How is chemotherapy given?
Most chemotherapeutic drugs are given by injection, typically into the vein. These drugs cannot be given at home and must be administered at the vets. Some chemotherapy drugs can be given orally either at home or at the vets.
Is it safe for me to be around my pet during the time he or she is receiving chemotherapy?
Generally speaking, the risk to a person handling their pet that is receiving chemotherapy is very low. We do not recommend changing your or your pet’s lifestyle as a result of chemotherapy treatments. This means that they may continue to sleep in your bed, do not need to be separated from other household pets, can continue to share a litter box with other household cats, and may even eat their normal breakfast the morning of their chemotherapy treatments.
However, because repeated, long-term exposure to chemotherapy drugs can result in severe health problems, some precautions are necessary. A small amount of chemotherapy may be excreted in your pet’s urine and feces for up to 72 hours after a dose of chemotherapy is given. It is important to avoid contact with your pet’s urine or feces during this time.
- If your pet has an accident in the house, wear disposable gloves when cleaning it up. Wipe up the waste first and then clean the area with a mild soap and water solution three times using disposable paper towels. Place these materials in a plastic bag and dispose of them in an outside bin.
- In general, for cats, change the entire litter box once daily for the first 2 days after chemotherapy administration, and wear gloves when doing so. Be diligent about scooping waste throughout the entire time your cat receives chemotherapy. Dispose of the waste in an outdoor bin.
- Dogs should urinate or defecate in low-traffic areas (i.e., not in the sandpit where children play, not near the family outdoor table, etc.).
Although exposure of a pet owner to significant amounts of chemotherapy from routine handling of their pet is unlikely, certain people are more at risk if they are exposed to chemotherapy. Women who are breast feeding or pregnant, children, people trying to conceive (both men and women), and immunosuppressed individuals should never handle chemotherapy drugs or contaminated urine or faeces.
Are there any special precautions I should take if I have to give oral chemotherapy drugs to my pet?
Always wear gloves when handling chemotherapy pills, and wash hands thoroughly when administration is complete. For dogs, you can put the pills into a “meatball” of tasty food and give the pill before the pet’s meal when he or she is most hungry. Unfortunately, this does not work for cats, and you often have to “pill them.” Please ask your vet or nurse for a demonstration on how to administer a pill to your pet if you are not sure.
Never split or crush the pills, and do not open the capsules. This can aerosolise the chemotherapy drug and cause you to become exposed. If your pet spits out the pills and they begin to “melt” or break apart, wear gloves and use paper towels when picking up the medication. Wipe the floor with a diluted soap and water solution three times. Put the paper towels and medication into a plastic bag and dispose of it in an outside bin. Do NOT re-dose your pet, as they may have absorbed some amount of the chemotherapy, and administration of another pill may cause them to be overdosed. Call your vets for advice about what to do next.
Again, women who are breast feeding or pregnant, children, people trying to conceive (both men and women), and immunosuppressed individuals should never handle chemotherapy drugs.
It is important for the owners of dogs and cats receiving chemotherapy to realise that some cancers we treat are not cured. Many of our patients ultimately have recurrence of their cancers. However, most cats and dogs receiving chemotherapy have an excellent quality of life both during and after treatment. It is often possible to provide many additional months, or sometimes even years, of happy life with chemotherapy. The vast majority of owners tell us that they have no regrets about their decision to pursue chemotherapy for their pet.