The dog in the photo, Cilla, is in for chemotherapy on the day this photo was taken. She was diagnosed with Lymphoma several weeks earlier, and without trreatment she would likely no longer be alive.
She is part way through her treatment now, and is already in remission after just two doses. And she still comes through the door wagging her tail and happy to see us all.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the white blood cells, and is very aggressive. Without treatment, dogs normally only survive 2-4 weeks, but with treatment we hope that dog’s like Cilla will survive for over a year.
When we mention chemotherapy in pets, people’s first reaction is fear because they understand that chemotherapy in people can be so unpleasant. It is a very different story in dogs, because the aim of treatment in dogs is different.
In people, the aim is to try to cure the person of their cancer. In dogs, we aim to control the cancer so the dog feels happy healthy and normal. We don’t aim for a cure in most cases because we don’t believe it is fair on the dog to feel so unwell. Instead, we use lower doses of drugs which avoids the nasty side effects, but unfortunately won’t cure the disease. The way I think of it is like treating a dog’s arthritis. We can give them medication so their joints don’t hurt and they have a normal life again. We know that one day we won’t be able to control the arthritis sufficiently, but in the meantime they have a good life.
Cancer treatment in pets is all about quality of life. I don’t believe in keeping a pet alive at all costs, so any treatment must make the dog feel better.
For lymphoma treatment like Cilla is undergoing, we expect less than 10% of dogs to experience significant side effect (which can normally be managed quite well). This means over 90% of dogs will go through their course without feeling unwell or experiencing problems with the chemotherapy, and 93% of dogs will go into remission.
Cilla’s treatment will mean visits to us weekly or fortnightly for around 25 weeks, then she’ll be treatment free until the cancer relapses, which we hope will be a long time into the future. In the meantime, she is living a normal, happy and healthy life. Even her owners are amazed how good she looks, and people who know her well couldn’t tell she has cancer or is having chemotherapy.