Chemotherapy for dogs

Question:

My dog was diagnosed with cancer. Can chemotherapy really help, or will it make my dog sicker?

Answer:

Chemotherapy can help in many cases. Sadly, an increasing number of dogs are being diagnosed with cancer each day.

The good news is that many forms of cancer can be successfully managed with chemotherapy, often without making your dog sicker.

When considering chemotherapy for your dog, the first step is to have an in-depth conversation with your veterinarian. He or she can help you better understand your dog’s disease, discuss the treatment options and give details and statistics about the typical outcomes. In some cases, your veterinarian will refer you to an oncologist.

Veterinary oncologists look at cancer as a manageable chronic disease rather than a death sentence. Chemotherapy is just one of several treatment options for this disease – others include radiation therapy and alternative medicine. Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the word chemotherapy. We hear many stories about people with cancer and the horrible side effects. We see them lose their hair and become weak and sick. As dog lovers, we cannot imagine putting our beloved companions through that kind of suffering.

However, there is hope. Luckily, chemotherapy does not typically affect dogs the way it affects people. Your dog will not likely go bald – though her hair might thin out a bit. Gastrointestinal side effects are less common. If they do occur, they tend to be milder. Weight loss is often the result of something called cancer cachexia – basically it is the disease and not the treatment that causes a progressive loss of fat and skeletal muscle. Chemotherapy can help slow this process. Overall, chemotherapy can make your dog feel better. Many dogs will perk up as soon as treatment begins – leaving their dog owners thrilled to see the puppies in them come out!

Part of the reason dogs do better with chemotherapy is because of the way veterinarians approach the treatment of cancer. Remember, cancer is usually considered to be a manageable disease. The ultimate goal is quality of life – not quantity. Fortunately, chemotherapy can often extend your dog’s life. However, the primary goal remains the same – to keep your dog feeling happy and healthy. If your dog experiences side effects after a chemotherapy treatment, your veterinarian will likely adjust the dose or change drug protocols when it is time for the next treatment. Realistically, not all dogs do well with chemotherapy, but remember that you can choose to stop treatments at any time if you think your dog is not handling it well.

Key points to remember throughout the process:

    • Communicate closely with your veterinarian during your dog’s treatment, making sure you thoroughly understand your dog’s disease.
    • Report any changes in your dog, no matter how minor they may seem.
    • Comply with your veterinarian’s recommendations, or discuss making changes to the treatment plan. Do not make changes to the plan without first consulting your vet.
    • If you are seeing multiple vets (i.e. a primary vet, a holistic vet and an oncologist), be certain they know about one another and all are “in the loop” about all aspects of your dog’s condition and treatment.

Think about giving chemotherapy a chance – you may be pleased with the results. Also consider adjunctive therapies through holistic care and alternative medicine to help manage your dog’s cancer. May your dog be happy and healthy!