Chemotherapy is one of the four major therapies for cancer–the three others being surgery, radiation, and immunotherapy. During most of the consults that we do, chemotherapy is discussed. The looks I get when I recommend chemotherapy for people’s pets can range from unbelief to fright.
The first thing that I do is immediately tell owners that chemotherapy is handled much better by dogs and cats than it is by people. Although cancers are similar among dogs, cats, and people, the therapies affect them differently. The reason why our dogs and cats handle chemotherapy differently is because we as veterinary oncologists and you as pet owners have decided that we don’t want to put our pets through what people go through. Because of this mindset, veterinary oncologists have changed the way chemotherapy is given. We use lower doses as compared to the doses used to treat people with cancer. In addition, we give the chemotherapy for a longer time period, sometimes as long as a year, whereas most chemotherapy protocols used to for people take only a few weeks to months to complete.
Additionally, over the past 5 years, there have been significant advances in strategies to mitigate the toxicity of chemotherapy. New medications such as Cerenia (an anti-vomiting medication) along with anti-diarrhea medications and certain classes of antibiotics are used to decrease and in some cases eliminate the most common side effects–vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy (loss of energy) and anorexia (loss of appetite). We have also found that it is easier to prevent these side effects, rather than wait for them to occur and then treat. We do this because the veterinary oncologists at VOHC are not only concerned with quantity of life but also with quality of life. We try very hard to insure that all the pets we treat have the highest quality of life and the longest quantity of life.