Common Misperceptions for Cancer Therapy in our Companion Animals

Golden with IV

Common Misperceptions for Cancer Therapy in our Companion Animals
By Dr. Monika Jankowski, DVM, DACVIM, Veterinary Emergency Specialty Center

Cancer. It’s a word that sets off a variety of emotions in all of us. We may see characters in movies portraying severe sickness from chemotherapy treatment or know of acquaintances undergoing treatment with chemotherapy. The majority of us have perceptions regarding chemotherapy treatment in people. And naturally, this gets carried over to our companion animals. One of the most common misperceptions of cancer treatment in our pets is that chemotherapy will make them sick as it does with people. They will have extreme nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and no appetite. Another common misperception may be that all therapy takes several hours to administer. Another common misperception is that our pet’s fur will all fall out and they will become bald. Probably the biggest concern that most people have is that chemotherapy will give all pets a very poor quality of life.

The reality is that our companion animals handle chemotherapy and chemotherapy administration very well with a very low percentage of animals becoming sick. We can see 95-97% of all cases having a completely normal lifestyle with almost no vomiting, diarrhea, or decreased appetite. In those cases where we do see some side effects, the majority of those can be symptomatically treated at home with anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal medication. There are few cases that require hospitalization.

The majority of our treatments are delivered in a very short time span. The overall time from when these pets walk in the door, to the time they leave the facility, is generally 30 minutes or less. We use a temporary catheter to deliver these drugs into the veins, and the amount given is very small. There are some drugs that may take a little longer to give, but the overall time is still less than 30-60 minutes.

Dogs and cats also hardly ever lose their fur. They can lose their undercoat and they can lose their whiskers, but they grow back once chemotherapy is discontinued. There are some breeds that do have hair coats similar to people. This means they have a continuous hair growth cycle. Those dogs will generally lose their hair, but it will grow back. Some breeds with continuous hair growth cycles can include Old English Sheepdogs, Poodles, and Bishons.

The bottom line is that quality of life is the most important. We want our patients feeling well, going on hikes, playing ball, or simply being the couch potato they love to be. Our goal is to keep our pets at home with their owners and not to hospitalize them for chemotherapy side effects. We tend to achieve this goal in the majority of our cancer patients.

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