasons.  Like in people, infection can do it.  Many recall the phrase “swollen glands” from childhood illness like strep throat or a bad upper respiratory infection.

However, there are other causes of swollen lymph nodes that need attention.  One of these is cancer of the lymphatic system, called lymphosarcoma, or lymphoma.

Like an infection, this cancer may cause swollen lymph nodes.  But, instead of a normal response to an infection, this is an abnormal condition.  There is no infection but the lymph nodes are swollen.  In this case, the reason for the size increase is cancer cells.

So, where are the lymph nodes in dogs that one can feel at home?

There are several areas that can be checked:

  • Under the lower jaw where the jaw connects with the neck area
  • In front of the shoulder area
  • In the hamstring area (back of the thigh)
  • In the armpit
  • In the groin area where the inner thigh connects with the abdominal region

If you find a large swelling in this area, bring your dog in to the vet without delay.  The swelling can be tested in many cases with a simple procedure called a fine needle aspirate.  This takes only a few minutes and is quite strait-forward.

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Using this procedure, it is simple in most cases to determine if their are cancerous cells in the lymph node.

This is one of the Hard to Cure cancers discussed in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.  One of the reasons that lymphosarcoma is hard to cure is that it cannot be removed with surgery.

This cancer starts in the circulation, in a special portion of the circulation called the lymphatic system.  The lymphatics are small vessels that deliver a fluid called lymph throughout the body.  Lymph contains white blood cells, which most commonly serve to fight infection. These cells are called lymphocytes.

The lymph fluid is filtered in glands called lymph nodes.

When a dog has lymphosarcoma, it means that the normal cells in the lymphatic system, the lymphocytes, have become cancerous.

These cells flow throughout the body just like normal lymphocytes.

For this reason, we cannot remove them surgically.  They are mobile when they become cancer cells, and we cannot target a single area to remove them since they are in motion.

When the numbers of cancerous lymphocytes increase, they form swellings. One of the most common areas that these cancer cells accumulate are in the normal lymph nodes themselves, increasing the size of these normal structures.

The Full Spectrum approach to dealing with dog cancer that I use for my patients includes the following steps:

  1. Diet change (click on the Dog Cancer Diet download above for a detailed document)
  2. Chemotherapy (best done under the supervision of an oncologist)
  3. Apocaps, the supplement I designed for my patients
  4. Other supplements or herbs (discussed in the Guide)
  5. Reduction of stress, increase social activity, build self esteem (these have real life, documented impact in human cancer survival times)
  6. Touch therapies (gentle massage, T-Touch, etc)
  7. Acupuncture for discomfort when appropriate
  8. Insure at least 8-9 hours of sleep in total darkness
  9. Consideration of homeopathy by a qualified veterinary practitioner
  10. Improve life quality by defining your dog’s Joys in Life and increasing them

This is a rough outline of how to use many different steps, each that gives us an edge in fighting dog cancer. Start from the top and work your way down.  There are many blog posts in this site that discuss the bulk of these steps (use the search bar on the right of this page above the picture of the hand holding the capsule).


When they are all used at the same time, real increases in life quality and lifespan can result.


Dr D


Leave a Comment

  1. Amanda Parsons on November 6, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    Our 13 year old lab mix we adopted just over a year ago was euthanized earlier today. In the beginning of October, he began to have some breathing sounds that were different than normal. I also noticed that the lymph nodes in his neck were swollen. Oct 15th we took him in and the vet said cancer was very unlikely as both nodes were enlarged. We were sent home with Carprofin and his breathing became more labored and he would make choking/gagging and hacking sounds when and after eating and drinking. While laying down, his breathing sounded like a bad snore, yet he was wide awake.

    Bert still enjoyed his walks and playtime with doggie friends of all ages, but neither he nor I slept well due to the loud and erratic breathing and his inability to get comfortable, moving from his bed to the floor. He also began laying in the yard much more, while temps were in the 30’s and he would fall asleep in the grass.

    Nov. 1st I brought him back to the vet as the breathing was no longer acceptable and clearly something was happening. Bert had weighed 73 pounds on Oct. 15th and was now 3lbs less on Nov. 1st. Fine needle aspirations were priority rushed to the lab my vet uses, for a hefty fee and the next business day, Monday Nov. 4th, the vet called to say that the lab could not determine as there was too much blood and not enough lymphatic cells. So, another round of samples were taken, for another hefty fee as the lab was unwilling to give us a price break and the vet would not give me the name or number of the lab. There was also an upcharge to get a description of the findings, a further insult to injury.

    This morning, after a night of no sleep and a dog that was clearly having issues breathing and still no definitive results, I made the decision to euthanize as my fear was that he could suffocate or the like in the evening or weekend when the nearest vet to provide assistance was 25 miles away or that Bert would go into distress while we were away from home.

    At 2:15 this afternoon I said a tearful goodbye, with one last check as the status of the test results which were listed as still in progress. The vet, not our usual one at the office felt both lymph nodes and looked at me and said “you made the best decision, I am pretty sure that it is a cancer in the lymph nodes.”

    We will await the results and cherish our memories of sweet Bert. We will also advocate for more options to diagnosing cancers, better sample collections and more compassionate lab companies (leadership and employees).

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on November 8, 2019 at 7:45 am

      Hello Amanda,

      Thanks for writing, and for sharing your’s and Bert’s journey with us. You have our most heartfelt condolences.

      Sending you warm wishes and prayers <3

  2. caroline schaan on March 17, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    ive got an 11 almost english springer spaineil that has 2 lumps. waitting for vet to call on thurs. pm they had said something about lymph node or saccoma cancer. he has 2 lumps. 1 near the adrenal gland the other 1 by the adams apple.i ll not do chemo. is there anything i can do naturally. he’s on kangroo foood. tats that are from dr. fosters &jeffers pet. he gets filtered water.hemp treats also.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on March 18, 2019 at 6:35 am

      Hey Caroline,

      Thanks for writing. As Dr. Dressler writes in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there are a number of things that you can do to help your dog with cancer– Conventional Treatments (Surgery, chemo, radiation), Nutraceuticals, Immune System Boosters and anti-metastatics, diet, and brain chemistry modifications. This is what Dr. D calls the Full Spectrum Approach 🙂

  3. Lynn on April 14, 2018 at 1:36 am

    Just found nodule-small lumps under my 7 mos old pup’s ear…left side.

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  5. Mary Squires on June 9, 2016 at 3:02 am

    Hi, my 2 year old Golden Retriever Sammy started vomiting, diorrhea, loss of appetite and fluids and lost 4 kgs quickly. I took him to vet and he got put on a drip for fluids and antibiotics. By the Saturdah he wasn’t better so vet opened him up expecting to find his stomache turned in on itself or obstruction but the vet found 2 extremely enlarged lymph nodes in stomache (10x or more the normal size). The vet said it could be caused from infection (that Sammy doesn’t appear to have) or possibly lymphoma. He took a biopsy and sent it away so we are just waiting for results but I’m wondering if anyone has had something similar happen and what it could be caused from? I am hoping, praying and wishing that my boy does not have lymphoma. Appreciate any information/advise 🙂 Thank you

  6. Timothy on March 21, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Hi! I have a Pomeranian that we think is about 10 ish years old. About a week ago she was sick and layed in bed for almost 4 days. She’s fine now but there is one HUGE lump in front of her throat. Since I have been gone for 3 year my family said that happened when I was gone but went away eventually. It’s been almost a week and the lump is still there. She is, however, in no pain or discomfort at all from it. I will be taking her to the vet eventually but before I do any suggestions?

  7. Susan Kazara Harper on June 16, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Ann, I recommend taking the collar or chain off if you can, as there are lymph node problems in that area. I’ll bet Pearl wouldn’t have any problem without them. It’s up to her whether these are her precious end days now or not, but it sounds as if you’re working with your vet to get all the information you can. Ger her nutrition as optimal as possible, following the Dog Cancer Diet (from the bok, or www/ so she has some good fuel in her body to help her fight. If she has difficulty breathing it can be really tough on both of you. Talk with her, ask her what she wants and she will tell you in your heart. Good luck, and cuddles to that wonderful girl.

  8. Ann Corbett on June 6, 2015 at 10:18 am

    My dog Pearl is 13, she has cancer in the lymph nodes, an xray was done today, her breathing was heavier, the vets said she was not getting enough air, one side of xrays all white, by the heart, she was put on prednisone, and her breathing is normal again. Vet was not sure if it was fluid or something else. Are these her final days! She had what seems like a bit of a gage at times, like when chain is pulled wrong on them. There are lumps under her neck and all over, the vet said that she could not hear the breathing, that is why she took the xray,

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