What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy, or chemo, means treating your pet's cancer with medications. It can help to slow down the growth of cancer that may have already spread, or shrink the size of a tumor prior to surgery. Chemo can be administered by injection at Bellwood Animal Hospital or orally at home.

Chemotherapy protocols vary by type of cancer, the extent of the disease, the health of your pet, and any other known issues specific to your pet. It may be the only line of treatment, or it may be given in combination with other cancer treatments. Your veterinarian will discuss the protocol that is most appropriate for your pet and the potential side effects prior to starting therapy.

The length of time your pet will be on chemotherapy depends on the type of cancer, the treatment goals you and your veterinarian have determined, and your pet's response to treatment. Some pets remain on chemo for the rest of their lives, while others are able to stop therapy if it appears they are in remission.

How Will Chemo Affect My pet?

Animals tend to tolerate chemotherapy better than people do. This is largely because veterinary oncologists use lower doses of drugs and don't combine as many drugs as human oncologists do. Severe side effects in pets are rare, however every animal is different and may have an unexpected reaction to any drug. Note that side effects usually take 24-72 hours to show.

Known Side Effects of Chemotherapy

  • Gastrointestinal issues including decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea – which, if untreated, may lead to weight loss and dehydration. You can treat these problems with antinausea medications and appetite stimulants recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Immune-suppressive effects which may lead to an increased susceptibility to infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed as a preventive measure.
  • Hair loss (also known as alopecia) – while this is less common in pets, it can certainly happen. It may show in spots, as a general thinning, or the entire coat may fall out. Hair generally begins to grow back within a few weeks to a month after treatment ends.

How Do I Take Care of My Pet After Chemotherapy?

Your pet may be tired after treatment – don't encourage strenuous exercise for the first few days. If you have medications sent home with you, make note of the instructions written on the medication and call your veterinarian if you have questions. If your pet takes other supplements or medications regularly, please discuss these with the veterinarian as well, to make sure they are OK to give safely in addition to the chemotherapy.

We Are Here for You

The goal of chemotherapy is to extend or improve the quality of life for a pet with cancer. Most owners are surprised at how well their pet does with chemotherapy. The good news is that cancer is not always life-threatening for pets and may be manageable or treatable for a very long time.

Call us at 815-398-6484 if you have any questions or would like to start getting treatment for your pet.

Chemotherapy Safety Tips for Pet Owners