Chemotherapy Treatment for Dogs
- Dog Cancer Guide
For more information about signs of cancer, treatment options, alternative medicine as a treatment option, and dietary changes, check this out.
It’s never a good day to hear that someone you know has cancer, but have you ever really thought about what you would do if your vet sat you down and told you that your beloved dog has cancer, whether that be bone cancer, abdominal cancer, mammary cancer, etc.
The common answer is probably, “No, but I would probably let him live until he starts suffering, to which point I’ll have him humanely euthanized,” but would you ever think to put your dog through chemotherapy treatments or another form of cancer treatment in attempts to fight the cancer?
I used to be in the first group. I mean, although I’ve never really thought about it, I have just always assumed that my answer would be, “let him be until he starts to suffer," but after doing my research, I think that I would consider the chemotherapy route.
Anyway, I never realized that chemotherapy was an option for dog cancer, which led me to some research that I hope you will find helpful in you and your dog’s battle against dog cancer.
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for dog cancer because it is a means to help control cancer cells. The cancer cells keep dividing and multiplying, and the anti-cancer drugs help to destroy the cancer cells by stopping them from growing and multiplying.
The main problem with chemo treatments is that it not on destroys the cancer cells, but the healthy cells as well, which is what is causing the side effects of the chemotherapy treatments. Luckily, though, when the treatments are finished, the healthy cells usually repair themselves.
Chemotherapy is basically the use of different types of medications, called "anti-cancer drugs." Depending on the type of cancer, extent of the cancer, and your dog's overall health, there are different drugs that your vet may prescribe. In some cases, your vet may prescribe multiple different medications.
Some of the drugs are oral drugs that can be given at home, but others may be injections that will require outpatient visits to the vet, and in some cases, your dog may have to have several treatments throughout one day, which will require you to leave the dog at the vet for a day or two. The treatments are typically repeated weekly to every third week for about 12 weeks. Your vet will probably also do regular blood tests to monitor the treatments.
There are actually over 50 different chemotherapy drugs that can be considered for your dog's chemo treatments. Some of the more common chemo drugs may include some of the following. Remember that with each different drug, you dog may experience different side effects, so you want to make sure that you discuss with your vet which chemo medications he thinks will be best for your dog.
Azathioprine(Imuran)- used with immune mediated diseases, where the immune system is inappropriately active and damages the body.
Carboplatin(Paraplatin)- is a platinum-containing drug that is used to treat malignant cancer.
Chlorambucil(Leukeran)- used most commonly for chemotherapy to treat cancer and some immune mediated diseases such as pemphigus or inflammatory bowel disease.
Cisplatin- is an important weapon against cancer, but can cause complications.
Cyclophosphamide(Cytoxan)- is the most successful drug to treating cancer and immun mediated diseases because of its ability to kill rapidly dividing
Cytarabine- used to treat certain cancers, most notably leukemia.
Dexamethasone(Azium, Voren)- is used in the treatment of lymphoma
Doxorubicin(Adriamycin, Rubex)- is a very serious medication that has serious potential to do great harm as well as good because it impairs DNA synthesis, which is crucial for cell division.
Fluorouracil(5-fluorouracil, Adrucil, 5-FU)- is an antineoplasti or cytotoxic chemotherapy drug that is an anti-metabolite
L-Asparaginase(Elspar)- is helpful to treat lymphatic cancers because asparagine is an important amino acid for lymphatic cancer cells and the medication destroys that amino acid, which only affects the cancer cells
Lomustine- is a drug that binds DNA to other DNA strands or protein so that the double helix cannot reproduce, and it generates a by-product that prevents normal DNA function
Piroxicam- is commonly used for transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder, as well as prevention for mammary adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and transmissible venereal tumors
Vincristine(Oncovin, Vincasar)- is a multi-drug combination that is used against lymphoid and round cell tumors
How Successful is Chemotherapy on Dog Cancer
Just like you'll find in people, the actual success rate of chemo on your dog will vary per patient. Your vet will be able to give you his best estimate as to how well your dog may respond to the chemo treatments but the type of cancer, the treatment that is available, and your dog's overall health before treatments.
But, for the most part, your vet or oncologist will tell you that the odds are pretty much a 50/50 shot as to whether your dog will make it past the first year after chemo treatments. If you dog makes it past the first year, it's another 50/50 shot for the second year, and so on. There is about a 5-10% chance for 100% cure and survival. It's up to you to decide whether the money for the treatments is worth the odds.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
There are potential side effects with any procedure that your dog will every undergo. He may have a reaction to regular vaccinations or get an infection from a spay surgery, and this is no different with undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
Common side effects can include nausea, diarrhea, appetite loss, weight loss, skin discoloration, urine discoloration, low white blood cell count, and fatigue.
You'll find that many vets will prevent the potential side effects by using antibiotics and anti-nausea drugs as needed. And, for the most part, most dogs only experience mild side effects, if any at all.
You will notice that for the first day or two after the initial treatment, your dog may be show signs of fatigue and appetite loss.
Another concern may be with hair loss, and unlike chemotherapy treatments for humans, dogs tend to only experience slight hair loss. In some cases, hair that has been shaved may not regrow and your dog may lose hi whiskers, but for the most part most of the hair will grow back after the chemo treatments are finished.
Also, remember that amongst the concerns of the chemotherapy treatments, dogs can have different, unexpected reactions to different drugs.
The Cost of Dog Chemotherapy
The cost of the treatment is probably one of the main concerns that you may have for whether or not you are going to put your dog through chemotherapy. And, unfortunately the cost is going to vary on the type of cancer that your dog has, the drugs that are used, the size of your dog, the duration of the treatment, the type of chemo that is used, and procedures that your dog has to undergo.
But, don't worry about getting blindsided with a bill that you can't pay. The vet will always give you a price quote in the beginning, so that you can decide if you will be able to afford the cost of the chemotherapy treatments.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed veterinarian. The methods outlined above may or may not work for your pet. If you have any concerns, you should consult a veterinarian.