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Vet Talks: Effects Of Chemotherapy On Pets With Cancer

Vet Talks 4 min read
Vet Talks: Effects Of Chemotherapy On Pets With Cancer

It’s always very difficult when our fur babies are diagnosed with cancer. I personally had many of my pets with this terrible disease, and it was always so hard to decide which was the best course of treatment for them. Chemotherapy on pets with cancer is one of the main therapeutic approaches to combat the disease, but there’s always the question of whether it would be beneficial or not for our furkid.

Chemotherapy may have limited results with severe side effects, especially causing damage to normal tissues such as bone marrow, gastrointestinal, heart, liver, renal, neuron, and auditory tissues, etc. The side effects limit the clinical outcome of chemotherapy and lower patients’ quality of life and even make many pet owners discontinue chemotherapy in their pets. In this blog, I’ll talk about this treatment and its side effects to help pet owners to understand a little bit more about chemotherapy on pets with cancer.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells. It is one of the modalities that can be applied to treat an animal affected by cancer.

The use of chemotherapy depends on several factors, such as the pet owner’s decisions, financial constraints, the type and location of the tumor, the pet’s health condition, and if cancer has spread (also known as metastasis).

Chemotherapy may be used on its own or with surgery and/or radiation therapy, depending on the tumor type and location. Chemotherapy can lead to complete remission (elimination of all cancer cells and clinical signs). Unfortunately, most cancers are usually not completely cured and can return at some point in the pet’s life.

cancer and chemotherapy illustration

How does Chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy works by damaging rapidly growing cells.

Chemotherapy works by damaging rapidly growing cells. Rapidly dividing cancer cells are typically more sensitive to chemotherapy than healthy cells. The effective use of chemotherapy is a balance between killing cancer cells and minimizing side effects that arise from killing healthy cells in the pet.

Chemotherapeutic agents are commonly administered together in specific protocols that maximize the destruction of tumor cells, minimize the resistance of tumor cells to medications, and minimize side effects to the patient.

Some of the most used chemotherapeutic drugs for pets are Vincristine, L-Asparaginase, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Cisplatin/carboplatin, and Prednisone. Some of them are administered orally and some are injectable in a vein or muscle.

The protocols may be altered to fit the needs of the pet or changed based on the tumor type, the pet’s health status, the veterinarian’s experience, and the pet owner’s restrictions. It is very important to discuss the protocol with your vet to be sure that you understand all the possible side effects of the treatment, the cost (it can be very expensive), as well as the monitoring and follow-up care required. For example, some medications may cause severe irritation at the injection site.

Some treatments are administered at home, whereas others are administered at the veterinary clinic/hospital.

What are the side effects of Chemotherapy?

Unfortunately, chemotherapeutic drugs can affect healthy cells, especially those of the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract. Common side effects include low white blood cell count, anemia, and low platelet count. Nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, and diarrhea may also be seen.

Unlike humans, pets rarely lose their hair undergoing chemotherapy. However, some breeds, such as terriers and sheepdogs, can lose some fur.

It is required to monitor the pet for side effects from the chemotherapy, to monitor the effects on cancer, and to watch for the spread of cancer. This can involve repeated physical examinations, laboratory tests, x-rays, and abdominal ultrasound examinations.

Naturally occurring products provide a rich source for exploring effective adjuvant agents to prevent and reduce the side effects in anticancer chemotherapy. To minimize the side effects of chemotherapy, other drugs and supplements can be used, for example, anti-nausea drugs and Milk Thistle. Issues that affect your pet’s quality of life, such as discomfort management, meeting nutritional needs, and expected response to treatment, should also be discussed. Questions that arise once you are home should be written down and brought up with your veterinarian.

Laboratory tests are very important before starting chemotherapy. An intravenous catheter may be placed to allow safe delivery of the medication into the vein. Fluid therapy, sedatives, or anti-nausea medications may also be given during the hospital stay to maximize the pet’s comfort and minimize side effects.

cat being examined by a vet

Which Supplements are Suggested?

As described some supplements may help to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy; below there are some examples of the supplements that may be helpful. However, it will vary based on the protocol and the type of cancer. We are always here to help you to choose the best regimen for your pet.

Milk Thistle: detoxifies the liver and kidney by removing toxins that can build up in a pet`s system when chemotherapy. Improves liver and kidney function supports regeneration of the liver and supports overworked kidneys. It also has antioxidant properties and may benefit as anticancer support.

Turmeric: modern pharmacological studies have revealed that curcumin may protect normal cells from chemotherapy-induced damages. These studies suggest that Turmeric has against chemotherapy-induced myelosuppression, gastrointestinal toxicity, cardiotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, nephrotoxicity, neurotoxicity, ototoxicity, and genotoxicity.

If your pet was diagnosed with cancer and you’re having doubts about the course of treatment, our pet experts are always here to help! Just contact us and we’ll guide you through this difficult moment. We’re always here to support you and your furmily!

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda completed her undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine in 2010 and graduate studies in veterinary pathology (MVSc. 2012 and PhD 2016) at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of São Paulo. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine – University of Saskatchewan in 2018. Dr. Nascimento will be hosting her own blog series and sharing her knowledge with our extended NHV family.

Published: February 28, 2020

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