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Chemotherapy Offers Hope for Families of Companion Pets with Cancer

Advances in veterinary cancer treatments are made every day, and many types of cancer are treatable, and at the very least, manageable. Dogs and cats with cancer are living months or even years longer than they would have if they were diagnosed just a few years ago.

The best outcomes for pets with cancer typically involve a variety of treatment approaches. Depending on the type of cancer and the degree to which it has spread, your options may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery or a combination of therapies.

You will find that many of the therapies used to treat veterinary patients are being used as primary treatments for humans; however, the goals are very different. In human medicine, the goal is to cure the cancer. In animals, treatment often focuses on maximizing quality of life, relieving the clinical signs secondary to cancer, and minimizing side effects of treatment.  Fortunately, the protocols for cancer treatment in pets are designed to get the maximum benefit with minimal side effects.

Chemotherapy is the mainstay for the management of many types of cancer in pets, offering families hope and potentially more quality years with their loved one. Since human chemotherapy medications are being used to treat veterinary patients, veterinary oncologists adjust the doses and take care to limit therapy to one or two drugs at a time. This strategy decreases the risk of side effects but is still adequate to get a response to the treatment.

As much as oncologists try to minimize side effects, bone marrow suppression and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, are possible. If this occurs, the chemotherapy dose can be reduced to prevent further side effects. Hair loss is rare and only occurs in certain breeds. Cats and dogs may lose whiskers during chemotherapy, but as soon as treatment is completed, the whiskers will regrow.

The chance that patients receiving chemotherapy will require hospitalization due to severe side effects is low. Side effects usually start two-three days after chemotherapy begins and may last from one to three days, persisting longer in some patients. Every patient reacts differently to treatment, and the oncology team works diligently to prevent side effects. The primary goal is always to preserve quality of life.

Veterinary oncologists and oncology technicians strive to minimize stress for patients during chemotherapy visits. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center avoids sedation whenever possible, and technicians use soft blankets and treats to distract patients during chemotherapy treatment.

How and where treatment is given depends upon the type of cancer and which drugs are used. Some chemotherapy medications can be delivered in pill form at home, while others are administered as brief injections or intravenous infusions. In most cases, treatment is repeated weekly to every third week on an outpatient basis.

We recognize that the thought of undertaking chemotherapy treatment in your pet can be overwhelming. Our oncology team will be there to guide you and your family through this process ensuring that you are informed and supported every step of the way. There is not just one approach that works best, and we will discuss the specific treatment options to you, and the implications of each to help guide you in your treatment journey.

Although cancer affects our four-legged friends, recent and ongoing advancements give families, hope that their pets will continue to enjoy long and healthy lives.  Our goal, like yours, is to achieve the best quality of life and outcome for your furry friend.