Chemo and radiation for dogs?

Question:

My 7-year-old Lab was diagnosed with cancer and my vet says chemo and radiation is a possibility. I want to keep her around for as long as possible but that sort of treatment for a dog seems cruel. Is chemo/radiation as uncomfortable for dogs as it is for humans and would you ever recommend it?

Answer:

Specific recommendations regarding cancer therapy vary based on the specific type of cancer affecting a pet, but generally speaking, chemotherapy and radiation play important roles in cancer therapy and increasing survival time. The veterinary appoach to cancer treatment emphasizes maintaining a good quality of life.

Chemotherapy is generally well tolerated by animal patients, and most side effects are mild enough to manage on an out-patient basis. Veterinarians use lower doses of drugs, with the goal of achieving a durable remission without causing the discomfort many human patients experience. Since we don’t expect our patients to live 20 years plus after diagnosis, we don’t as aggressively pursue a “cure” of cancer.

While it may entail significant time and financial commitment, cancer therapy shouldn’t be considered “cruel.” Consultation with a veterinary oncologist (cancer specialist) can provide more information regarding what to expect with specific treatment protocols.

– Anne MacFarlane, DVM