The topic of chemotherapy for dogs is tinged with sadness. No dog parent wants to hear the news that their beloved pooch has cancer.
If you are faced with this situation, you might be wondering “is dog chemotherapy worth it?”
When considering chemo for dogs there are multiple issues that come into play.
For instance, what are the side effects of chemo treatment for dogs? And what about the efficacy of the treatment? How about the cost?
Let’s look at some of these topics so if this situation does arise, you are equipped with some facts.
Chemotherapy for Dogs
If you or someone you love has ever undergone chemotherapy, you are probably aware that it is tough going.
The side effects can be intense and impact just about every aspect of day to day life.
For this reason, when faced with the option of giving their dog chemotherapy, some are reluctant to put their furry friend through such an ordeal.
However, chemotherapy for dogs is quite different than the treatment humans are given.
Chemotherapy and Dogs
The focus of the treatment in the case of dogs is quality of life, not necessarily cure.
Humans are given much higher doses of chemo in the hope that all the cancer cells in the body can be destroyed, possible adding decades to their lifespan.
A dog’s lifespan is much shorter than ours.
So, the dosage can afford to be lower with the aim of merely slowing the rate of the cancer growth.
In turn, this lower dosage causes few if any side effects.
Sure, this is not going to cure the cancer, but in many cases, the cancer is slowed down enough that your dog can gain months if not years of comfortable life thanks to this approach.
Dog Chemotherapy Cost
While most of us would never want to put a price tag on the life of our dog, unfortunately for some, the budget will only stretch so far.
Chemotherapy for dogs is not cheap, and there may be other costs involved in the treatment.
You will need to talk to your vet to find out the exact amount, as it will vary depending on what type of treatment your dog needs.
But be prepared for a hefty bill.
Dog Chemotherapy Success Rate
There have been numerous trials measuring the efficacy of chemotherapy for dogs.
Generally, the results are good.
Bear in the mind, the desired result is not cure, but rather reduction of symptoms and extension of their lifespan.
For example, one study published in 1991 found that dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma who were treated with chemotherapy lived on an average of 271 days.
Dogs treated with surgery alone only lived on 19 to 65 days.
Splenic hemangiosarcoma is a very aggressive form of cancer, so those results are promising.
Still, depending on how aggressive the cancer is, and how much relief from the symptoms the chemotherapy will provide, the decision as to whether to proceed with the treatment is still a weighty one.
Chemotherapy for Dogs with Lymphoma
Lymphoma is a common cancer that affects dogs.
Due to the nature of lymphoma, chemotherapy is often used to treat the disease.
Because chemotherapy is administered in an effort to control the spread of the cancer rather than cure it, cancers that affect the whole body, like lymphoma, tend to respond well.
There have also been studies done on the efficacy of chemotherapy in the treatment of lymphoma that has relapsed.
While the majority of the dogs responded to the treatment, the amount of time it bought the dogs was variable.
Side Effects of Chemo in Dogs
Generally, dogs undergoing chemotherapy will enjoy a good quality of life with minimal, if any side effects.
Some dogs will experience mild side effects, that usually resolve within 24 – 48 hours.
The most common side effects include gastrointestinal upsets such as vomiting, diarrhea and a lack of interest in food.
Your vet may prescribe anti-nausea medication to deal with this issue.
Severe life-threatening side effects can occur, but it is estimated this only happens in about 5% of cases.
The most severe side effects can usually be anticipated, and therefore controlled or even prevented.
One of the more serious side effects is bone marrow suppression, which can lead to sepsis or bleeding problems.
There are various types of dog chemotherapy drugs, and the risk is greater with certain types, so, veterinarians will order blood tests to monitor the situation and take action if needed.
Some breeds of dog are also susceptible to hair loss, but as is the case with humans, the hair will grow back.
Generally speaking however, dogs will not lose their hair like humans do, as their coat does not grow as fast as our hair.
Should You Put Your Dog Through Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy for dogs is a treatment that is worth a lot of consideration.
You will need to have an honest discussion with your vet about chemotherapy and dogs and weigh up what the best choice is in your situation.
In some cases, your dog may go on to experience a good quality of life for some months, or even years, thanks to this treatment.
In other cases, the time the treatment buys your pooch will be limited, and if the cancer is advanced, they may not experience the relief from the symptoms as you had hoped.
Also, the cost of the treatment can be prohibitive. Unfortunately, this is also something that you will need to consider.
We hope you have found this article about chemotherapy for dogs helpful.
It isn’t nice to think about how we would handle the situation if our beloved pooch became ill due to cancer.
But there are treatments out there which may help make your furry friends remaining time comfortable, even enjoyable, if they are administered appropriately.
Have you had any experience with chemotherapy for dogs?
Do you have any thoughts you would like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.
MSD Veterinary Manual “Cancer Treatment”
Texas A&M University Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Services “Cancer and Your Pet, What You Need to Know”, 2008
Hammer, A.S., et al “Efficacy and Toxicity of VAC Chemotherapy (Vincristine, Doxorubicin, and Cyclophosphamide) in Dogs with Hemangiosarcoma” Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 1991
Nielssen, A., “Canine Internal Medical Secrets” Elsevier, 2007
Dervisis, N.A., et al “Efficacy of Temozolomide or Dacarbazine in Combination with an Anthracycline for Rescue Chemotherapy in Dogs with Lymphoma” Journal of the American Medical Association Small Animals, 2007
Miller, K., “Chemotherapy in Pets – Dog and Cat Chemotherapy” VetSpecialists.com, 2014