photo of pills forming a question marke, sun, fork, knife, and plate to represent chemo drugs

Low-dose Chemotherapy

The following information covers some of the more common drugs used at home to treat cancer. Which drugs are used will depend both on which disease your pet has and what other therapies are being pursued. If you have any questions about the medications here, please talk to your doctor or a staff member.

Low-dose Chemotherapy

A handful of oral chemotherapies can be given at home, either as a low-dose long-term medication, or at a higher dose for a short, specific amount of time. These drugs are prescribed for at home use because the risk of side effects (to both pet and human) at the prescribed dose are low and they must be given over a long enough period of time that administration in the clinic would be unrealistic.

Side effects of the drugs to your pet are similar to other therapies: low white blood cell count, changes to the liver or kidneys, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and/or soft stool. The first two will be monitored by blood work performed at specific intervals. The latter are watched for at home. In either case, if side effects are noted, the medications are either stopped or the dose is adjusted to avoid side effects. If there are any concerns specific to a medication, your doctor will let you know before prescribing it.

Below are a few precautions and recommendations in regards to your pet and their medications. These guidelines help to avoid chronic health affects to you as their caregiver and anyone else in the family.

  • Most important: It is perfectly safe for people and other pets to be around the pet receiving medications, even while they are being treated.
  • Direct handling of medications should be avoided.
    • Certain individuals should avoid contact if possible. This includes children, other pets, and persons who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are nursing.
    • A single exposure is unlikely to cause an issue, especially if cleaned up quickly by washing the affected areas with soap and water. The concern is with chronic exposure and the changes it can cause over time.
    • Wear non-powered latex or nitrile gloves (available as most pharmacies) when handling medication or anything that might be contaminated with the medication.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly after administering the medication, even if you wore gloves.
  • Do not open the capsule or crush the tablet.
    • Chemotherapy should be given whole, unless you are specifically instructed to break or open the capsule/tablet.
    • Unfortunately, due to the great chance of contamination, liquid formulations are discouraged. Medications come as either tablets or capsules.
    • If your pet chews the medication while taking it, that is fine. If they spit it out chewed up, make sure to thoroughly clean the area with soap and water or a detergent cleaning spray.
  • Less than 1% of the medication will be excreted by your pet as the active drugs, typically through the kidneys (urine).
    • Most drugs are broken down by the liver and these breakdown products are excreted in the feces.
    • Most drugs are also sensitive to light and temperature, breaking down very quickly when exposed to the natural environment.
    • Frequent cleaning of the yard or litterbox is all that is needed.
    • At our dosing levels, there is no drug found in the saliva of pets.