Education Center

What Can You Expect During Cancer Treatment?


By Dr. Al Townshend

There are potential side effects to any treatment and cancer is no exception. The ultimate goal is to always try and maintain the best quality of life for the pet.

No matter the treatment, there are some common side effects to consider: pain management, nutritional support and maintaining a positive environment.

  • Pain is most common where surgery is involved but it can be a part of Chemotherapy and radiation. Your veterinarian can provide medications to reduce the discomfort.
  • Nutritional support is essential for the long-term success of any treatment. The body needs to be in a positive nutritional balance at all times. Symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and not eating need to be addressed immediately to reduce stress and to keep the immune system healthy.

There are nutritional supplements that can help support the body and immune system. High protein/low carbohydrate diets (many cancer cells love carbohydrates), probiotics, Omega 3 fats, antioxidants, and many more supplements are essential in nutritional and immune support.

  • A positive environment is essential for a pet. Guardians should always be positive and low key around the pet. The human stress, both physical and mental can take a toll on the pet. Negative attitudes and comments can be harmful to the pet and treatment success.

Side effects like diarrhea and vomiting, during cancer treatment, can cause a mess, so keeping the environment clean and safe is always important.

Continuing the pet’s normal routine is important and adding a few special things to the daily regimen can also enhance the attitude of the pet. An extra hug, a treat after a walk, added praise can make all the difference in the world for the pet.

Surgery can be the best treatment if all of the cancer can be removed in a way where there is little to no threat that the cancer has spread. The biggest side effects of surgery are pain and discomfort. The good news is that it is generally temporary and once the pet has recovered from the surgery there is little risk of long-term pain in most cases.

Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals that kill cancer cells. Dosages are generally designed to provide maximum tolerable levels in order to get the maximum benefit. That can be toxic not only to the cancer cells, but it can also be toxic to the rest of the body. That may cause symptoms such as not eating, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Making sure you mention these side effects to your veterinarian as soon as they occur is critical to controlling them. The veterinarian may need to reduce the dosage of the drugs being used and there are medications that can help control the symptoms.

Changing the diet temporarily may stimulate the appetite and calm the digestive tract along with medications.

Radiation Therapy is designed to kill cancer cells in a specific area of the body. Unfortunately, it can also damage healthy cells in the area. Depending on the specific location, the side effects can be severe and so, radiation is the least common form of treatment.

Sensitive tissue like the tissues of the eyes and mouth can be damaged and cause discomfort, loss of appetite, and even blindness. Organ damage can also occur with radiation therapy and so it is important to report any changes to your veterinarian immediately.

Another issue with radiation therapy is the potential of the pet exposing others (both pets and humans) to the radiation the pet gives off.

Immunotherapy is relatively new in veterinary medicine but has shown some very positive results for pets, especially in treating melanomas. A very general description of Immunotherapy is that it works like a vaccine.

Traditionally, vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune system to prevent a specific disease. Immunotherapy is a vaccine that actually treats the disease.

There have been very few side effects with this form of treatment but it is limited in the types of cancer that can be treated with this form of therapy.

Be sure to take the time to discuss nutritional and immune support of your pet with any of the Ambassadors at your Pet Planet Store.

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Additional Resources

Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation

Pets and Chemotherapy Side Effects to Prepare For

Chemotherapy in Pets: Dog and Cat Chemotherapy

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