Chemotherapy in Pets is Not as Scary as It Sounds

Dogs and cats respond very well to chemotherapy.

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Delivering the news that a beloved pet has cancer is never easy.  Thankfully, pet parents have many more treatment options available today than they did before — surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.  Depending on the type of cancer and how early it is caught, prognosis tends to be very favorable, allowing more quality time with your pet. I have many patients that have lived many months and even years beyond normal expectations.  

Chemotherapy is by far the most frequently used and recommended treatment option to control or eliminate a pet’s cancer, prolong survival and maintain a good or even excellent quality of life.  Chemotherapy drugs are compounds that are toxic to cancer cells, which multiply very rapidly. Most chemotherapy drugs work by damaging the ability of cancer cells to divide and replicate. Therefore, the goal of conventional chemotherapy is to slow cancer cell growth and to kill the cancer cells.  The period of time when the cancer is controlled is referred to as a remission time, which varies with different types of cancer and treatment options.  

Often times when we think of chemotherapy in humans we imagine the worst of side effects — hair loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bruising, bleeding, trouble breathing, etc.  However, chemotherapy in pets reacts very differently with the majority of pets showing no side effects. In fact, 80% of pets have no side effects. Fifteen to 20% will have mild to moderate side effects — nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mild hair loss in dogs (limited to dog breeds with constantly growing hair such as poodles), cats do not experience hair loss but often lose their whiskers — but the side effects only last a few days and will improve on their own. Cats tend to tolerate chemotherapy better than dogs, and both dogs and cats handle chemotherapy better than people.  Pet parents are often amazed at how much happier and healthier their pets are while undergoing chemotherapy. For those pets that experience some of the side effects there are effective medications to minimize any side effects that do happen, and they help your pet get through the side effects more quickly. Your pet will also receive many supplements to help boost his or her system during therapy.  

Remember, chemotherapy would not be used if the potential benefits of killing cancer cells did not outweigh the possible side effects. Again, most pets tolerate chemotherapy extremely well. Your pet is quite likely to have normal activity and energy and continue his or her routine better with chemotherapy treatment than without. 

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