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Chemotherapy Treatment for Dogs

Updated on October 28, 2010

Dog Cancer

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.

Flickr Image by arun christian lucas
Flickr Image by arun christian lucas

Dog Chemotherapy

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.

"Anti-cancer Drugs"

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.

Fatigue after chemo treatment     (Flickr Image by dogsbylori)
Fatigue after chemo treatment (Flickr Image by dogsbylori)

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.


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      Diamond's mama 2 years ago

      To Lorilei, my 5.5 year old chihuhua mix had a mast cell tumor on his back leg. It was surgically removed and then he received electro chemotherapy. It has created a big "blister" where the tumor was but it is the bad tumor cells that are being killed and deteriorating. Usually, the electrochemotherapy (ECT) comes in doses of 2. Right now, my vet thinks he only needs the one because of how it reacted to it, it looks like it killed it-hopefully! ECT is waaayyyy cheaper than radiation and because your pup is still young, they have to limit the amount of radiation he receives in his lifetime so ECT is a great way to go cause it's cheaper and it just targets the tumor area only- similar to radiation but it doesn't have to go thru all his body killing all the good cells like regular chemotherapy. Look into it, it's a fairly new treatment in the US but seems to be effective. I'm hopeful!

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      Lorilei 4 years ago

      Our little Maltipoo has just had surgery for Mast Cell Tumour in his shoulder. He's not one of the breeds that are suspect for this disease and he's only 5.5 yrs old. They say most occur at age 8/9. The grading came back moderate Grade 2 (out of 3). So we're going to be weighing chemo/radiation options for him. He's only 12 lbs and I worry so much making him sick with further manipulations. I know there is a specific Mast Cell Tumour Chemo, do you perhaps know which one it is??

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      Gary 5 years ago

      Our 6 year old mastiff has stage 5 lymphoma. She has went into remission after the second chemo treatment. Even the docs were amazed. We feel so blessed at this moment. Thank you Ohio state vet center for allowing us to spend more time with our little girl. They are hands down the best place I have ever been!

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      chicky 5 years ago

      My dog was diagnosed with Stage V Lymphoma. I'm into my 10th week of chemo treatment and so far (knocks on wood) there have been no side effects, no diaharrea or vomiting (although he is given Cerenia for vomitine we only have to give it to him for two days not four, because he's been doing so good). I also give him a good dose of vitamins every day and now I cook his food (no more dog food for him). I downloaded the pages of Dr. Dressler's dog food plan for dogs with cancer and have been following that plan. I have to say that it is expensive but the oncologist quoted me a price before we started and it's been pretty much accurate (of course that's hoping that no other complications arise). So all in all would I do it again, YES in a heartbeat. S

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      didn't work for us 5 years ago

      my dog died 10 days after 1st dose -- cancer was in remission, but lost my friend. I think she wasn't ready to take the chemo. I think the oncologist was too quick to give it

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      Legs 5 years ago

      Best thing I ever did was to start chemo on my staffie - she is 7 yrs old & being treated for lymphoma - in remission after 1st chemo session and doing extremely well with no side effects. Just had her 5th injection today. Most expensive part of the experience has been the diagnosis not the treatment.

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      tracy 5 years ago

      i have a jack russell dog which i rescued in may this year, she was a stray with massive mammary tumours. My vet removed these 2 tumours (which weighed a third of her body weight 2.5kg). Iwas made aware that they would possibly grow back, which they did and last week had 5 more lumps removed, i didn't realise how aggressive this cancer could be,she now has more lumps appearing.She is the most amazing, beautiful, loving loyal dog. She has now started chemo (cyclophosphomide), although i know she will not be around for much longer (breaks my heart) i just wondered if anyone else has used this type of chemo and could advise of anything i should watch out for as in side effects.

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      Tilly 5 years ago

      My best friend Ben JRT is having his first session of Chemo tomorrow. Has had spleenectomy 2 weeks ago and now like a Puppy. I want quality for him not quantity - chasing rabbits and houseflies and cat today I want him to do this after tomorrow. Will he?

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      Neil 5 years ago

      My doggie Kola just got her first injection for lymphoma yesterday. Has anyone out there noticed that their dogs limbs swell up from the knee joint down?

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      Melissa 6 years ago

      Im not sure if rich has come back to this page but I am wondering how your JRT is doing? I just found out my 16 year old JRT has cancer and am debating treatment options. I know most people think 16 is an old dog but her blood work/ energy level and happiness is exactly like when she was 2. She just underwent a surgery/biopsy and recovered great. Coming home to rule over her two younger pit bull siblings.

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      Richard 6 years ago

      My dog is an 11 yr old bichon that has had diabetes for the past 4 yrs. Apart from that, he's been a very healthy and loving dog since bringing him home at 7 weeks. I discovered a lump on the side of throat over the weekend and got an appointment with our vet tomorrow. Maybe I am jumping the gun, but does anyone have experience with a diabetic dog that was diagnosed with cancer? Thanks,R

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      Melissa 6 years ago

      Actually, my vet did quite a price for phase III lymphoma back in July of 2010. He said that it shouldn't go over $2,700 as long as he didn't have to keep giving more CBC tests and more meds. By the time that my dog finished her last chemo session, the amount was between $4000-$5000. Now, I know that they can't see in the future everything tht will happen, but this is a drastic change in the amount that I was quoted. Also, 2 weeks after her last chemo session, she died, so the part about the vet leaing me out in the cold did sort of happen. I am on a 6 month deferred interest plan and will probably take forever to pay it back. It will eventually go to 27.99% interest rate. However, the most distressing thing is that she survived the chmo and died 2 weeks later. I know that the vet and the staff were great and tried everything, but I am now broke and don't know what to do to pay this off, not to mention the extreme grief that I still have since she was put to sleep last month. I thought that she would be around at least a little bit longer. Is there any kind of grant for this type of thing?

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      Rich 6 years ago

      my 5yr old jack russell, sherman, was diagnosed with stage 3a lymphoma last week. we immediately began chemo and after two sessions he is already in complete remission. my dilema is should i continue chemo. oncologist wants to (obviously no surprise there) yet i have found not one bit of research/evidence supporting chemo post remission providing any therapeutic benefit

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      Lynn 6 years ago

      My 5 yr old beagle Jeter was diagnosed with lymphoma last Sept. He has been on chemo for the last 6 months and is doing extremely well. He only got sick a few times on one of the chemos. He is supposedly in remission now. He has two treatments left to go and then I need to decide if I stop treatment completely or do some kind of treatment periodically. The vet says unfortunately the cancer seems to come back no matter what you do. Cost was $5500

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      Natalie 6 years ago

      My dog, Benny, has been on Chemo (vincristin & Leukeran) since March 2010 and for the first 9 months did not have any side effects and was doing really well. The last few times he has had bad diarrhea with blood for 2-8 days after treatment although between treatments he is doing fantastic. We are thinking of stopping Chemo because of the bad side effects. Does anyone have any experience with chemo one year on and what my options are?

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      Family Haji 6 years ago

      Our 3 and a half year old Miniature Schnauzer "Sweep" has just been diagnosed with Lymphoma after nearly 4 months of 'swollen glands' puzzling everybody including his very experienced vet.

      His immuno stain tests indicate that he has the 'right kind of cancer cells' to respond to chemo - possibly. We feel very torn: he is bouncy as a puppy at the moment and the thought of reducing him to sick dog status is awful . We hope that a mantra of short term pain, long term gain applies.

      The kids adore him, we all adore him and, with him being so young, we want to give him the chance of remission.

      Next week he starts chemo.

      May we all be granted wisdom and fortune on our journey.

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      Jon  6 years ago

      We are now past the third treatment for Buck. The first two treatments were tough. As I read about treatment patterns, this is not uncommon until the vet can modify the treatments for the side effects. The second treatment was very hard for us, as we experienced three days of bad side effects. As a result of the vomiting and diarrhea, and lack of appetite and the drinking of water, he became quite dehydrated, and we had to admit him to the hospital for an IV treatment (2 days). The third treatment, which was a major infusion, was adjusted and the chemo levels were reduced. He did much better this week. This is a hard process to watch, but I do believe it is worth it. I have become much closer to Buck since his illness -- I feel privileged to travel on this journey with him.

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      Gabriella 6 years ago

      My dog was diagnose with bladder cancer, she is on piroxicam already and is going to have her first chemo session tomorrow.

      It's great to read everyone's comments because it makes me feel less lonely with this huge decision to inflict potentially harmful chemicals on my lovely, otherwise healthy dog in the hope that she lives a little longer. This is about the most heartbreaking decision I've ever had to go through, all my sympathy to others in the same situation and to people who's children are sick.

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      Michelle 6 years ago

      Higgy had his 6 chemo treatment last week for the lymphoma. Knowing that he usually reacts 7 days after the chemo - the specialist suggested we start treating with antibiotics and various anti nausea tables from day 4. We have so far seen a much better response than before and he only had 1 day of vomiting etc. It is now 6 months since he was first diagnosed and we are blessed for the additional time with him. For all those just in the beginning of chemo- please stay strong - there are a couple of tough days but to see Higgins playing and running makes everything worth while.

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      Jon  6 years ago


      Just checking in to see how things are going. Buck is going for his second treatment today. Last week, he was fine for the first day, but significantly impacted for the next three days - wobbly on feet, no appetite, vomit on first day, diarhea . Fourth day he was back to normal.

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