Chemotherapy in Dogs: What You Should Know

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. January 19, 2017
Chemotherapy in Dogs: What You Should Know

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At AnimalWised we know how important the health of your dog is for you, no matter whether they are affected by a parasite or if they develop a more serious illness. Cancer is a disease that continues to affect a growing number of domestic animals, like a reminder that they are not that different from us humans.

Faced with such a delicate condition as cancer in dogs, it is normal for owners to be worried about the treatment and to wonder how does chemotherapy affect dogs exactly, even when there is proper and close veterinary attention. In order to help you, in this article we'll discuss what you should know about chemotherapy in dogs.

What type of cancer affects dogs?

Having a pet with cancer in the house can be as hard and as difficult to assimilate as having a human relative suffering from this disease. However, you must be willing to take on the challenge that this entails and give your dog the necessary care so as to improve their quality of life.

There are certain types of cancer that tend to be more common in dogs, and only a few of them are treated with chemotherapy. They are:

  • Lymphosarcoma, a neoplasm in malignant lymphocytes, that affects the liver, spleen and other organs.

  • Mastocytoma affects mast cells. It is a type of skin cancer that can end up affecting some of the dog's internal organs.

When is chemotherapy applied in dogs?

Before deciding on the use of chemotherapy to treat your dog's cancer, the vet will perform different studies to find out the exact place, size and the stage of the tumor. In order to treat a tumor chemotherapy alone is not very effective; it needs to be accompanied by some other treatment.

Chemotherapy is applied to dogs in the following cases:

  • When it is impossible to operate on the dog because the cancer has spread.
  • When there is risk of metastasis leading to cancer in the organs around the tumor.
  • When the tumors cannot be eliminated completely by surgery. In this case, it is common to begin treatment with chemotherapy after extracting as much of the tumor as possible through surgery.
  • When the tumor is too large to be removed and and what is intended is to slow its growth.
  • When the tumor has been removed completely, chemotherapy is prescribed to eliminate the rest of cancer cells that might remain in the body.

Even when one of these reasons is presented, before prescribing chemotherapy the veterinarian will undertake a general study of the dog's state of health to avoid a possible negative deterioration in the animal.

In cases of dogs with metastasis and advanced cancer affecting several vital organs, chemotherapy is usually inadvisable.

How does chemotherapy work in dogs?

The cells that cause cancer divide much faster than the healthy cells in the rest of the body, which is why cancer spreads so easily. Chemotherapy is used to reduce or stop the reproduction and division of cancer cells, as the drugs used in this type of therapy destroys them.

A vet will prescribe chemotherapy for dogs when the tumors are small or are proven to reproduce fast, as it is useful to detect malignant cell activity and act quickly. In larger and stationary tumors, chemotherapy becomes less effective.

One reason why chemotherapy is contraindicated is that the drugs are unable to tell malignant cells apart from normal tissue, so it destroys both alike. Despite this massive destruction, organic tissue can continue growing when the therapy is over because its effects are not irreversible.

Chemotherapy in Dogs: What You Should Know - How does chemotherapy work in dogs?

How are dogs treated with chemotherapy?

Only a veterinarian can determine the type, frequency and dose of chemotherapy to be administered to your dog. Dogs can be treated with chemotherapy through different methods, including pills that you can give your dog at home and injections that don't usually require hospitalization.

The duration of the treatment depends on the dog's health and the response of their organism. Some dogs may need chemotherapy for the rest of their lives, but usually the application lasts weeks or months.

How does chemotherapy affect dogs?

Despite what you might think, chemotherapy does not have the same side effects in dogs than in humans. When dogs are given chemotherapy, only 5% show negative side effects.

The most common side effects of chemotherapy in dogs include:

  • Digestive problems: Chemotherapy can affect the lining of the intestines, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, and a significant decrease in appetite.

  • Low defenses: Produced by the weakening of the bone marrow, responsible for the production of white blood cells. By reducing these cells the immune system is weakened, so the dog will be more likely to get infections.

  • Hair loss: it is rare in dogs, but it can affect breeds with short coats, especially on the tail and face. Dogs can lose hair during chemotherapy because it also affects and damages hair follicles. You may need to trim or shave the dog's fur in certain places if the vet tells you to.

Although these are the most common side effects of chemotherapy in dogs, you must watch out for any decay or unusual behaviors in your dog and let the veterinarian know as soon as possible.

It often happens that chemotherapy can only extend the life of the dog for a year, since the treatment is not curative but palliative. In other words, chemotherapy is intended to improve the animal's quality of life but not to destroy the cancer completely.

Chemotherapy in Dogs: What You Should Know - How does chemotherapy affect dogs?

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Chemotherapy in Dogs: What You Should Know, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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