Like most people, I assume, I didn’t really think there was much you could do to treat a dog with cancer. I had heard of people doing chemo, but it didn’t really seem like a common thing or something most would do because of the expense. It also seemed like a lot to put a dog through if there really is no cure for their cancer. Would they be sick the whole time? Would they lose their hair? Would it even work? These were all the questions I had when I first reached out an oncologist.
For this post, I will share the information I’ve learned so far on chemo and our experience with it.
Lymphoma chemo treatment – CHOP 19 Protocol
This is the most common type of treatment for dogs with lymphoma. It consists of incorporating several injectable and oral drugs on a weekly basis for 19 weeks. Dogs get a break usually after four treatments and are checked by the oncologist weekly to monitor blood work and potentially do ultrasounds to check the growth of the lymph node. Many dogs take prednisone, a steroid, along with chemo. The combination of chemo and prednisone is the most aggressive way to try to get a dog into remission. You can just treat a dog with prednisone, which is much more affordable than chemo, but since it is a steroid at some point it’s possible the dog could build up an immunity to it and it will lose its effectiveness. Based on this information, we decided to try both chemo and pred, and take it week by week to see how he handled it and if it helped.
The oncologist warned me that many dogs don’t handle chemo well. Many have issues with their appetite, or vomiting and/or diarrhea. It’s not as bad as human chemo though, since dogs don’t get as high of a dose as a human would, so although some sickness is common, they usually don’t lose fur. And some dogs handle it with little to no issues.
Knowing it differs for every dog, it was hard to know what to expect. Before each chemo treatment, the dog is told to fast and they do blood work to check that their white blood cell count is high enough for them to do chemo. Since Roscoe’s blood work was good at his first appointment, he was given vincristine, an injectable drug.
Everything was good for about a week, and then Roscoe got very sick. Throwing up repeatedly and shaking. He would still eat, but throw it right up after. I called the oncologist in the morning and they said to bring him right in and they’d fit him in between exams.
***This is where I stop to rave about Metropolitan Veterinary Hospital. Before Roscoe was diagnosed I had a lot of stressful nights not being able to get him vet appointments, or having to drop him off to wait 6+ hours at the emergency vet for him to even be seen by a doctor. I know things are very bad for emergency vets right now, so I am not blaming anyone- but it was very stressful and difficult to go through with a sick dog. I was so relieved when Metro said they could just work him in. And the staff at Metro has been so kind and understanding. I have really been impressed with their customer service and flexibility, especially during such a stressful time.***
Ok back to Roscoe’s treatment. He ended up having to stay overnight with the vet as he had a fever and his white blood cell count dropped really low. He had what they refer to as chemo-induced neutropenia, which is common after chemo but can make a dog more susceptible to infections. By the morning though, he was back to normal – blood work improved and he was eating normally.
Although he was feeling better now, I talked to the oncologist who said that it was unusual that he responded so negatively to this treatment. He explained that that particular chemo treatment is not as hard on the bone marrow as some of the other treatments would be. He was concerned if he didn’t handle this one well, it would only get worse from here. He also let me know that the ultrasound did not show any reduction in the lymph node, which they do expect to see after one treatment.
Based on this info, I had a decision to make – should we even continue chemo? If he would get this sick each time is it fair to put him through it? And how long could I give it if I wasn’t seeing any improvement in his lymph node?
The oncologist said to give it a week and we’d recheck his blood work and make a decision then.
Up next- Continuing Chemo? And Pursuing Alternative Treatments.
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