2011-09-16 / Columnists

The Veterinary Corner

Understanding Chemotherapy For Your Pet
Commentary By Jay Rogoff And Michal Hess, DMV

The thought of hearing a diagnosis of cancer in your pet is very scary and upsetting.

This diagnosis need not be a death sentence for your loyal furry friend. Unfortunately, cancer is a common disease in dogs and cats, and seen more often in older animals. With the advancement of veterinary medicine, the life span of pets has become longer. Therefore we see more cancer cases, since many cancers are age related cellular changes. Although it sounds frightening, a better way to look at cancer should be as with any other incurable chronic disease in which our goal of treatment is control of the disease and to prolong life with good quality.

Some cancers which are localized can be managed and even cured by surgical removal.

The experienced surgeon knows the proper protocol to follow for complete excision of the malignant areas. Other cases need adjunctive chemotherapy treatments after surgery or as the primary treatment.

It is important that the veterinarian treating your animal be familiar with all forms of treatment and devise a program specifically designed for your pet. In veterinary medicine we use the same chemotherapy drugs that are used in humans, but due to ethics aspects the dose is much lower, and we give fewer drugs at one time, therefore there are fewer side effects. The goal of chemotherapy in veterinary medicine is not to cure the cancer, but to manage it with a good quality of life and hence the dosage difference. In some instances complete remission is achieved. The successful remission or disappearance of the cancer is a primary goal in any treatment plan.

Many pet owners are reluctant to pursue chemotherapy because they are familiar with the side effects experienced in human medicine. It should be emphasized that in veterinary medicine, due to the lower doses, the case is different.

Only 25 percent of the treated animals will have mild side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea. These side affects are managed and the animal is comfortable. Most pets do not experience hair loss, however some breeds can.

These signs are merely cosmetic side effects, do not necessarily happen and resolve once treatment is completed. Fewer than 5 percent of those treated will have more severe side effects (fever, lethargy, infections), but these can be turned around after 24-72 hours of supportive care.

We do treat many cancer patients at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways. Most of the chemotherapy patients are outpatients. If there are any gastrointestinal side effects they usually occur 1-3 days after the treatment.

Another side effect is possible low white blood cell counts which usually occur 7-10 days after the treatment. For this reason we monitor with blood tests during and after chemotherapy.

Some chemotherapy drugs are administered at home in the form of pills and capsules – these should not be broken or crushed, and the owner is advised to wear gloves when they administer them.

It makes the treatment of the disease easier for the owner. They are involved in the entire process this way. In general, chemotherapy is very well tolerated by animals, and allows them a good quality of life, and an extended life span.

If you have any questions about cancer treatment or chemotherapy, please do not hesitate to visit us at The Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, call us at 718-474-0500 or contact us through our website at AnimalHospitalOfTheRock aways.com and our doctors will be happy to discuss it with you. If you want to see some of our fantastic patients look at our facebook page, Animal Hospital of the Rockaways.

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