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What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy are drugs used to destroy tumor cells by attacking rapidly dividing cells which are common in most types of cancer. Most chemotherapy agents are injectable medications that have to be given by specially trained chemotherapy nurses in the hospital, others are oral medications that can be given at the hospital or at home in some cases.

At our hospital, we have a specialized area to treat our chemotherapy patients that is separate from the rest of the hospital that ensures safety as well as a calming environment for your pet. We also have specialized equipment to keep us, your pet, and you safe while administering chemotherapy.

Are there any side effects with chemotherapy?

The most important thing to remember about chemotherapy is that we use relatively lower doses compared to people, so our rate of side effects is much lower than what you may have heard or seen in friends or family receiving chemotherapy.

  • Only about 20% of animal patients have side effects to chemotherapy.
  • Only about 5% will have severe side effects that could potentially put them in the hospital.
  • About 15% will have side effects that are mild enough that you could treat at home with oral medications. These medications include anti-nausea medications, anti-diarrheal medications, appetite stimulants, and antibiotics.

What your pet may need depends on the symptoms and how significant they are.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy attacks all the rapidly dividing cells in the body. These include the cancer cells as well as the lining of the intestines and the bone marrow. When the intestines are affected, we can see decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. This usually happens between 3 and 5 days after the treatment and can be treated with medications if mild. If severe, your pet may need to spend a few days in the hospital to get IV fluids to prevent dehydration and medications until they are eating and drinking again well on their own.

When the bone marrow if affected, we can see a low white blood cell or platelet count. This could cause lethargy, decreased appetite, diarrhea, fever or an infection. Most patients, even if the white blood cell count is very low, do not show any symptoms and oral antibiotics at home are the only treatment needed. If the white blood cell count is very low and your pet has a fever or feels sick, a stay in the hospital for a day or two on IV fluids and antibiotics until they are feeling better may be needed, although this is rare. The white blood cell count is routinely checked one week after the treatment, when the white blood cell count is at its lowest, to monitor for these problems and be proactive in treating this side effect.

How is chemotherapy given?

  • Injectable chemotherapy is almost always given IV (in the vein) through a temporary catheter.
  • Some treatments are given over a few minutes, some over 20-30 minutes, and some over several hours.
  • Each specific drug has a specific way to be administered.
  • Oral chemotherapy is either given every few weeks at the hospital or daily or every other day at home by you.

Am I at risk if my pet has chemotherapy?

With most chemotherapy agents there are byproducts that are processed by the body and eliminated either through stool or urine. Most are processed to the point that they have little to no affect on other animals or people.

There are some medications, that when eliminated from the body, can potentially cause harm to humans and other animals and your oncologist will let you know what precautions to take and if you are at risk.

If any precautions should be taken they are usually to pick up stool right away and limit any exposure of stool and urine from pregnant or nursing women. A few take home medications should be given with gloves and it is always a good habit to wash your hands after giving any oral medications.

What type of cancer is treated with chemotherapy?

Most cancers can be treated with chemotherapy, however your oncologist will determine what type of treatment is best for your pet and your family. Every pet is different and it is important that each pet is evaluated on a case by case basis to ensure superior care. You will work directly with your oncologist to determine what are the best treatment options for your pet.

  • Lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Mast cell tumor
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Bladder cancer
  • Mammary cancer
  • Anal sac tumors
  • Histiocytic sarcoma
  • Sarcomas
  • Injection site sarcomas
  • Additional types of tumors
See our departments

Oncology

What Is A Veterinary Oncologist?

A veterinary oncologist has specialized knowledge in the diagnosis of cancer, the staging of tumors, the development of treatment plans, and the administration of chemotherapy.
When your pet is faced with cancer, a veterinary oncologist will typically work in concert with your pet's primary veterinarian in order to obtain the best possible medical outcome for your pet. A veterinary oncologist can help your pet by developing treatment plans that incorporate one or all of the following options:
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy

Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Oncologist?

Just as in humans, a pet with cancer typically needs the help of an oncologist to help diagnose and treat the disease. Veterinary oncologists determine the most appropriate course of treatment and coordinate a pet’s treatment program.
While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with the veterinary oncologist about your pet's care, in other cases it is necessary to actually refer you and your pet to the veterinary oncologist for more advanced diagnostics and treatment. Veterinary oncologists may also have access to specialized diagnostic and/or treatment tools that your primary veterinarian may not have.

My Pet Has Cancer. Now What?

Cancer does appear to be becoming more common in pets, most likely because they are simply living longer. The most important point to realize about this dreaded disease, however, is that just as in people, many forms of the disease can be easily treated, managed, and even cured. Early detection and specialized care are leading to increased survival and cure rates in almost all of the types of cancers that afflict pets. From surgery to chemotherapy to radiation therapy, veterinary oncologists can offer your pet the very latest diagnostic and treatment options and the best chance of survival. With optimal treatment, cancer in many cases simply becomes another manageable chronic disease.
Veterinary oncologists typically treat:
  • Common Cancers
  • Skin tumors
  • Mammary tumors
  • Lymphosarcoma
  • Endocrine tumors
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma

ONCEPT Canine Melanoma Vaccine
There is ongoing research and clinical trials to develop new and effective treatment options for pets with cancer. Many veterinary medical advances have been made in recent years. One breakthrough treatment was the development of the ONCEPT Canine Melanoma Vaccine.

Developed by VCA Katonah-Bedford Veterinary Center (KBVC) Oncology Specialist Dr. Philip Bergman in partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Merial, it is the first commercially available vaccine for the treatment of canine melanoma. Melanoma is one of the most common and aggressive forms of cancer in dogs and most often seen in the mouth or digits of dogs This innovative DNA-based cancer vaccine has demonstrated longer life spans for dogs with Stage I and Stage II canine melanoma.

Since receiving full USDA approval in 2009, thousands of dogs have been treated with ONCEPT and it has shown to be a safe, effective adjunct therapy that can prolong survival times in dogs with canine melanoma. The vaccine is administered via a Canine Transdermal Device, which delivers the vaccine without the use of a needle. ONCEPT is available through our hospital’s Oncology Department. 

Discuss with your oncologist if the Melanoma Vaccine is right for your pet.
 
Additional information may also be found at these links:

Will My Primary Veterinarian Still Be Involved?

In most cases, your regular veterinarian will still supervise your pet's veterinary care and will work in tandem with the veterinary oncologist and any other members of your pet's veterinary health care team.

Did You Know?

Dogs and cats have higher age adjusted incidence rates for many kinds of cancers than do humans. For example, dogs are 35 times more likely to get skin cancer than humans. They suffer from 8 times the amount of bone cancer and 4 times the amount of breast cancer. However, humans are more likely to get lung and stomach cancers than pets.

Our Oncology Services

Clinical Pathology
Blood Chemistry Analyzer
Bone Marrow Aspirate
Cancer Staging

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