Pet Talk: Treat cancer if you want your dog longer
February 23, 2011
A friend of mine in the valley told me his friend, also a veterinarian in the valley, thinks chemotherapy is a waste of time and money.
“I wouldn’t treat my own dog,” the vet said, “so I don’t recommend it to my clients.”
Maya, alive three-and-a-half years after chemo for her bone cancer, would bite that veterinarian. Twelve Gauge, also alive three years after chemo for his bone cancer, would pee on that vet’s leg. And Rev, a teddy bear Rottweiler who is currently in remission for lymphoma, would lick that vet to death.
Here are some quotes off a web site dedicated to animal cancer, http://www.oncolink.com. “Cancer is not a death sentence.”
“Although cancer is the leading cause of death in older pets, it is also one of the most treatable compared with diseases like heart failure or kidney failure” it goes on to say. My favorite quote though is “the treatment of cancer in animals has become as sophisticated and successful as the treatment of cancer in humans.”
I’m a member of The Veterinary Cancer Society and take a special interest in pet cancer so I treat quite a few pets. For the record, I am not a board certified oncologist. I am, however, very familiar with chemotherapeutic drugs. I’m also a very straight shooter and tell it like it is.
Here is the straight scoop. Certain types of cancer respond very well to chemotherapy; others respond so so, and others don’t respond at all. Those that respond have been well studied and have excellent protocols. A protocol is a pre-ordained schedule of drugs and how they are interchanged and timed. Lymphoma for example, has dozens of protocols with fairly well understood times for remission and survival rates and times. I go over all of these options during a cancer consultation.
I also make it clear what our goals are, what the costs are, and what the expected side effects are. It is not cheap but, compared to getting your car repaired or your furnace serviced in the middle of the night, it is not too expensive either.
I understand that veterinarians’ comments about not doing chemo. Shoot, even my staff ask me sometimes “Doc, is this worth it?” If we get a response and there are no serious reactions to the chemo, then it is absolutely worth it. Most pet chemo patients experience far less side effects than people do. They don’t lose their hair and they feel yucky maybe one day out of a seven-day chemo cycle. When we move to giving chemo every three weeks, my clients tell me their pets are doing great and are feeling great. We have one golden rule for chemo: Do not let your patients vomit!
I have given chemo to more than 250 dogs and have only had two drop out due to side effects. Two. That’s it. OK, three if you count the dead beats in Gypsum who stiffed me and never came back. Some have died during the course of chemo. Let’s be honest, cancer sucks and it almost always eventually wins.
But if your dog has cancer and you want to do something about it, consider all your options, including chemotherapy. You can have a happy pooch for a while longer. To me that is certainly worth it.
Stephen Sheldon, DVM, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 970-524-DOGS or by visiting the hospital website, http://www.gypsumah.com.