Chemotherapy for Pets
Benalla Veterinary Clinic now performs chemotherapy protocols on pets. Cancer in animals and man is usually difficult to cure. Commonly it involves a variety of treatments including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, either alone or in combination.
Chemotherapy is commonly used in cancers that;
- cannot be treated with surgery or radiation alone
- where there is a risk of metastases (spread)
- if there are residual, microscopic cancer cells left after surgery
- when it may enhance the effectiveness of other treatments.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is drug therapy designed to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered to the patient as an injection or as an oral medication, usually as tablets. Chemotherapy drugs work by blocking cell growth and division; important as cancer is uncontrolled growth of specific cell types. The drugs we use to treat animals are the same drugs used to treat people with cancer.
What can be achieved with chemotherapy?
The goal of chemotherapy in pets is to control or eliminate cancer while still maintaining the highest quality of life, ideally achieving remission, rather than a complete cure. The doses of chemotherapy drugs are generally lower in animals than in people as we tend to treat them less aggressively. As a result animals usually do not suffer the same degree of side effects, and often do not show any at all.
What about side effects?
Approximately 70–80% of pets on chemotherapy have very minimal side effects and some have none. Of those that experience side effects, these are usually mild and may resolve quickly without treatment. Chemotherapy targets dividing and multiplying cells. As well as cancer cells there are some normal cells in the body that are also actively dividing which may also be affected by chemotherapy. These cells are found in the blood and bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, skin and reproductive system.
Potential side effects include decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and infection.
Patients may be more susceptible to infections if there is a significant decrease in the white blood cell count.
Hair loss that is commonly seen in humans is uncommon in dogs (seen most often in breeds that have continuously growing hair (i.e. Poodles, English Sheepdogs).
Cats generally do not lose body hair, but can lose their whiskers.
Chemotherapy can also slow regrowth of hair.
How do we give chemotherapy?
Usually these drugs are given by injection at Benalla Veterinary Clinic, but there are some which can be given at home as tablets. Each patient receives a complete physical examination and a blood test to ensure major organs are healthyand the blood cell counts are adequate for treatment. An intravenous catheter is placed to allow safe administration of the chemotherapy injections. After administration, the catheter is removed and a light bandage is placed, this can be removed after 1–2 hours. The whole process takes approximately one hour and vets and nurses are required to wear full protective clothing to avoid contact with the cytotoxic injections. All chemotherapy disposables must be disgarded in approved waste containers.
Tablets are always administered at the clinic using latex or nitrile gloves.
By offering chemotherapy Benalla Veterinary Clinic is helping to reduce the travelling stresses incurred when these treatments are performed in Melbourne. We liaise with oncological specialists to ensure we have the most up to date chemotherapy protocols.
Is there any risk to me?
Most of the chemotherapy drugs leave the body via faeces, urine and saliva. Potentially they could be a risk to you if you come in contact with them within 48 hours of treatment. Good hygenie and wearing gloves during this first 48 hour period is important. Clean up any accidents in your house with disposable items (i.e. paper towel). Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. It is recommended to leave faeces in the garden for 48 hours before disposal as the ultraviolet light will often neutralise any residues in the faeces. To be safe, we recommended that if clothing/ bedding is soiled by faeces, urine, saliva or vomitus within 48 hours of chemotherapy it should be washed twice in hot water or thrown out.
How do I decide what is best for my animal?
Chemotherapy aims to provide disease free time for your pet. It is not possible to accurately predict how long this will be. the aim is for life extension, but not at the expense of life quality. Our vets understand how difficult the decisions about our pet's futures can be, especially when there may be multiple treatment options. Every case is individual and our aim as veterinarians is to ensure you completely understand these options. For some cancers there is more information available and we can give you a more accurate estimation of what you might expect.
Chemotherapy involves owner commitment as it may need daily, weekly or monthly administration of medication depending on the cancer type, with no guarantee of success. Costs can be high, and you need to be clear about the financial committment before commencing. Pet insurance can ease this burden and we thoroughly recommend so that costs can be removed from the decision process.
During treatment, several crisis points can occur. There may be failure to respond to treatment, recurrence of the growth or complications of the cancer or treatment (sometimes unexpected death). It is completely understandable and reasonable that some owners will elect euthanasia to prevent unnecessary suffering when their pet is diagnosed with cancer.
Please contact us on (03) 5762 2788 if you have any questions or to make an appointment with one of our vets.