Here’s a touchy subject for us to look at: why can’t my regular veterinarian give my dog chemotherapy? Do I really need to see a specialist?
I am often asked these questions by clients, and my answer is always the same: no.
That might sound harsh, but let’s look at this a little closer. If you yourself had cancer, and needed chemotherapy, wouldn’t you want an oncologist to administer it? A general practice doctor wouldn’t even dream of offering you chemotherapy treatments. Administering these drugs takes advanced training and experience — they’re powerful and in some cases, quite dangerous.
All oncologists do, every day, is manage cancer patients and give chemo. These drugs have side effects, and the current protocols can change quickly as we find out more.
When it comes to your dog’s general health, your vet is the expert and one to turn to. They know so much, including preventative health care, nutrition, vaccines, thyroid disease, kidney failure, diabetes, general surgery, geriatric pet health, and more. That’s why I send my cases back to the family vet for management of those issues. But when it comes to cancer, in my opinion, you see an oncologist.
Here’s an example of why. I recently took over the case of Drew, an awesome Weimaraner with lymphoma. Drew was being treated by his primary vet. Unfortunately this vet did not think an oncologist needs to be involved — even though Drew kept getting sick after each of the drugs in the protocol and ended up in the ER at my practice. The clients were understandably upset about how sick their dog was, but their regular veterinarian told them “that’s what chemo does” and made no attempt to adjust his treatment.
I’ll be honest: this makes me mad, because dogs and cats on chemo should not feel sick! It’s not necessary. Drew’s parents have since asked me to take over his care, and I have carefully adjusted his chemo dosages and added meds to prevent the vomiting, diarrhea and poor appetite. Now he has gained weight and is feeling good on chemo.
As an oncologist, I can provide the most current and comprehensive treatment options and newest available prognostic data. I can adjust treatment and diagnostic tests based on budget. I adjust treatment protocols based on response and tolerance. And I work with primary care vet and other specialists to provide comprehensive care.
So, if your dog has a cancer that responds well to chemotherapy, please — consult a specialist who spends all day every day administering these treatments. It’s worth it.
Live Long, Live Well,
Sue Ettinger, DVM. Dip. ACVIM (Oncology). Dr. Sue is a boarded veterinary medical cancer specialist. As a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Oncology), she is one of approximately 400 board-certified veterinary specialists in medical oncology in North America. She is a book author, radio co-host, and an advocate of early cancer detection and raising cancer awareness. Along with Dr. Demian Dressler, Dr. Sue is the co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity.