It is clear that dogs with cancer, at least with true, aggressive forms of cancer, have some special needs. I would like to give you some information about a special need that is often overlooked.
Dogs with a cancer diagnosis should have their temperatures taken on a regular basis. If a dog is on chemotherapy, it should be daily. If your dog is acting ill and has cancer, even if not on chemo, it should also be daily (and your canine companion should be seen by a vet). If your dog is afflicted with cancer but is acting fine, it should be every few days or so.
Why does it matter? Don’t we pay attention to fevers when a dog has an infection?
Well, in cancer management, body temperature is important too. This is particularly true when a dog is on chemotherapy. Many, perhaps even most, chemotherapy drugs are capable of a side effect called bone marrow suppression.
To understand what this means, we need to back up a little. We know that white blood cells fight infection in our bodies, and our dogs’ as well. One critical type of white blood cell is called the neutrophil. This little guy matures in the bone marrow and is then released into the blood stream to fight invading microbes if they are present.
When a drug causes bone marrow suppression, one of the cell types that gets hit hard (suppressed) in the bone marrow is the neutrophil. This translates into very low neutrophil counts. When a dog’s body has low neutrophil counts, the usual degree of protection from incoming microbe invaders is lost.
A dog on chemotherapy with a fever coupled with low neutrophil counts is a medical emergency. Microbes that are usually weak are able to gain access into the body under these circumstances and wreak havoc. Strong germs are life threatening.
Even dogs not on chemo who are fighting aggressive cancers are prone to infection. Cancers are able to create what is called immune compromise, which is when the immune system is “under the weather” compared to normal. These dogs are susceptible to infection as well and should also have their temperatures taken every few days.
The normal body temperature of a dog is 100.5 -102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (you will find some variation in the reported normals, but this is one of the most common published ranges). Note that this is the core body temperature, not the temperature of the skin. The skin temperature is not reliable and a dog who is “feeling warm” may not have a fever.
Remember that dogs who have just exercised have elevated body temperatures, and these will drop once the animal settles down. So remember to take your dog’s temperature at rest.
If your dog has a fever, he or she needs veterinary attention!
A digital thermometer or a glass one can be used. I lean towards the digital thermometers as they more are difficult to break.
Remember to make a note on the packaging for future reference that the instrument is for dogs and not people….
Best to all,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.