Should My Regular Veterinarian Give My Dog Chemotherapy? - Dog Cancer Blog

Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

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Should My Regular Veterinarian Give My Dog Chemotherapy?

should-my-regular-vet-give-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,

Dr. Sue

About the Author: Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology)


Susan Ettinger, DVM. Dip. ACVIM (Oncology) is a veterinarian oncologist at VCA Animal Specialty & Emergency Center in New York, and the co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity.

  • For one of my dogs, the oncologist who is a 2-hour-drive away let my local vet administer the chemo alternating with having it done there. On visits to the oncologist my dog got the full workup to check on blood levels, tumor size, etc. This made it much easier for me to decide to pursue the treatment.

  • Deb E

    I would say this is not always true. I definitely think an oncologist should be involved – providing guidance, the protocol, etc but a “regular” veterinarian with an interest in oncology can do an excellent job of providing the treatments. .

  • SusanG

    Not everyone lives near an oncologist. In my case the closest one is 2 1/2 hours away. My dog had lymphoma and she did great on chemo and lived a year after being diagnosed. My vet did consult with an oncologist, but she did all of the treatments and did a great job. You have to consider that not everyone lives next door to an oncologist.

    • Heather

      are you positive the closest one is two hours away? Have you searched http://www.acvim.org with your location info?

  • dogs

    My dog had central nervous system lymphoma and started his treatment at the UC Davis oncology department. Initially I was doing the 100 mile each way trip on a weekly basis. However, my regular vet was able to take over giving the chemo drugs, which worked just fine. One drug required an 8 hour IV infusion and I had to leave the dog at UC Davis whenever that drug was due. when my own vet did it, I could leave the dog in the morning and pick him up that afternoon. Much less stressful for dog and me, to say nothing of less expense involved. We kept in contact with the oncologist and this way of treating the dog worked fine. Two years later he is happy and healthy.