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Chemotherapy FAQ

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What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is drug therapy designed to kill or slow the growth of cancers. Many of the drugs used to treat cancer are derived from natural substances such as plants, trees, or even bacteria, and are the same drugs used in human medicine.


How is chemotherapy administered?

Some drugs must be given by injection either intravenously (IV) under the skin or into a muscle (IM). In some cases the drug may be injected directly into the tumor itself. Some chemotherapy can also be given orally in a pill form.

IV drugs: an IV catheter is placed for safe administration of the drug. After the drug is given the catheter is removed and a light bandage is applied. The bandage may be removed 1-2 hours after the drug is administered.

If your pet licks the injection site longer than a day or if the site turns red or bruised, please contact us or your family veterinarian immediately.

Oral drugs: are usually administered by the owner at home but can be administered in the hospital. It is important that your pet receives all medication as prescribed and the pills are not crushed or split. Drugs in capsule form must never be opened.

To administer the pill it is helpful to use pill pockets you can purchase at any pet supply store. Or you may wish to coat the pills with peanut butter or cream cheese to mask the bitter taste of the medicine. If you are administering an oral chemotherapeutic drug, you MUST wear nitrile gloves when handling pills. After treatment remove the gloves and wash hands with soap and water.


What is the proper way to handle my pet’s waste when they are on chemotherapy?

Three days post treatment always wear gloves when picking up after your pet. If there is an “accident” in the house or car wear gloves and clean the area with disposable items (paper towels, baby diapers, etc.) wrap in a separate plastic bag, tie off and then dispose in the trash. Wash your hands thoroughly when you are finished cleaning. In general, we recommended that clothing/bedding which is soiled by feces, urine or vomit should be washed twice in hot water and bleach.


How often is chemotherapy given?

It depends on the drug and the type of tumor as to how often the medication is given (e.g,daily, weekly or once every 2-3 weeks).


How long will my pet receive chemotherapy?

Typically the patient will receive multiple treatments. Please talk with your pet’s oncologist about the protocol required for your pet.


May my pet receive vaccinations while on chemotherapy?

Research states it is safe to give your pet vaccines when they are receiving chemotherapy. If you have questions please contact your veterinary oncologist.


What sort of side effects should I expect during chemotherapy treatment?

Fortunately pets are less likely than humans to experience side effects from chemotherapy. Eighty percent of pets have minimal side effects while the remaining 20 percent may experience mild to moderate side effects listed below.  Most common potential side effects, they occur in less than 15% of the pets receiving chemotherapy.

Stomach and intestinal side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, most of which are easily controlled with medications/diet change and may last for a few days.

Bone marrow suppression is the second most common side effect leading to a decreased white blood cell count. UTVMC oncology team monitors the pet’s bloodwork weekly before, during and after treatment:

Some drugs can cause kidney, liver and heart side effects. All potential side effects of any prescribed drug will be discussed with you prior to treatment of your pet.

Hair loss is rare in dogs. It is seen mainly with breeds that have continuously growing hair (Poodle, Shih tzu, Maltese, Lhaso apso, etc.). Cats do not lose body hair but temporarily lose their whiskers. Hair re-growth is delayed after chemotherapy.