Few things are as devastating as the diagnosis of cancer, including for our beloved pets. But chemotherapy can actually be easier on our cats and dogs than on human patients. Here’s the story.

Q: My dog has been diagnosed with cancer, and the oncologist recommends chemotherapy. He says that chemo isn’t as hard on pets as it is on people. Is that true? Will my dog lose his hair or have other side effects?

A: We’re sorry to hear about your dog’s diagnosis. People are often hesitant to have their dogs undergo chemotherapy — the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells — but it can be an effective treatment with fewer side effects than those seen in humans.

Cancer occurs when cells grow uncontrollably, causing abnormal tissue to develop. Chemotherapy drugs affect not only the abnormal and rapidly growing cancer cells, but also other areas of the body that produce normal rapidly growing cells. Think bone marrow, which produces red blood cells; the lining of the intestinal tract, which sheds old cells and generates new ones frequently; and hair, which grows rapidly. That’s why people who receive chemotherapy often suffer painful or unsightly side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, hair loss and weakness. The trade-off is that the high doses they receive improve their response to therapy.

The difference in dogs and cats is the amount of chemotherapy that’s given. The goal is to provide additional time — but not at the expense of quality of life. Most pets do not experience serious side effects from the treatment. Sometimes they are tired afterward or may experience nausea. If that happens, the oncologist (cancer specialist) may prescribe Cerenia, a drug that helps with motion sickness in animals and can relieve the nausea and fatigue caused by chemotherapy. Mild gastrointestinal side effects can be managed with a bland diet. And hair loss is rare in dogs.

Depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy can decrease tumor size, prolong life and sometimes lead to complete remission.

There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

The post What you need to know about chemotherapy for pets appeared first on Dr. Marty Becker.

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