Chemotherapy, often referred to as "Chemo", is a treatment procedure that uses chemicals or drugs to kill cells in humans, dogs, and other animals. The cells are either microorganisms (such as bacterial) or cancer cells. By definition, chemotherapy can refer to either antibiotics or anti-cancer drugs.
The most common use of the word "chemotherapy" is as a drug or drugs used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy can refer to the use of one drug or a combination of drugs. The specific drugs or drugs used depends on the type of cancer and what drugs are most effective to battle that type of cancer.
Each type of cancer is studied to determine the most effective treatment combination. Based on this research and the specific type of cancer, chemotherapy recommendations for your dog’s particular situation will be given by your veterinarian.
Chemotherapy can be used alone, before or after surgery, or with or without radiation therapy.
The goal of chemotherapy is to kill tumor cells that stop or kill tumor growth and therefore either minimizing or eliminating the cancer and therefore giving your dog an extended life.
Another goal is to give a chemotherapy dose that will minimize side effects therefore allowing your dog to maintain a good quality of life while maximizing the drugs effect on the cancer cells.
How Is a Chemotherapy Done in Dogs?
Some chemotherapeutic agents are injectable drugs and others are oral medications that can be given at home. Some chemotherapy recommendations involve multiple drugs – some of which are injections given weekly at the hospital followed by oral medications given at home.
Common side effects from chemotherapeutic drugs include suppression of the bone marrow that can affect white blood cell counts.
For drugs that affect white blood cells, it is common procedure for a complete blood count to be checked prior to chemotherapy injections to determine if the count is adequate and that day’s therapy can be given.
The amount, types, and dosage will be determined by the patient’s size, type of cancer and any secondary conditions.
Is Chemotherapy Painful to Dogs?
For injectable chemotherapy, any pain involved is associated with the placement of the IV catheter since a needle is used to pierce the skin and enter a blood vessel. As with people, the pain experienced from a needle will vary from individual to individual.
The chemotherapy medications themselves do have side effects. Talk to your veterinarian about the specific drugs being used and suspected side effects for that drug. In general, the most common side effects are lack of appetite and lethargy. Loss of hair is a rare side effect of chemotherapy drugs in dogs.
Is Sedation or Anesthesia Needed to Administer Chemotherapy to Dogs?
Neither sedation nor anesthesia is needed in most patients; however, some dogs resent needle sticks and may need tranquilization or ultra short anesthesia but that is unusual.