Many pet guardians assume that they would never, ever use chemotherapy to treat their dog’s cancer … and then change their minds.
Before I see new clients, I often chat with the primary vet and commonly hear “Zoey’s mom is against chemo, but I’m sending her over to learn about Zoey’s cancer and treatment options, but she is not interested in chemo.” Later, after our meeting, it is not uncommon for that same pet guardian to decide to treat with chemotherapy after meeting me. Am I hypnotizing these resistant parents?
Of course not. I’m just replacing myths with facts, and fears with hope and knowledge.
Fear: Chemotherapy Has Terrible Side Effects
We do not use the same high doses in dogs that are used in humans, and so 80% of animals that receive chemotherapy in my practice have no side effects. 15-20% of pets have mild side effects. About 5% of chemo patients have severe side effects that require hospitalization for 24-48 hours. Most patients are feeling better with IV fluids, injectable nausea meds and antibiotics. The next time we give that chemo drug, we use dose reductions and meds to prevent further side effects, and find that most patients have no issues – even with the same chemo drug that landed them in ICU the last time.
It is a myth that the pet will feel crappy all the time, that they suffer during treatment, and they will be hospitalized all the time. In general, pets on chemo feel good not just after chemo, but during the protocol.
Fear: Once You Start Chemo You Shouldn’t Stop
In human medicine, we expect patients to “soldier on” and tolerate chemo side effects. But that’s not the expectation in pet medicine.
Giving chemo to your pet is not a contract. If you do not like how your pet is handling it, you can stop. I never force people to continue, but I do encourage them to try a dose or two.
Most pet Guardians are so surprised and pleased at the lack of side effects that they return with their pet for more treatments. So meet with the specialist and learn about the options. That way, even if you decide not to treat, you will have made an educated decision. I have empathy for the frustrated Guardians I see who thought treatment wouldn’t be well tolerated, so didn’t start until they have exhausted other options — and then wish they had started chemotherapy earlier when they realize how well their dogs do on it.
Chemotherapy is one tool among many we discuss in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Pick up a copy of the book to find out more about how it could help your own dog.
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.