WA Veterinary Emergency & Specialty (WAVES)


What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs that are used to treat cancer.

The aims of using chemotherapy in pets is to improved quality of life and increase life expectancy.

How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy works by damaging rapidly growing cells. Cancer cells are rapidly growing and often cannot repair the damage caused by chemotherapy drugs.

Will my pet experience side effects?

All anticancer medications, or chemotherapy drugs, have the potential to produce adverse side effects. However, due to the lower doses used in pets, the side effects that can occur in pets are usually not as severe as those that occur in humans. It is important to know what the possible side effects of each drug are so that you will know what to expect. As the caregiver, you have an important role in recognizing the side effects, managing them at home whenever possible, and alerting your veterinarian if the side effects persist.

Side effect occur as rapidly growing cells within the body, such as the bone marrow, which continually produces blood cells, and the lining cells in the intestinal tract. As a result, two common side effects of chemotherapy are low white blood cell and platelet counts, as well as diarrhoea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Pets rarely lose their hair as human cancer patients do.

This information has been adapted from a client information sheet by Antony S. Moore and Angela Frimberger. Ettinger: Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 7th Edition