Oral Chemotherapy for Dogs

Oral chemotherapy involves giving your dog chemotherapy drugs via pill rather than injection. This can be effective for certain types of cancer, especially those that spread beyond one localized area.

About Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that kills cells. This will kill cancer cells, but it will also kill all other cells, so it can be very harmful and cause many side effects.

Veterinarians will often tell you that dogs experience fewer side effects than people, but this claim is slightly misleading. Dogs do experience fewer side effects, but that's because doses given are often lower per body weight than given to humans. This reduces side effects but also the effectiveness of the treatment. Thus, dogs on chemotherapy are often given longer to live but not cured.

Different types of chemotherapy drugs may be used depending on which type of cancer your dog has. In dogs, it is often used in conjunction with radiation or surgery; however, this isn't always possible if the cancer has spread.

The most common chemotherapy drugs are given by injection in your veterinarian's office. However, oral chemotherapy options may be available for you to give in the comfort of your home.

Advantages to Oral Chemotherapy

Treatment by injection can usually be done with outpatient treatment; however, some treatments may be so intense that your dog must spend the day in the veterinary clinic. Oral treatment allows you to control when your dog receives it, so you can make him most comfortable in his own home.

The medication is absorbed into your dog's blood vessels, which can carry the treatment to all areas of the body, even the most remote. This ensures a thorough treatment as long as there is a distinct difference between the cancerous cells and your dog's healthy cells.

The medication works by targeting the rapid cell division that characterizes cancerous cells. Once it recognizes these cells, it binds to them, preventing them from unzipping, which is necessary for replication. Because these pills are often slower acting, there are fewer side effects.

Cautions of Oral Chemotherapy

The biggest concern of veterinarians is owner area in giving the correct dosage at the correct time. Medications work best when given at optimal times, which owners may forget. If a dose is forgotten and then two doses given simultaneously, severe health problems can result.

In addition, many owners want to give the pill with food. This reduces the effectiveness of the pill because it prevents optimal absorption.

Clearly label drug vials so no mistakes are made and store away from all food and other medications. Wear gloves when giving medication and wash hands afterward.

Common Oral Chemotherapy Medications

  • Lomustine has virtually complete absorption, which allows it to be a good candidate for oral treatment. It rapidly distributes throughout the body and is often used in treatment of lymphoma and mast cell tumors.
  • Luekeran reaches peak performance within an hour, being almost completely absorbed in the digestive tract. Because of this, it can't be given with food. It is most commonly used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia and low-grade lymphoma.
  • Cytoxan is a pro-drug that requires activation once in the body, so it isn't always as effective. It's often used in combination chemotherapy treatment of lymphoma.