Two weeks ago, I took my senior dog, Rocky, in for surgical removal of what I thought was a bladder stone, an issue I had to treat approximately 5 years ago. When I was exploring his abdomen and urinary bladder, I did not find a discrete urinary stone like 5 years ago, but a tumor that had mineralized and was partially obstructing the outflow of his bladder. I removed a small portion of it for a biopsy, but knew that in this location, with this particular type of tumor, surgical removal was not going to be an option.

Rocky has now started his chemotherapy treatment, and I thought I would take this opportunity to shed some light on a treatment that is all-too-often misunderstood. When given the option of chemotherapy for a pet, most people think of what humans go through when we are given chemotherapy. Not only do you have the emotional heartbreak of the underlying disease process, but also all of the side effects that come with it, making it often a tortuous process.

In dogs and cats, it usually is nothing like what we see in human medicine. If it was, I don’t think veterinarians would offer it, as we generally don’t want to impede quality of life simply to get a little more quantity. Dogs don’t lose their hair, and the overwhelming majority do not have any sort of gastrointestinal upset. Occasionally, some dogs’ white blood cell count will drop too low, and they may need a small amount of supportive care, but really nothing that is extreme or deleterious to their overall quality of life. And as far as the emotional roller coaster that cancer brings along with it, he has no clue, even though his human counterparts are silently coping the best they can.

With Rocky’s particular type of tumor, with chemotherapy, we can hope for another 8 months to a year. He doesn’t have to endure much; he only gets a chemotherapy treatment every 3 weeks, and he has no idea that these are some of the most powerful drugs in the world, or that his own body has turned against him. He comes home every night, seeks out his favorite toys, and plays like the 12 year old puppy that he is.