Oncology FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

A board-certified veterinary oncologist undergoes several additional years of rigorous formal and practical training beyond veterinary school. This training consists of a minimum of a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency program that meets guidelines established by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM - Oncology). Upon completion of this practical training, one must pass multiple days of testing to become officially board certified in medical oncology.

Each cancer is different in how it behaves and what treatment option is best. 

  1. Chemotherapy: To treat cancer that has spread or has the potential to spread to other parts of the body. 

  2. Surgery: May be utilized, when possible, to remove the cancer.

  3. Immunotherapy: Treatment that stimulates your pet's immune system to help fight cancer. 

  4. Radiation and Electrochemotherapy: When recommended for your pet, we can refer you to a radiation oncologist or specialist who provides electrochemotherapy. 

  5. Palliative care: Treatment that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and pain that may be associated with cancer. 

Every pet tolerates chemotherapy differently and while there is significant overlap, different chemotherapy drugs have variable side effect profiles. Most pets tolerate chemotherapy well but about 20-25% can have appreciable side effects. Severe side effects are rare (generally less than 5% of patients receiving chemotherapy). Our goal when treating pets with cancer is to maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible. We reduce the risk and severity of side effects by adjusting doses and utilizing supportive medications, as needed. 

The following are the most commonly seen side effects, other side effects are possible and vary among chemotherapy drugs. 

Gastrointestinal upset: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or a decrease in appetite typically occur three to five days after a chemotherapy treatment. These side effects typically resolve on their own and medications can be given to help alleviate symptoms. 

Bone marrow suppression: Chemotherapy kills rapidly dividing cells which includes regenerating blood cells which can result in a decreased cell counts. Infection-fighting white blood cells, called neutrophils, are the most commonly affected by chemotherapy. Your pet's ability to fight secondary infection may be compromised depending on the severity of the decrease. While the neutrophil count is rebounding on its own, your oncologist may postpone chemotherapy treatment and/or prescribe antibiotics to help prevent systemic infection. 

Hair loss: Hair loss is most commonly seen in dogs with continuously growing hair, like Poodles. Sometimes we will see dogs and cats lose their whiskers or to have areas of shaved hair grow back much slower than normal. With some chemotherapies you may see hair color lighten or discoloration of skin pigment.

Different cancers have different treatment courses. Some cancers require weekly visits for a set number of treatments, while others have your pet visiting us once every 1-3 months. 

Injectable chemotherapy treatments do require your pet to be dropped off for a few hours, but many oral treatments can be given at home or given during an appointment time.