The word “cancer” is likely to trigger a slew of unpleasant reactions, deepening in unpleasantness as the term comes closer to describing your loved one’s current health diagnosis. Whether your loved one is a person or a pet, the options for treating cancer can seem overwhelming, especially when the other scary “c” word, “chemotherapy,” is thrown into the mix. First, it is important to understand your pet’s precise diagnosis, e.g., tumor size/location and its likelihood to spread, which your veterinarian can obtain through a physical exam, blood work, and imaging. Then, you can start to explore all the treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, or both. If chemotherapy becomes a viable option, hopefully the information below offers you a brief overview of what this means for your loved one.
With humans, the goal is to suffer through chemotherapy for a positive end result: a cancer-free life. When chemotherapy for dogs and cats is prescribed, the goal is to provide the best quality of life to your pet during and after treatment. Animals can lead happy lives years after a cancer diagnosis, regularly receiving chemotherapy. Administering chemo can take place intravenously over the course of a few hours, orally (a pill the veterinarian or you safely administer), or as an injection, similar to a vaccination shot.
More often than not (and perhaps surprisingly), chemotherapy’s side effects are minimal in pets, even if they seem daunting in humans. If side effects appear, they often arrive three to five days after treatment and last for one or two days. These side effects generally include vomiting, diarrhea, and/or appetite loss. Prescribed gastrointestinal medications can diminish these effects quickly. Chemo for dogs, especially Yorkshire Terriers, Old English Sheepdogs, and other canine types on the furrier side, may result in noticeable fur loss. Yet, generally speaking, fur loss is rare.
Unfortunately, a more serious side effect does exist. Since chemotherapeutic medicine has a toxic effect, it can destroy both cancer cells and healthy cells. As a result, your pet faces the possible risk of a temporary low white blood cell count. This situation can surface about a week after treatment and last for only a day or two, as cells regenerate rapidly. On the plus side, a low count might not affect your pet in any way. However, because a low white blood cell count can make your pet ripe for infection and, consequently, require hospitalization with antibiotics, it is vital to check your pet for the following symptoms: a fever, tiredness, or a loss of appetite.
How long your pet needs chemotherapy depends on the diagnosis and reaction to treatment. An animal might receive one round of chemotherapy treatment and be cancer free (recurrence of cancer down the line is still possible). Another animal might need ongoing treatment for the rest of its life. Different drugs may be used, depending on the drug’s effectiveness in attacking cancer cells over time. Also a factor in how long chemotherapy is administered is your financial situation. This is an unfortunate but realistic factor, resulting in a necessary conversation between you and your pet’s healthcare providers and insurers.
What is your role during the chemotherapy treatment?
The above details simply offer an overview. The veterinarian can provide specifics that deal directly with your pet’s situation. Above all else, it is imperative for you to remain optimistic and forward-thinking, do diligent research, and spend time with your pet as you always have. There is no reason for you to alter your behavior toward your pet or change any of your routines. As you have read above, both “c” words do not automatically mean the end of your relationship with your beloved friend.