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Pet Chemo

Chemotherapy is used in the treatment of many cancers to kill tumor cells and improve survival times in dogs and cats with cancer. Our first and foremost goal is to be as aggressive as possible, but to balance that with maintaining a good quality of life with minimal side effects. Chemotherapy is generally very well tolerated by most dogs and cats, with only about 10 to 15% of patients experiencing side effects. In general, the most common side effects of chemotherapy are mild gastrointestinal effects (decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) and bone marrow suppression (most commonly a decrease in the white blood cell count or platelets). We will check bloodwork before every dose of chemotherapy to make sure that the cell counts are in a safe range for treatment. We may also ask you to have bloodwork checked in between treatments in some cases (usually these can be done with your family veterinarian). Some drugs can also affect the liver or kidneys, so we may need to check these before treatments as well. Please refer to the web pages for each chemotherapy medication which will discuss any other side effects that may be seen with each drug.

Chemotherapy medications come in many different forms. Some medications are given at home, by mouth, often in a small treat for your pet. Sometimes these medications can even be made into a formula that is a liquid and that tastes good, so your friend doesn’t mind receiving them. Other medications must be given by injection. Some injections must be given into the vein, but some are given under the skin. Most of the time, your pet is held while wide awake by one of our staff members for the injection. Some of the injections are very fast but other must be given over 20 to 30 minutes. A catheter may need to be placed into a vein which will require a small patch of fur be shaved.

The following is a list of some potential side effects that you may see at home, and suggestions on how to deal with them. Please do not hesitate to call us if you have any concerns about how your pet is doing. At night and over the weekend, emergency veterinarians are available around the Valley to help.

Dogs and cats almost never lose their hair following chemotherapy. Rarely, they will lose whiskers or eyelashes. Sometimes the hair changes consistency (i.e. a curly haired dog becomes straighter or vice versa).

Symptoms of nausea include drooling and lack of appetite
If your pet was prescribed an anti-nausea medication, such as Cerenia or metoclopramide, you can give this – if not, please call the clinic and we often prescribe something
Encourage your pet to eat with small meals of a bland diet such as boiled chicken breast or ground turkey and rice
Call the clinic if nausea persists for more than 24 hours

If your pet was prescribed an anti-nausea medication, such as Cerenia or metoclopramide, you can give this – if not, please call the clinic and we often prescribe something
After an episode of vomiting, please hold pet off food and water for 4 to 6 hours, then try introducing small amounts of water and/or ice cubes.  If your pet drinks and does not vomit, you can try introducing small, frequent meals of a bland diet such as cooked chicken breast or ground turkey and rice
If the vomiting persists, or your pet’s condition is deteriorating, please call the hospital or emergency service  immediately, as more aggressive treatment may be needed.

If your pet was prescribed anti-diarrhea medication, such as metronidazole, then you can go ahead and use this for 2 to 3 days or as needed – if you do not have any medication at home, please call and we can prescribe something.
If the appetite is picky, you can feed a bland diet such as cooked chicken breast or ground turkey and rice either alone, or with the normal diet.
Please call if there is any blood in the stool, or if the diarrhea does not resolve within 3 or 4 days

Depending on the chemotherapy drug, the white blood cell count can reach its lowest point between 7 and 14 days after treatment.  The main risk during this time, if the white blood cell count goes extremely low, is infection.  Infection may cause lethargy and a fever.  If you are concerned about your pet, you can monitor the temperature rectally at home.  You can use a human digital thermometer and lubricate the tip with KY jelly or Vaseline.  A normal rectal temperature is 100°F to 102°F.  If your pet’s temperature is over 103°F, he/she should be seen by a veterinarian.  Fever secondary to infection due to a low white blood cell count is an emergency, and your pet needs to be seen by us, your family veterinarian, or an emergency clinic as soon as possible. 

Chemotherapy in dogs and cats is always scary to think about but with advancements in the medications available to us, most tolerate it extremely well. Please give Arizona Veterinary Oncology a call today to schedule an appointment to discuss what is best for your pet.

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Veterinarian Job Opportunities

We are currently accepting applications for a full time experienced veterinary technician and a medical oncologist. More details available here.