FAQs about Chemo
Q. “Can pets get chemotherapy for cancer?”
A. Chemotherapy is not just used to treat humans with cancer, it is also used to treat pets with cancer. Chemotherapy is used to attack fast growing cells in bone marrow and cells that line the intestinal tract.
Q. “Where are chemotherapy treatments dispensed and is it painful?”
A. Chemotherapy treatments are done right in your veterinary oncologist’s office. It is often done intravenously with only the discomfort of a small needle stick to your pet. Your pet does not experience pain while receiving chemotherapy. There are oral chemotherapy options that you can dispense at home as well if that is part of the veterinary oncologists treatment plan for your pet.
Q. “What are possible side effects?”
A. Unlike humans, many pets do not experience as many of the same negative side effects from chemotherapy, such as hair loss and severe nausea. In fact, pets often remain happy and upbeat throughout the course of their chemotherapy treatment. However, one side effect of chemotherapy can be suppression of bone marrow cell (white blood cell) production. White blood cell suppression may increase the risk for infection and cause lethargy.
In addition, intestinal upset may be a side effect and include weight loss, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
If your pet does experience side effects at any time during the treatment, please let your veterinary oncologist know so that he or she can modify the treatment to minimize the chance of recurring side effects. Often, anti-nausea medications will be used to alleviate the side effects.
Emotionally and mentally, pets are not aware that they have cancer and continue to benefit from positive interactions with family and friends while undergoing chemotherapy treatment. So keep playing with your pet, gently, and showing love.
Q. “Can my pet eat before chemotherapy treatments?”
A. Unless your veterinary oncologist informs you otherwise, it is fine to have your pet eat before receiving treatment. Occasionally, certain testing may needed which requires fasting, and if that is the case, your veterinary oncologist will let you know in advance.
Q. “Will my pet’s hair or whiskers fall out with chemotherapy?”
A. Canine breeds that have fur (not hair) will not experience any loss of their coat. Certain breeds that have hair (such as poodles, terriers, and sheepdogs), rather than fur, may have some hair loss due to treatment. Dogs and cats can lose their whiskers and guard hairs, but those may grow back during or after their treatment is completed.
Occasionally, hair will grow back a different texture or color, which is a cosmetic side effect that will not negatively impact the quality of your pet’s life.
Q. “Are there any precautions that I need to take while my pet is on chemotherapy?”
A. As with handling any prescription medications, there are some precautions you ought to take. For chemotherapy drugs that are orally administered at home, be sure to keep pills and capsules out of children’s reach. Most chemotherapy pills and capsules have a protective coating; however, it is recommended that latex or polyvinyl gloves be worn when handling these medications.
Also, do not to cut chemotherapy pills into pieces or open the capsules, as this can expose drug particles into the environment. If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or nursing, you may wish to make arrangements for someone else administer your pet’s chemotherapy drugs. Day By Day Pet Caregivers Support offers a list of resources to help you find someone to come to your home to help administer your pet’s drugs.
Q. “Can my pet continue to receive flea and heartworm treatments during chemotherapy?”
A. Yes. To date, no harmful interactions have been reported with pets having chemotherapy while on these medications.
Q. “Can my pet receive vaccines while on chemotherapy?”
A. Consult your veterinarian, as your pet’s immune system will be suppressed by chemotherapy, and vaccines are unlikely to provide the normal beneficial response for your pet.
Most veterinary experts recommend pets wait at least 6 to 8 weeks after the completion of chemotherapy treatments before receiving any vaccines.