Canine Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy Drugs for Treating Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis

Chemotherapy drugs have been used to treat Rheumatoid arthritis in dogs for some time now. However, there are quite often a lot of questions that concerned owners have regarding just what exactly the drugs do, how safe the drugs are, and if there will be any negative side-effects for their furry little friends.

It is important to understand just what exactly Rheumatoid arthritis is and how it is affecting your dog before you can fully understand the treatment of it. This condition is an immune disease which in simple terms causes the immune system to begin attacking the connective tissue in the joints. Most often, Rheumatoid arthritis affects smaller breeds of dogs. The cause of Rheumatoid arthritis is unknown in most cases and it can affect dogs from around the age of seven months on.

There are different symptoms that will be exhibited when suffering from such an ailment; the most obvious being inflammation of the joints — which anti-inflammatory medications help wonderfully with — as well as fever, pain in the joints when moving around, difficulty getting up, weakening of the muscles along with muscles possibly wasting away due to lack of use, and loss of appetite.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis in Animals

Dog with Stethoscope

The diagnosis is very simple and pain-free: there are three main options for the vet to choose from: an X-ray to check for joint damage, a blood test to check for certain antibodies, or a joint test to check the joint fluid for a significant number of cells that would cause inflammation.

What your vet will be looking for in the case of the X-ray are joints that may be rough, small growths on the surface of the joints, and jagged surfaces. With this type of test, the results are always fast because the vet does not have to wait for any lab work to be processed and returned. This is usually the option most vets will take.

Once it has been confirmed, your vet will usually prescribe medication. There are surgery options available, however, these options are usually reserved for the most severe cases. The medication you will have prescribed for your pet will normally utilize immunosuppressive drugs as well as anti-inflammatory drugs. You may also have corticosteroids prescribed for your dog to help keep the inflammation down if your case happens to be a bad one.


Unfortunately, there is no way to cure these arthritic pains as this time; there are only treatments. There are several things you can do, however, to help alleviate the pain your dog is experiencing. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure that your dogs weight is under control. The less your dog weighs, the less pressure there will be on the joints which will lead to a happier and more pain-free dog. You might also want to consider putting some rugs down if you have hardwood flooring so that there isn’t such a hard impact on the joints when your dog is walking around. Also try to avoid walking your dog if he or she does not feel like walking. The pain may be really bad at that time and any extra stress on his or her joints is something that you want to try to avoid as much as possible.

So what about these medications your vet prescribes? How safe are they and are there any side-effects? Well, here’s the good news. For the majority of dogs, the medications available are perfectly safe. Obviously there can never be a guarantee because every dog is different, but going by incident rates, the chances of anything dangerous occurring are slim to none. There is, however, one thing you have to know about these chemotherapy drugs to make sure that you are helping your dog out as much as possible.

The most important thing you can do is make sure that your dog is always in a place where the temperature is going to be constant most of the time and do not let your dog outdoors in the winter if you live in a cold climate — unless your dog is dressed for the weather — because the way chemotherapy drugs work is by killing rapidly dividing cells. What this means is that there is going to be some bone marrow suppression. With bone marrow suppression, there is going to be a drop in your dog’s white blood cell count; which are the cells used to fight off infections and viruses. Depending on the amount of bone marrow suppression and your dog’s age, a bad cold could be very hard to get rid of, and in some very rare cases, it could prove to be fatal.

One side effect of chemotherapy drugs that you will probably notice is your dog becoming more tired. This can be either physically, where he or she does not want to do much anymore, or mentally. The reason for this is simply because anemia is common due to the chemotherapy drugs lowering the red blood cell count which causes a decrease in oxygen flow to muscles and the brain. This isn’t something dangerous, but if you notice your pal sleeping significantly more than usual, you may want to have your vet run another test and make sure that everything is in fact okay. Another side-effect — which is not usually a problem — is thrombocytopenia. This is where the blood has trouble clotting because of the reduced platelet count. This, however, should not be of concern to you unless your dog is getting cut a lot on various objects in the house or outside.