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A Guide to Dog Chemotherapy Costs

Dog Chemotherapy Costs

If your dog has cancer, you may be wondering about dog chemotherapy costs. Chemotherapy in dogs is used more and more to manage a variety of cancers. While surgery is the treatment of choice for solid tumors and radiotherapy for localized cancers, chemotherapy remains the gold standard treatment for cancers with a tendency to spread (metastatic). Metastasis is the main cause of death in dogs with cancer, and chemotherapy as to-date remains the most effective tool in controlling the distant spread of cancer, increasing the dog's survival times.


The Goal of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy in dogs, as in humans, works by killing cancer cells through the use of a single chemotherapeutic drug, or a combination of several different drugs.

While chemo might not completely cure a dog's cancer, it can provide several benefits that make its use worthy.

Chemo can help dogs with progressive cancers that do not respond to surgery or radiotherapy and increase disease-free times.

Chemo may also prevent cancer spread in dogs  with early cancer and can provide relief from symptoms, temporary ameliorating the dog's condition and often returning the dog to a pre-cancer quality of life.

For example, in dogs affected by bone cancer, amputation alone leads to median survival times of 4 to 5 months. Dogs though who undergo amputation along with chemo are granted median survival times of up to 1 year.

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Canine lymphoma in particular is a cancer that is very responsive to chemotherapy and has the best success rates. Chemotherapy using the most current University of Wisconsin 25 week protocol is capable of putting dog lymphoma patients into remission for about 12 months. Dogs may go from having enlarged lymph nodes and feeling ill one day, to normal sized nodes and their original personality after a couple of days following the first injection, points out veterinarian Dr. Gary. Without the chemo, dogs with lymphoma may just have a 2 to 3 month survival.

Dog Chemotherapy Costs 

Dog ACTH test costs

Dog ACTH test costs

When considering dog chemotherapy costs, it's important to also factor in other costs such a bloodwork and medications to help reduce possible side effects.

Fortunately, in dogs, the risks for side effects from chemo are much lower than in humans.

Among medications prescribed during chemo are antibiotics, anti-nausea medications (Cerenia, metaclopromide or Zofran), pain medications or medications to reduce diarrhea (metronidazole, sulfasalzine).

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Other things to consider is the type of cancer of the dog. For example, for canine lymphoma, dog chemotherapy may cost about $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 when done though a veterinary oncologist. Costs though may be considerably less though when chemo is done through a family vet.

However, it's not unheard of for some types of dog chemotherapy costing anywhere between $6,000 and $10,000. Hopefully, dog owners who have their dogs covered with pet insurance may have a good portion of those costs covered, but understandably, many dog owners without pet insurance cannot afford such high costs.

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Cannot Afford Dog Chemo?

If you cannot afford chemo for your dog, vets can provide alternate options. Palliative care options for dogs and their owners who cannot afford the chemo can be provided by veterinarians.

As the term palliative implies, these options are not meant to treat the cancer or put the dog into remission. Palliative care options are just temporary measures providing relief from the symptoms and stress of cancer in dogs.

For example, owners of dogs with lymphoma who cannot afford going through the chemotherapy route, may wish to ask their vet about starting their dog on steroids (prednisone). It's important though to give steroids only once the decision of not pursuing chemo is definitive.

Starting a dog on steroids and then later deciding to do chemo is counterproductive considering that once the dog is on steroids, cancer cells are less responsive to chemo in the future, warns veterinarian Dr. Laura Devlin. Other things to consider is starting the dog on omega fatty acids, acupuncture, and a low carb, high protein diet for the purpose of starving the cancer cells.

Owners of dogs with bone cancer who cannot afford chemo, may opt for amputation of the leg which may cost anywhere between $500 and $1,500 (offering 4 to 5 months of life) or refrain from amputation (survival time remains still 4 to 5 months regardless) but the pain will be much more significant compared to amputating the leg considering that bone cancer is very painful, therefore affected dogs will need strong pain medications.

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Some Helpful Organizations

Dog owners who cannot afford to pay for their dog's cancer treatment can try to apply for Care Credit or they can get in touch with the Magic Bullet Fund. However, there are some restrictions for what costs the cover and applicants must understand that these organizations cannot approve everyone.

There are several other organizations that offer assistance to pet owners who cannot afford vet bills. These organization may be funded by donations so they may not always be able to help out. Calling your vet, local shelter or State veterinary association, can provide you with a list of local organizations that provide support.

If you are fortunate to live near some veterinary medical colleges you may find some programs that provide financial assistance and sometimes clinical trials are run which at times can be free to enroll in.

While some vet offices offer payment plans, deferred payments and financing options, consider that not all of them are able to afford such options, the reason being that clients fail to make payments as promised and this creates financial hardship for the practice.

And of course, there are always options to ask family and friends for help by creating one of those "fund me" apps that can be used on social media.

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