The Savvy VetTech

Top 5 Myths About Veterinary Chemotherapy

by Cathy Barnette - June 7, 2021 at 4:10 PM
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IconVTPWhen a pet is diagnosed with cancer and the word chemotherapy is mentioned, clients often jump to a number of conclusions.

Many of these conclusions are based on what clients have seen or heard in the field of human chemotherapy.

While drawing comparisons between human and veterinary chemotherapy is completely natural and understandable, many of these comparisons are not true; these preconceptions may prevent clients from considering chemotherapy with an open mind.

At the mention of the word “chemotherapy,” clients often think of these five common myths:

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Myth #1: My pet will lose its hair. 

Many of us have experience with a human patient who has lost hair during chemotherapy. It’s only natural for clients to assume that their pet will experience similar effects; this assumption may make them reluctant to consider chemotherapy for their pet. Even though pets probably aren’t as attached to their hair as humans, owners may worry that hair loss could damage their human-animal bond or make daily activities more challenging. Fortunately, pets rarely lose their hair during chemotherapy! A small number of breeds (maltes, poodle, West Highland white terrier, and schnauzer) may experience thinning of their coat, but even these breeds are unlikely to become completely bald. Dogs don’t experience the same continual hair growth as humans; their hair is in a different stage of growth than human hair. This means that chemotherapy does not have the same effects on dog hair as it does on human hair. 

Myth #2: Chemotherapy will make my pet sick and lead to suffering. 

While chemotherapy does have some side effects in pets, dogs and cats tend to tolerate chemotherapy far better than humans. Unlike in humans, long periods of vomiting and anorexia are not the norm in veterinary patients. Gastrointestinal effects may occur, but they are seen in a minority of patients and can often be managed with medical therapy. In veterinary chemotherapy, maintaining a good quality of life is a high priority; clients should not expect or accept that their pet will feel ill during treatment. 

Myth #3: I’m too busy to pursue chemotherapy for my pet. 

Most pets receiving chemotherapy will need to travel to a veterinary oncologist every few weeks for the duration of their treatment. This does require a time commitment from the owner, as it would be counterproductive to begin treatment and then have to discontinue that treatment before completion. However, even if an owner’s schedule will not permit routine intravenous chemotherapy, it may still be worth consulting with an oncologist to see if other treatments, such as at-home oral chemotherapy, could be beneficial.

Myth #4: I don’t want my pet to have to give up their normal routine (walks, playtime, cuddles, etc.) during chemotherapy.  

Although there may be more frequent veterinary visits, pets receiving chemotherapy lead relatively normal lives. Most pets continue with their typical daily routine throughout treatment, with post-treatment lethargy being relatively rare and typically only lasting for a couple of days. Pets that are receiving chemotherapy do not need to be separated from other humans or pets in the home (although the owners should wear gloves if cleaning up urine or feces in the first 48 hours post-treatment). Pets can still sleep in their owners’ beds, take neighborhood walks with the family, and engage in other daily activities. In fact, it’s even safe for pets to be boarded during chemotherapy, though boarding should not be scheduled in the several days immediately after treatment. 

Myth #5: Chemotherapy is too expensive. 

While it is true that chemotherapy isn’t cheap, the cost of chemotherapy can vary significantly depending on the protocol that is used. Additionally, financing options like CareCredit® may be available to help owners fund their pet’s chemotherapy. Unless an owner has severe financial restrictions that completely remove chemotherapy as an option, an oncology consultation is always a good first step. The oncologist can work with the client to present appropriate treatment options, allowing the client to make an educated decision on the best approach for their individual pet and their financial situation. 

Not every client will elect to pursue chemotherapy… and that’s okay! As a vet tech, your job is to help the veterinarian present clients with the information they need to make an informed decision. Dispelling common client myths is a huge part of that job, allowing your clients to be more receptive to the actual facts about veterinary chemotherapy.

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About Cathy Barnette

Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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