If you have just received the cancer diagnosis for your pet, then you may be in a state of shock, confusion, or both. The “c” word has a variety of emotions and perceptions attached to it. Before you jump down the rabbit hole of Internet research for “pet scan cancer” (a sadly common search), read below to understand the definition of cancer in pets and how chemotherapy works as a form of treatment for animals.

What Does Cancer Mean for Your Pet?

When your vet detects a tumor in your pet, oftentimes surgery is the first recommended course of action. After removal, the vet can then send the appropriate tissues to the laboratory for analysis of the cells to determine if the tumor is a single entity or has, or is, likely to spread to other areas of the body. If the cancer has spread or is likely to spread, that’s when the vet usually recommends chemotherapy. Despite the progress made in cures for cancer in humans, the chances of recovery in animal patients with cancer is unfortunately less hopeful. The goal of treatment is primarily to keep your pet comfortable and enjoy the highest quality of life for as long as possible.

How Chemotherapy Works in Animals

Depending on the type of cancer your pet has, your pet’s overall health, and your financial capabilities, you and your vet will determine an appropriate chemotherapy plan. You and your vet can alter this course depending on your pet’s reaction to the chemotherapy and other factors. Keep in mind that the cat and dog cancer treatment is not as aggressive as that of humans.

More often than not, you have to take your pet into the vet’s office for chemotherapy treatments. Your vet is likely to administer the chemo as an injection, similar to a vaccination. Other times, the vet administers the chemo under the skin, into the stomach, or directly into the tumor. On occasion, the chemo may come in pill form, which you can administer to your pet at home.

Because chemo is a potent drug that kills both the good and the bad cells, your pet may experience unwanted side effects. These side effects are not as harrowing as those for humans undergoing chemo. Common side effects include the following:

  • A lower white blood cell count may mean increased risk for infection. Your vet should schedule frequent complete blood cell, or CBC, counts as a preventative measure.
  • An upset stomach with accompanying diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and a decreased appetite can occur immediately or several days after the chemo session. Generally, these symptoms disappear on their own, but if they do not or increase in severity, talk to your vet right away. A decreased appetite, for example, can lead to less water drinking and, ultimately, dehydration. The vet can prescribe certain medicines to help combat any symptoms, as needed.
  • Losing fur is not common in pets. The most common loss is of whiskers or guard hairs. Some dog breeds are susceptible, however, to more increased loss, including poodles and the Old English Sheepdog.

Ask Questions and Take Plenty of Notes

Right after your pet’s cancer diagnosis, it’s natural to be full of questions. Make a list and do not hesitate to ask your vet. Write down the details you need to know or ask for a copy of instructions. The above information is what to expect of most animals, but as you know, every animal is unique. If you live in or near the Somerset area, contact the Animal Medical Center at 814.443.6979 to talk to an experienced vet about the chemo treatments right for your loved one.