What to Know About Chemotherapy for Dogs

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
A common treatment for humans, chemotherapy is also used for dogs. If your dog has cancer, chemotherapy may be a treatment option that could save his life.

“Cancer” is a scary word, especially when you’re talking about your best friend – your dog. Unfortunately, fifty percent of dogs over the age of 10 years develop some form of cancer and the cost to treat it with chemotherapy often doesn’t justify an extra six months or so of life. But what exactly does chemotherapy look like for dogs and what do you need to know when considering it as an option? Keep reading to find out.

When is Chemotherapy an Option?

Simply put, chemotherapy is the name given to medications that are designed to kill cancer cells. The specific combination of these medications given to a dog is determined by the type of cancer as well as its severity. As long as the cancer is caught early, many forms of cancer are treatable with chemotherapy, and dogs tend to respond better to this type of treatment than humans do. Dogs do not lose their hair and gastrointestinal side effects like nausea and vomiting are less common.

Related: 7 Types of Cancer in Dogs

The most common forms of cancer in dogs are lymphoma, mast cell tumors, mammary gland tumors, and soft tissue sarcoma as well as various types of bone cancer. While surgery is common for tumors, chemotherapy may be recommended in cases where the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body (this is called metastasis), or if there is a high potential for this to happen. Even if your dog undergoes surgery, chemotherapy may be recommended as a precaution against recurrence.

How Much Does Chemotherapy Cost?

If you’ve ever taken your dog to an emergency veterinarian, you know that non-standard veterinary services can be very expensive. The cost of chemotherapy varies greatly depending how many treatments your dog needs, but the standard protocol to treat lymphoma costs between $3,500 and $4,500 on average. For more aggressive cancers or cancers that have already spread, the cost could be upwards of $10,000. As much as you love your dog, you need to ask yourself whether you can afford the price of chemotherapy and whether it will actually extend your dog’s lifespan to a significant degree.

Related: The National Canine Cancer Foundation

What Should You Expect During Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy drugs come in several different forms. In most cases, they can be administered by injection in a treatment that lasts no more than a few seconds. Some treatments need to be administered more slowly, over the course of a few minutes, but it is rare for the treatment to last all day. There are also oral medications that can be given in the vet’s office or at home.

The side effects of chemotherapy are much milder for dogs than for humans and they last for a shorter period of time. Up to 80% of dogs who receive chemotherapy have no side effects at all and, those who do, usually only experience a loss of appetite and mild nausea. Less than 5% of dogs will have a severe enough reaction that they need to be given IV fluids in the office and, in most cases, any side effects a dog experiences will disappear within a day or two.

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is never easy, but you need to keep your wits about you and make the smart choice. Talk to your veterinary oncologist about the options and have a very real conversation about your dog’s chances. In some cases, it may be better to keep your dog comfortable and help him enjoy his remaining time rather than subjecting him to chemotherapy treatments.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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