Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy is the use of certain drugs alone, or in combination to control tumour growth. But for many people, the word “chemotherapy” brings to mind negative associations — particularly debilitating side effects. So it?s not surprising when they shy away from treating their pets with chemotherapy. But most animals do not suffer the kinds of side effects that humans do for a variety of reasons, including:

  • smaller doses are given less often
  • animals don’t have the psychological hurdles to overcome that we do

The important question to answer for any pet with cancer is “What is a realistic goal of treating this animal with chemotherapy?” In veterinary medicine, the goals we strive for are to:

  • control rapidly progressive disease
  • prevent spread of the tumour
  • restore deteriorated function
  • provide a good quality of life during the time of remission

For a cancer such as lymphoma, therapy involves a significant time commitment on the part of the owner and family. For dogs, visits for chemotherapy are needed once weekly for 6 weeks, then every 2 weeks for 6 additional treatments, and finish with 4 weekly treatments. In most cats there are also 6 initial weekly treatments, after which treatments are continued every 2 weeks for a total of 12 months. We generally recommend overnight hospitalization after the first chemotherapy treatment in both cats and dogs receiving treatment for lymphoma. After this, animals are admitted as day-patients; many owners find it most convenient to drop their pet off on their way to work in the morning, and pick them up on their way home. However, we make every effort to accommodate the owner’s schedule. While you have the option to halt therapy at any time, it is important to remember that it will take at least 3 to 4 weeks for some animals to enjoy the benefits of chemotherapy.