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Cancer Treatment Options For Dogs: Chemotherapy

Finding out that your canine companion has cancer is undoubtedly overwhelming and scary. While it may seem daunting and like there are no options, thankfully this is not the case. There are a handful of cancer treatment options when it comes to your dog, one of which is chemotherapy. While chemotherapy for dogs may seem like an uncommon treatment method, it is actual quite prevalent for dogs of all ages. Cancer is unfortunately the number one killer in senior dogs, but if caught early, it can be treated.

Chemotherapy is not necessarily a cure-all option for dog cancers, but it is an option that will give them a higher quality of life and comfort. In some cases and for some cancers it may even effect a cure, however, generally the goal is to provide remission and improved quality of life. Other  treatment options include surgery or radiation therapy, and chemotherapy is sometimes  administered in conjunction with one of those methods for more effective results.

While the prospect of chemotherapy treatments for your canine companion can be stressful and frightening, it may be an option that will ease your dog’s pain and give him many more romps around the dog park.  Albeit an expensive investment, if this is something you are considering, be sure to talk with your family vet as soon as possible

What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy drugs are compounds that work to kill or decrease the growth of cancer cells. Because cancer cells multiply rapidly, the chance of certain cancerous tumors spreading throughout the whole body is can be high. The goal of chemotherapy is to halt or even reverse this process. Chemotherapy for dogs can be administered in the following ways:

  • Intravenously (IV)
  • Subcutaneous (under the skin)
  • Intramuscular (IM) injection
  • Orally (pill form)

The entire chemotherapy process is designed to damage the cellular process, making it so cancer cells cannot grow and spread. The goal is to eventually kill all cancerous cells, ridding the body of the disease. While chemotherapy does not always work to completely eliminate cancer in dogs, it is an excellent option for stopping the spread of cancer and easing your dog’s pain.

Side Effects

Most dogs do very well with chemotherapy and the rate of side effects is much less than in humans. Depending on the drug used, the side effects vary when they do occur and most commonly include stomach upset, bladder irritation, low white cell counts and only rarely loss of hair (only the non shedding breeds may experience hair loss) In general the rate of side effects is: Mild – 10%, Moderate (requires hospitalization) about 5% and actual mortality is less than 1%.

What to Expect

Again, chemotherapy will not always completely clear your dog of the cancerous cells, but it will work to make him more comfortable, active, and healthy. The goal of chemotherapy for dogs is to improve the quality of life, whether your pup is in his prime or senior years. Additionally, chemotherapy may minimize the size of a tumor, making it less invasive and easier to remove surgically. You should be sure not to expect a cure, even though it is a remote possibility. Depending on the type of cancer, in many cases a remission of months or years can be achieved. It is most important to speak with your veterinarian as he or she will let you know what the prognosis and remission rate for chemotherapy treatment is for the specific kind of cancer your dog has.

Chemotherapy for your dog is a potentially viable option when you have been given the news of cancer. As always, be sure to discuss your options with your family vet before making any decisions for the good of you and your canine companion.

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