Tremendous advances in cancer treatment have developed over the last 10 years. As a result, response rates have improved, disease-free intervals have become longer, and survival times for animals who have been diagnosed with cancer have been increased. Cat owners often wonder if it is “worth it” to treat a pet for cancer. The thought of painful surgeries, vomiting from chemotherapy and the significant expense that may be involved in cancer treatment can make the decision about how to respond to a cancer diagnosis extremely difficult. However, in light of advances in treatment, it is possible to hope for a long, happy life for your cat if it has been diagnosed with the disease.
A dedicated, well educated, and caring veterinary health care team is essential to proper care of the feline cancer patient. Each individual involved – the veterinarian and veterinary staff; the pharmacist and pharmacy staff; as well as the pet owner – must be united in the philosophy that the ultimate goal of cancer care is “quality of life.” If this group of humans can overcome negative misconceptions about cancer, the therapy and prognosis for cancer patients become more positive.
Most of us assume that cats treated with chemotherapy will experience extreme nausea. However, nausea and vomiting no longer have to be associated with veterinary cancer care. Powerful anti-emetics, drugs that prevent or lessen vomiting, can be prepared in forms your cat will accept by a pharmacist who is part of the veterinary team. These medicines may be given before chemotherapy, and also at home following the treatments if there are any signs of nausea.
Good nutrition is an extremely important part of recovery, and you can help
to ensure that your cat continues to eat by using simple tricks. Warming food and providing aromatic foods that are enticing to the animal often help. Offering food in a comfortable environment encourages the pet to eat. Appetite stimulants can also be provided in pleasant dosage forms.
A great deal of the medication given to combat cancer is administered by injection. Since all chemotherapy drugs are intended for human use, it is almost always necessary for the drug to be “reconstituted” when being used to treat animals. This means that the drug must be diluted to the proper strength for the animal patient. This dilution must be done in a sterile setting to avoid contamination of the medication. Gloves, gowns, safety goggles and masks are worn during the procedure. Rigid instructions for steps to be taken if there is a drug spill or accidental human exposure are established and followed.
Pharmacists may assist veterinarians in preparing cancer medications in the correct strengths and dosage forms, and they may assist pet owners by providing guidelines for safe handling of medications and waste products. It takes several days, and sometimes weeks for some chemotherapy drugs to be completely eliminated from the body. Most chemotherapy drugs pass through the body and are excreted in urine and feces. This means that coming in contact with these wastes can be just as dangerous as coming in contact with the drugs themselves. If your pet is to receive chemotherapy for a cancer, be certain to listen carefully to the instructions your veterinarian or pharmacist gives you regarding safe-handling of urine and feces. Ask for written instructions that relate to the specific drug or drugs your pet is being given and follow them exactly.
In the veterinary clinic and pharmacy, individuals who handle chemotherapy medications carefully protect and secure all packages containing chemotherapy drugs. Everyone involved in the care of a cancer patient is educated about the dangers of the drugs, and procedures are carried out to insure that there is no contact with the drug by the care-giver.
People who handle chemotherapy drugs must take special precautions. In veterinary clinics, and in pharmacies, health care professionals follow strict policies and procedures for handling these drugs. If you and your veterinarian decide to utilize chemotherapy, it will be very important for you to know and follow certain rules to protect yourself from unhealthy exposure to these drugs.
People can be exposed to the harmful effects of cancer drugs by ingesting or inhaling them. Direct skin contact, that can occur by touching the drug itself or discarded items that have been in contact with the drug, can also be harmful to humans caring for a pet receiving chemotherapy. Contact with the urine and feces of the patient is extremely dangerous to human care-givers. If your pet is on chemotherapy, you should probably always wear gloves if you must handle urine or feces.
Some medications require special steps for enhancing the effects of the drug, or for watching your pet for unhealthy side effects. For example, with some drugs, your instructions will include watching for blood in the urine. If this side effect occurs, your veterinarian should be contacted immediately, and he or she will probably discontinue the drug. With some medications, you will be asked to encourage your pet to drink more fluids than usual. You might be able to do this by adding chicken or beef bullion to your pet’s food because the saltiness of these additives will cause your pet to drink more. Some medications should not be given at night, because they can become concentrated in the urine overnight.