How To Treat Cancer For Dogs

How To Treat Cancer For DogsPuppy, Dog, Pet, Animal, Cute, White

Different cancers respond best to different treatments.  Before a treatment plan can be made for an individual dog, the cancer must be precisely identified, usually through the a biopsy.

the extent and possible spread of the cancer must be evaluated, often through x-rays and lymph node or bone marrow biopsies, and the dog’s general health and ability to tolerate the proposed treatment must be assessed via a thorough physical exam, blood tests, and sometimes an electrocardiogram (EKG) or ultrasound exam of the heart.

Here is an explanation of cancer treatments, the principles behind them, and their potential side effects.


Cancer that consists of a single tumor or is restricted to a small area of the body can often be removed surgically.  The main drawback of surgery as a treatment for cancer is that you can’t be certain it will remove every single cancer cell from the dog’s body, so there’s a possibility that the cancer could recur in the future.  

Chemotherapy or radiation are sometimes used after surger to kill any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.  Potential side effects are:  Bleeding or anesthetic complications during surgery.  There is also postsurgical infection, postsurgical pain,possible loss of function of affected areas.  Postsurgical pain can be treated safely and effectively and need not be considered a deterrent to surgery.  The risk of the other complications is low with most surgeries and can be estimated more precisely for a specificdog and procedure by the veterinary surgeon.

ChemotherapyHusky, Dog, Dog Breed, Animal, Sled Dog

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or damage rapidly dividing cells.  It is used to treat blood-cell cancers, such as lymphoma and leukemia, and cancers that have metastasized or are higly aggresive and like to metastasize.  These drugs may be given orally or intravenously, or injected directly into the tumor.  

Cancer cells can develop resistance to individual chemotherapy drugs, so often several different drugs are used in rotation.  Chemotherapy usually lasts for six to twelve weeks.  Intravenous chemotherapy drugs are given in the hospital anywhere from once every three weeks to twice a week, depending on the drug and the cancer being treated.

Oral chemotherapy drugs are given at home once or twice a day.  Potential adverse side effects:  Bone-marrow suppression leading to reduced numbers of white blood cells and a risk of infection nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; severe chemical burns if IV chemotherapy drugs leak from the vein into surrounding tissues.  (Individual chemotherapy agents may have other, specific side effects, which your veterinarian will explain.)

Bone-marrow suppression is monitored by running blood tests periodically while a dog is undergoing chemotherapy.  If the white blood cell levels drop low enough to create a risk of serious infection, chemotherapy is halted for a week or two to allow the bone marrow to catch up in cell production.

Antibiotics also can be given to combat infection.  Dogs undergoing chemotherapy usually don’t develop the severe nausea and vomiting that people sometimes do, but anti-nausea drugs and stomach protectants are given if needed.  Dogs rarely lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy.

RadiationDachshund, Puppy, Young Animal

Radiation kills cancer cells by bombarding them with atomic particles.  It is often used to shrink or destroy tumors that are too extensive or inaccessible for surgery, such as tumors of the mouth and throat, nasal passages, or brain.  

Radiation treatments are given two to five times a week for three to six weeks.  Dogs receive a short-acting anesthetic before each treatment to ensure that they don’t move once the radiation beam has been precisely aimed at the tumor

Potential adverse side effects- Burnlike injuries to normal tissues overlying the tumor; temporary hair loss in the area radiated; mouth pain, drooling, difficulty eating, and loss of appetite when the mouth or throat are radiated. Radiation “burns” are cleaned and protected with a bandage or ointment and usually heal well within a couple of weeks.

Mouth pain, drooling, and loss of appetite are treated with mouth rises and Pain relievers.  A feeding tube can be placed in the stomach before radiation treatment begins if the dog is likely to have difficulty eating.  Mouth irritation usually heals within a couple of weeks after radiation treatment is completed.

Cryotherapy and Hyperthermia

Freezing (cryotherapy) or heating (hyperthermia) can sometimes be used to kill small (less than 1/2 inch in diameter) benign or malignant tumors of the surface of the body.  Potential advantages of cryotherapy and hyperthermia over surgery of the body.  Potential advantages of cryotherapy and hyper-thermia over surgery are that they are fast and require only local anesthesia.  

The main drawback is they will not kill cancer cells that have spread beyond the small area frozen or heated.  Chemotherapy or radiation is sometimes used afterward to kill stray cancer cells.

Potential adverse side effects:  Cryotherapy and hyperthermia leave a wound about double the size of the original tumor that scabs over and heals, with basic wound care (cleaning and ointment or a bandage), within about two weeks.  The hair in that area grow back a different color or texture than it was originally.

Immune-System ModulatorsDog, Snow, St Bernard Dog, Winter, Pet

A dog’s own white blood cells will attack and kill cancer cells- if they find them and recognize them as a threat.  Immune-system modulators are substances give orally or by injection that rev up the immune system and help it to recognize and target cancer cells.  The main drawback is that a dog’s immune system is unlikely to be able to kill every tumor cell in a cancer that has already gotten a head start.  

Therefore, immune-system modulators are most often combined with other cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.  Potential adverse side effects- These vary with the specific modulator.  Some have no adverse side effects.  

What We’ve LearnedDog, Labrador, Light Brown, Pet, Animal

Here we what talked about the different types of treatment for different cancer and their efficacy.  Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, cryotherapy, hyperthermia, and immune-system modulators, are all potential treatments for cancer that all have benefits, side effects, and the down side.  I hope that by reading this article, you have received enlightened about the different types of treatments available for you if your dog has cancer.  Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom.

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