As a responsible pet owner, you are well aware of the fact that even with your devoted love, care and attention, your pet may still occasionally encounter illness or injury.  However, when you recognize that your pet isn’t feeling like their normal self and you bring them to the veterinarian for an examination, it can still be difficult to hear the diagnosis. This is especially true when the diagnosis is cancer. Fortunately, just as is the case with humans there are cancer treatment options for pets, including chemotherapy. When you understand how veterinary cancer care works, you can better decide which treatment option is best for your pet.

Pets and Chemotherapy

In order to determine whether chemotherapy is the best cancer treatment option for your pet, you must first understand what chemotherapy is. Chemotherapy consists of medical drugs that are designed to kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. It is usually recommended in cases where the animal’s cancer has already metastasized or spread to other areas of the body, or where it has a high potential to metastasize in the future. Prior to recommending chemotherapy, a veterinarian will consider the type of cancer the animal has, whether they have a single tumor on the skin or a broader problem, whether surgery is possible and what the animal’s overall health condition is. In some cases, surgery to remove the cancerous tumor is advisable, as this will allow the veterinarian to send the tissue to a laboratory so that a pathologist can examine the cells under a microscope and determine whether the cancer is likely to metastasize. If the cancer is determined to be “high grade” and likely to metastasize, this is where chemotherapy is most often recommended.

The exact medical drugs used for a specific animal’s chemotherapy treatment depends upon the type of cancer that animal has, as well as their overall health. Since some chemotherapy treatments may result in certain side effects, your veterinarian will want to select the treatment that works best for your pet’s specific needs while minimizing side effects. Where necessary, your veterinarian can change the type, dose or frequency of your pet’s chemotherapy drugs.

In most cases, chemotherapy is delivered to animals through injections that take about as long as vaccination shots. In some cases, chemotherapy is delivered orally either at the veterinary office or at home. There are also rare cases where chemotherapy is delivered intravenously over the course of several hours. While the vast majority of animals experience no unpleasant side effects as a result of receiving chemotherapy, there are some that do experience loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is exceedingly rare that an animal will experience more marked or lingering side effects, in which case you should have them seen by the veterinarian as soon as possible. These side effects are largely caused by the fact that chemotherapy drugs kill both normal and abnormal blood cells, which means their use results in a decrease in the numbers of white blood cells that help to fight off infection.

It’s important to recognize that chemotherapy goals for animals are different than chemotherapy goals for humans, and they are also a bit less aggressive. The primary focus of animal chemotherapy is to help the animal achieve the best possible quality of life. Your concerns as an owner, including your lifestyle with your pet and the cost of treatment, are also taken into account when determining the best possible treatment method. Your veterinarian can also help you to determine whether your pet insurance policy will cover your pet’s chemotherapy, and to what extent.

For more information about chemotherapy options for your pet, contact AMC today.