Unfortunately cancer is a common disease in dogs and cats, and seen more often in older animals. Cancer is an age related cellular change, and since modern medicine prolongs life, animals are more prone to cancer. Some cancers which are localized can be managed and even cured by surgical removal. Other cases need adjunctive chemotherapy treatments after surgery or as the main treatment.
Although it sounds scary, cancer should be looked at as any other incurable chronic disease in which our goal of treatment is prolonging life with good quality.
In veterinary medicine we use the same chemotherapy drugs as in humans, but the dose is much lower, and we give fewer drugs at one time, therefore there are less side effects , but the treatment is less effective. 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.
Only 25% of the treated animals will have mild side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Most animals do not experience hair loss, however some breeds can. These signs are merely cosmetic side effects, do not necessary happen and resolve once treatment is completed. Less than 5% will have more severe side effects (fever, lethargy, infections), but these can be turned around after 24-72 hours of supportive care. Some drugs have specific organ related side effects. 1 in 200 animals can die from the chemotherapy.
We do treat many cancers here at the clinic. Most of the chemotherapy patients are outpatients. Gastrointestinal side effects usually occur 1-3 days after the treatment. Low white blood cell counts usually occur 7-10 days from the treatment.
For the first 72 hours from the treatment the drugs can be secreted in the urine and feces, therefore the owner should use gloves when disposing of those, and pregnant women should not handle the urine or feces for the first 72 hours. The saliva might also secrete the drugs in a very low dose over the first 72 hours, therefore licking and grooming of other animals should be avoided if possible. There shouldn't be any problem with the food and water dishes.
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.
In general chemotherapy is very well tolarated by animals, and allows them a good quality of life, and an extended life span.
Click here to read the story of Daisy, an amzing dog fighting 2 types of cancer
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