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Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with anticancer drugs. These compounds are toxic to malignant cells. They are generally administered intravenously, but can also be given by mouth or by injection. Chemotherapy may be the only line of treatment, or it may be given in combination with other modalities. For cancers that are at high risk of spreading, such as hemangiosarcoma, chemotherapy may be employed after surgery or radiation to help slow down the growth of cancer that may have metastasized or already spread. Chemotherapy is also used to shrink the size of a tumor prior to surgery or to increase your pet's comfort while living without the disease.

The goal of chemotherapy in veterinary oncology is generally to extend or improve the quality of life for an affected pet.

Chemotherapeutic "protocols" vary by type of cancer, the extent of the disease, the health of your pet, and any other known issues that are individual to your pet. Chemotherapeutic agents, for example, can affect certain breeds differently.

Route: Some chemotherapeutic agents are given intravenously over a period of time in the veterinarian's office. Others require a simple injection. Yet you may give others orally at home.
Frequency: Chemotherapy may be given daily, weekly, or once every three weeks. This allows the bone marrow to recover and produce more white blood cells.
Duration: 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 therapy. Some pets will remain on chemotherapy for the rest of their lives. Other pets may be able to conclude chemotherapy if it appears they are in remission.
Selection: Chemotherapy drugs are also used in combination. This often enhances the efficacy of the drugs, thus, allowing them to be used at a lower dose. Some tumors can also be resistant to a certain drug. Using a combination of drugs helps combat this issue, as each drug may work differently to fight the cancer. The selection of drugs used will depend on what the standard protocol is for your pet's particular cancer, as well as your veterinarian's recommendations regarding your pet's individual health status.

Compared to people, pets suffer fewer and less severe side effects from chemotherapy. This is primarily because veterinary oncologist use lower doses of drugs, and do not combine as many drugs as do human oncologists. All rapidly dividing cells in the body are sensitive to chemotherapy, and while cancer cells fall into that category, so do cells that are found in the intestinal tract, bone marrow, and hair follicles. Chemotherapy, therefore, may result in gastrointestinal upset, immune suppression, and hair loss in some pets.

Possible gastrointestinal effects include decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea, which if untreated, can lead to weight loss and dehydration. These effects are often delayed by several days after treatment. Veterinarians can treat these problems with antinausea medications and appetite stimulants.

Immune-suppressive effects result when the bone marrow is no longer able to make as many white blood cells (called neutropenia) which in turn leads to an increased susceptibility to infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed as a preventative measure.

Some pets, just like some people, may lose their hair during chemotherapy treatment (known as alopecia). While this is less common in pets, it does happen. Whiskers are most commonly affected, especially in cats. Some breeds of dogs (e.g., poodles) are most affected by hair loss than others. Hair loss generally starts two to three weeks after chemotherapy begins. It may appear just in spots, as a general thinning, or the entire hair coat may fall out. Hair generally begins to grow back within a few weeks to a month after treatment ends.

While severe side effects are extremely rare, be aware that any animal can have an unexpected reaction to an agent.

At each chemotherapy visit, the veterinarian will physically examine your pet and blood will be taken. Blood tests will be conducted to monitor white blood cells and other parameters. Additional diagnostic tests, such as ultrasonography, may be scheduled as needed. Once the tests are reviewed and your pet is cleared for the next round of chemotherapy, administration will begin.

The goal of treatment is to provide you and your pet with the longest amount of time together, while still maintaining the highest quality of life possible for your pet.

Always closely follow your veterinarian's instructions regarding the safe administration of any chemotherapeutic agent at home. Wear latex gloves when handling drugs and never break or cut a chemotherapy tablet in two.

Store chemotherapy drugs out of the reach of children and other pets

Avoid direct contact with your pet's urine and feces for at least 48 hours after chemotherapy administration. It's a good idea to take your pet to a remote location in your yard in order to take care of business.

Part of your pet's recovery plan includes attention from the people your pet loves best. Apart from following the common sense recommendations above, don't be afraid to pet or cuddle with your friend.

The diagnosis of cancer in a beloved pet can be devastating. However, it is important to realize that, as in human cancers, many forms of this disease in animals can be treated, managed, and even cured. Early detection and specialized care are leading to increased survival and cure rates in almost all types of cancers that afflict pets.

Chemotherapy, alone or in combination with surgery and/or radiation, is one of the most effective ways to treat your pet's cancer. The main message that veterinarians and veterinary oncologist want to convey to owners today is that cancer can be successfully treated. Many owners are concerned about 'putting their pets through chemo.' The reality is that most pets handle chemotherapy very well.

Cancer treatment for both people and pets has become more sophisticated, and the side effects created by chemotherapy regimens have become less severe.

Chemotherapy administration in animals is less aggressive than it is in humans, so side effects, if encountered, are often very mild in pets. In humans, doctors seek to achieve a cure. In animals, the goal is to extend life while maintaining its quality. An additional 12-18 months of life for a dog is equivalent to several additional years for a human patient.

When side effects do occur, veterinarians have many options at their disposal to help keep your pet comfortable.

Most owners are pleasantly surprised at how well their pet does with chemotherapy, how good a quality of life their pet is able to maintain, and how gratifying it is to have the extra time with a treasured friend.


  • Make sure you schedule and keep all appointments.
  • Monitor your pet closely for signs of discomfort and report any changes to your veterinarian.
  • Provide your pet with plenty of 'comfort care'; a lot of attention and petting, a comfortable place to sleep, and more frequent trips outside for your pet to take care of business.
  • Pay close attention to diet. If your pet's appetite declines, try offering smaller, more frequent meals; add warm broth, bland meats or favorite foods to a meal; try hand feeding. Offer plenty of fresh water and monitor how much your pet is drinking.

If you have any concerns or questions at any time, please contact your pet's doctor so that he can help.

See our departments


Welcome to the Oncology Department at VCA SouthPaws Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center.

There are fewer than 300 board certified veterinary oncologists in the entire world, and VCA SouthPaws has 3 of them. As a result, with all aspects of cancer therapy available at VCA SouthPaws, multi-disciplinary patient management to improve quality of life is our goal.

Our Oncology Department offers:

  • Diagnostic medical services to evaluate, stage and confirm cancer diagnoses including on-site, same day cytologic evaluation, digital radiography, CT scan, ultrasound, and full laboratory services
  • Medical management including comfort care, combination and single agent chemotherapy, antiangiogenic and metronomic therapy, immunotherapy, nutritional counseling, innovative and novel therapeutics
  • Clinical trials for cancer patients
  • Linear Accelerator for external beam radiation therapy enabling us to provide both photon and electron radiation therapy for deep or superficial cancer therapy.
  • Palliative radiation therapy
  • I-131 for safe and effective cures for hyperthyroidism in cats

What Is A Veterinary Oncologist?

A board certified veterinary oncologist is a veterinary internal medicine specialist who has additional training in veterinary oncology. 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, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, nutritional therapy, novel therapeutics, and multimodality therapy. When your pet is faced with cancer, a veterinary oncologist will work in concert with your pet's general practitioner 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
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Novel therapeutics/targeted therapies
  • Metronomic therapy

While your regular veterinarian can diagnose and treat many health problems, certain diseases like cancer require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive training in veterinary oncology.

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 the treatment program for pets with cancer. They also frequently serve as consultants to veterinarians in private practice to ensure that their patients receive the best treatment possible for their cancer. You can be assured that a veterinarian who refers you and your pet to a veterinary oncologist is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of medical care for his or her illness.

While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to consult with the veterinary oncologist about your pet's care, in other cases it is necessary for you and your pet to see the veterinary oncologist for more advanced diagnostics and treatment. Board certified veterinary internists/oncologists may also have access to specialized diagnostic or treatment tools that a general practitioner 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 the types of cancers that afflict pets. From surgery to chemotherapy to radiation therapy, veterinary cancer specialists 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.

If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, it is important not to become overwhelmed. Ask your veterinarian to write down the most important points for you to review later. If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, however, you will either want to have your veterinarian work in consultation with a veterinary oncologist, or be referred to one of these specialists quickly. . VCA SouthPaws Oncologists are available five days a week to see you and your pet directly. We are also on call to our CritiCare department so that pets whose cancer is an emergency can receive treatment afterhours, on weekends or holidays.

Cancer Therapy in 2011 and beyond

For many years, our best hope for dogs and cats with cancer was to be able to remove it surgically. That left all those patients with cancers that spread to other parts of the body (or which involved multiple parts of the body from the outset) without a good long term treatment option. In the 1990s and 2000s, we achieved great steps in being able to use chemotherapy in helping this group of patients with metastatic or systemic cancer to live years with their disease, while enjoying excellent quality of life. We learned to use radiation therapy to manage localized cancers that could not be treated surgically. Dogs with high grade lymphoma moved from only living less than few months to living well for 1.5-2 years. Dogs with oral squamous cell carcinoma can achieve two year tumor-free survival routinely following radiation therapy.

In this decade, we're exploring more options for treating cancer patients who cannot be cured surgically, with drugs and other modalities designed to slow cancer progression and metastases €“ sometimes in place of traditional chemotherapy, and sometimes in addition to traditional therapies. These new modalities include metronomic therapy (low dose oral chemo given at home) as well as growth inhibitor therapies like the tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Metronomic therapy, which acts by inhibiting blood vessels from feeding the cancer) has prevented many incompletely excised soft tissue sarcomas from recurring without requiring radical surgery like amputations. TK inhibitors are being used to prevent recurrence in dogs treated with surgery and chemotherapy for cutaneous mastocytosis (turning a prognosis of <10 months into two years or more). Immunotherapy has also achieved great success in the adjuvant therapy of canine melanoma following adequate surgery or radiation therapy €“ changing average survival times from under 6 months to over 18 months. Bone hardening drugs like pamidronate are used to prevent fracture and pain associated with a tumor's invasion of bone, as well as to slow bone cancer growth and progression. While many of these therapies are not the traditional €œchemo€┬Ł approach, most are still only safe when frequent follow up examinations and labwork are monitored to ensure the best outcome.

More and more, when we cannot hope for a cure, we are being able to change the rapid death sentence that was a cancer diagnosis, into a manageable chronic disease, while keeping dogs and cats happy and symptom-free at home. Even when directed cancer therapies are not possible for a particular pet, comfort care at home may result in a better quality of life with cancer. As multiple treatment options exist for each of the hundreds of different kinds of cancer which dogs and cats develop, it is essential for pet owners to consult with a veterinary oncologist to get the most up-to-date options for their pet's care.

Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?

Every time your pet is seen at VCA SouthPaws, a complete report will be forwarded to your veterinarian so that she/he will know what was discussed, what treatments were provided, and how we need her/his assistance in following up on your pet's care.

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 are 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

Blood Chemistry Analyzer
Bone Marrow Aspirate
Cancer Staging

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