Cancer, chemo, and your pet.

By VanEastVet, on Friday, April 6th, 2018

Cancer is a scary word, no matter who you ask about it. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), cancer causes almost 50% of deaths in pets over the age of 10. But whether it be in human or animal, cancer is certainly not the death sentence it once was.

Of the two most common household pets, dogs tend to get cancer at a higher rate than cats. The cancer may be treatable depending on cancer type. Examples of cancers commonly found in pets that are also commonly found in humans are lymphoma, melanoma, and osteosarcoma. Cancer treatment options for dogs and cats are similar to those for humans. Surgery, radiationtherapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy are all considered and will usually result in less side effects in animals than in humans. Your Veterinarian will tailor treatment dosages to optimize efficacy and minimize side effects.

The ultimate goal of cancer treatments for pets is different than in humans, though. The goal in people is invariably time, and people can consent to the treatment they’re willing to endure. The goal for animals is for them to have a good quality of life. A pet’s owner and their vet can balance treatment with time gained to spend with their human family.

Unlike humans, 85 per cent of pets have no significant side effects from chemotherapy, something generally attributed to the lower dosage used.
When you think of chemo you think of people getting really sick – but in animals it can be very different. Generally, dogs and cats that receive chemotherapy feel normal the day they are given the drug! Perhaps 3 to 5 days later, an owner might report that their pet does not feel 100%. But within 24 to 48 hours, the pet is back to his or her normal self until the cycle continues with the next dose of drug.

However, every pet is different. A small percentage of pets are more sensitive to chemotherapy. Fortunately, the need to hospitalize pets due to chemotherapy-related side effects is uncommon, and some studies show that hospitalization is necessary in less than 10% of patients.

The side effect most commonly experienced in animals receiving chemotherapy are vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite can occur. In most cases it tends to happen 3-5 days after receiving chemotherapy and resolves within 1-2 days. To prevent a pet from experiencing significant nausea, anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications can be dispensed and taken as needed. All through the course of treatment, the pro’s and con’s are weighed and the quality of life is taken into account.

Unlike people receiving chemotherapy, hair loss in canine and feline patients is usually very minor. Cats may lose their whiskers, and long-haired cats may lose their outer coat. Dogs may develop mild hair thinning. Spots where hair is clipped for surgery or chemotherapy administration may grow back very slowly. Some breeds are more prone to hair-loss than others. For all pets, the hair that is lost will grow back after the course of chemotherapy has been completed.

Generally speaking, the risk to a person handling their pet that is receiving chemotherapy is very low. A change in lifestyle is unnecessary. Your pet can continue to sleep in your bed, do not need to be separated from other household pets, can continue to share a litter box, and eat their regular diet.

It is important for the owners of dogs and cats receiving chemotherapy to realize that some cancers treated cannot be cured. However, most cats and dogs receiving chemotherapy have an excellent quality of life both during and after treatment. It is often possible to provide many additional months, or sometimes even years, of happy life with chemotherapy. The vast majority of owners tell us that they have no regrets about their decision to pursue chemotherapy for their pet.

Here at Arbutus West Animal Clinic, we’re very happy to offer many forms of cancer treatments, including chemotherapy to our clients. With years of experience and a dedicated team, we’re ready to support you, and your beloved pet through the fight for their life.

For more information, inspiring survivor stories and to donate to research, check out the links below: