Do Dogs lose their hair during chemo? Here’s What to Do Next

Myth #1: My pet will lose all their fur while undergoing chemotherapy

Truth: While certain dog breeds, and some cats, experience fur loss during chemotherapy, it is relatively uncommon. Non-shedding dog breeds like poodles are more prone to losing their fur, but their hair will usually regrow after chemotherapy has ended. However, pets receiving chemotherapy can lose their guard hairs and whiskers, their skin and fur may change color, and fur regrowth after shaving for an intravenous (IV) catheter can be slow.

Myth #2: Chemotherapy drugs will create horrible side effects in my pet

Truth: When owners are presented with their pet’s chemotherapy treatment plan, they often fear horrible, debilitating side effects, like those seen in people. However, veterinary chemotherapy differs greatly from human chemotherapy. Because pet chemotherapy doses are significantly lower than human doses, and generally more spread out, veterinary chemotherapy typically causes few, or only mild, side effects. Chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, and can also affect the rapidly dividing cells in the gastrointestinal tract and bone marrow, yet the overall toxicity rate is low in veterinary chemotherapy patients, with approximately 80% having no side effects, and only 15% to 20% experiencing mild to moderate side effects that last a few days. Side effects are less common in cats than dogs.

Serious complications, such as severe inappetence, dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea, occur in less than 5% of veterinary chemotherapy patients. With a dose reduction and prophylactic medications, most of these patients can successfully receive that same drug again.

Can families ask for more aggressive chemotherapy doses?

The short answer is yes, but only if the pet proves she can handle it and if the risks of doing so are not too great. Page explains that veterinary oncologists are continually adjusting chemotherapy doses based on each individual pet’s medical history and tolerance for treatments. They don’t simply calculate the dose once and give that amount every single time.

It depends on the drug, however, since some chemotherapies have strict toxicity limits in pets. In those cases, Ringen says, “It would not be in the dog’s best interest to receive more than that dose because the side-effects are so much more significant than the benefit they would receive with a higher dose.”

Locke’s team often does ramp up doses in pets with no complicating factors. With osteosarcoma, for example, if a dog shows a good tolerance for treatment, and if a family is willing to be more aggressive, Locke will increase doses and add in drugs to combat possible vomiting and diarrhea.

Locke’s team also offers families the option of repeating chemotherapy for osteosarcoma in dogs six or eight months later. The initial chemotherapy plan is four total treatments in three-week intervals. If a dog continues to do well many months later, then she’ll recommend another two to four treatments.

What Side Effects Do Pets Feel with Chemotherapy: VLOG 93