Chemotherapy in Pets Might Not Be What You Think
By Jocelyn Axelson, CVT
Olive, a nine-year-old mixed-breed rat terrier, first came with her family to our oncology department in September 2016 looking for options to treat her recently diagnosed lymphoma. Olive wasn’t really showing any signs of illness other than some swelling. Olive’s family had taken her to their family veterinarian to investigate the cause of the swelling, which her veterinarian determined was actually enlarged lymph nodes. The veterinarian used a needle to take a sample of the lymph nodes, which was sent off for testing. These results came back as lymphoma and Olive was on her way to meet our oncologist, Dr. Erica Faulhaber.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that stems from white blood cells called lymphocytes. Normally, lymphocytes travel through the blood and lymphatic vessels, so lymphoma commonly presents as a more systemic disease. After spending some time with our team talking about the various options, Olive’s family decided to start her on the “gold standard” chemotherapy protocol for lymphoma, a protocol known as CHOP. It involves 15 weeks of both intravenous (I.V.) and oral chemotherapy given in a rotating schedule.
Olive’s response to chemotherapy was everything we had hoped for her. Some of her lymph nodes were about four times their normal size when she initially came to see us, and after only one round of chemo they all returned to normal. Better still, Olive had minimal side effects from her chemotherapy. She did have mild decreased energy and occasional loose stools, but she never skipped a meal. We’d sent Olive’s owners home from her first chemotherapy appointment with anti-diarrheal and anti-nausea medications, so they could treat her right away if needed. With just a few days of the anti-diarrheal medications, Olive’s loose stool resolved.
Another common side effect of chemotherapy is a decrease in white blood cells. Olive had this side effect occasionally but it was never severe enough for her to become ill from it, and she never had to be hospitalized. Since finishing her 15 week chemo protocol, Olive continues to do well and is enjoying life at home with her family. Olive’s quality of life remains high and she is a perfect example of how the majority of our chemotherapy patients handle therapy.
We will see Olive periodically to ensure she continues to do well and monitor for any changes in her health. For now she is in complete remission.