In an earlier blog I explained how we were shocked to discover that our dog had a growth on his spleen. It turned out to be lymphoma and we agreed to treat it with chemotherapy. This is our journey. Please note I am not a vet nor veterinary trained, I am merely sharing our experience with our dog.
Note this blog is by way of a diary and was initially published after the 11th chemotherapy session. It is regularly updated as Ringo’s treament and recovery continue. This is quite a long post but I do hope you find it helpful.
Our Dog Has Chemotherapy For Lymphoma
The First Treatment
The day after the biopsy results, Ringo and I attended our appointment for the first chemo treatment. The vet said that lymphoma could be very aggressive so the sooner we started the better. The initial chemotherapy regimen was one treatment per week for eight weeks followed by a review.
Ringo was weighed and had a range of blood tests. This was to check he was well enough for the treatment and to establish a baseline. He was then hooked up to an intravenous drip. The vet then brought in a syringe containing the chemo. This was added to his drip, a bit at a time over a long period. I lost track of the time but the vet returned regularly to add a bit more in. He explained that they had to be really careful the first session to see how Ringo tolerated the drugs.
When that was finished Ringo sat with the drip going for another five minutes before the vet returned with another syringe of medication. This time it was an anti-emetic to prevent sickness. Again, that was given to him in very small doses at a time. When that was finished we had another ten minutes just on a drip.
The final thing was a prednisone injection into a muscle. I was given prednisone to give him every day at home as well as omeprazole and dioscmetin to support his stomach. The vet explained that they started with high dose steroids that would be gradually tailored down over his chemo treatment.
The whole thing took nearly three hours from when we arrived to when we left.
We Committed to Staying With Him
They did say that we could drop Ringo in and go back and pick him up, but we had agreed that one of us would sit with him through the whole process and keep him company. It wouldn’t feel right for us to do anything else.
The chemo chemicals are excreted in urine and feces (and in any other bodily fluids) 24-48 hours after the treatment. We had to establish a routine of wearing latex gloves when handling any bodily fluids. On walks we carried a watering can in order to dilute urine. Feces was picked up and double bagged. All of this was to involve inadvertently poisoning other animals.
After 24 hours, Ringo was showing no effects from the treatment at all. Definitely drinking and urinating a lot more. His urine was quite smelly as was his feces.
The drinking and urinating continued all week. No other real problems apart from perhaps he was a bit tired from time to time. Ringo needed to go out every two hours at least to pee and sometimes 40 minutes after his last outing. He got me up in the night when he needed to go and we went out through my studio door so he could quickly pee and we could get back to bed. Luckily, after the first couple of weeks that stopped.
After the first treatment the following treatments were much shorter and plain sailing. We knew to weigh him immediately on arrival at the clinic, then there were blood tests, followed by the treatment and being given medication for him at home. The prednisone was halved after the second week and then continued at that same level for the rest of his treatment to-date.
We got into a routine with Barnet Boy taking him one week and me the next. Ringo happily took his prednisone and omeprazole because they were given to him hidden in dog treats. He hated the diosmectal but came when we called him for it and gave in, albeit with a protest. Depending on the amount of water used to mix the powder, we averaged two, maybe two and half syringes full that he had to swallow. This had to be given on an empty stomach and no eating for half an hour afterwards so we set an alarm for midday and gave it to him then.
For the first few weeks Ringo continued to lose weight which was a concern. Pre diagnosis he was 13 kg but after the splenectomy and initial chemo he got as low as just under 11 kg. The vet was not overly concerned if Ringo was eating normally, which he was. Mind you, after four treatments, as well as being continually thirsty, Ringo seemed to be hungry all the time and would eat anything he came across. But he was still losing weight!
Learning From Others
I have spent many, many hours, doing research on the internet and approaching dog groups to get first hand information about chemo and the effect on the dog. But it is always helpful to hear someone else’s experience. After all, that is why I have written this post.
So it was a great relief to me at one of Ringo’s chemotherapy sessions, to meet a couple who had brought their basset hound to the vet for review. The dog was in a bad way, at end of life stage, but it turned out she too had lymphoma. They talked about the chemo, the effect of prednisone and weight loss initially, all that we were experiencing with Ringo. Their dog had been in remission for 18 months, so, in their view, they were glad they had gone ahead with the chemo. They, too, had wrestled with whether to put the dog through chemo.
Sad But Instructive
It was sad, because their dog really had run out of options now. But it was reassuring to us that the chemo could achieve what we hoped, longer with Ringo, and time to get Spud used to being independent of his brother. It has always been clear that the lymphoma could not be cured, that the best we could hope would be for a long period of remission.
This meeting, though sad, came at the right time to give us a renewed sense of hope moving forward.
Chemo Session No 6
We couldn’t believe it when chemo session number six came and went. So smooth because we were all in a routine. And we were so happy to see some weight gain. I asked the vet what happened after session no 8. He said we then have to wait and see how Ringo goes. The vet said at session No 8 we will get a full briefing on what to do and what to expect.
A Slight Hiccup
Two days after chemo session number 6 we walked Ringo with Spud before lunch as usual. Gave Ringo his diosmectal and then they had something to eat half an hour later. We sat to eat our lunch and thought it was strange there was only Spud in the dining room with us. I went to check and Ringo wouldn’t get out of his bed!
Immediately, we started to be concerned, and his behaviour got more erratic over the next half an hour. Then he was violently sick three times, all fluid. He was trying to drink loads of water at the same time, staggering as he walked and hid behind the living room door. Our first thought, which shows that we are worried under this cool exterior LOL, was that the chemo was too late and this was end stage lymphoma. So, off to the vets with both dogs as Spud was really concerned about his brother!
Rushed To The Vet
Ringo vomited again outside the vet clinic and when we took him in the first thing they did was give him an ultrasound of his abdomen. No sign of any tumours or problems thank goodness! Blood tests showed some ups and downs but in line with a dog that had been vomiting on and off for the last few hours. The verdict was it was a reaction to the chemo.
The head vet said this was common four or five days after chemo but of course that had not been our experience. And this was only two days after his chemo session. Anyway, Ringo was put on an intravenous drip and given an anti emetic. They asked us to give him omeprazole also in the evening not just in the morning and that is something that has continued throughout the subsequent sessions.
Ringo only ate half his evening meal that night but by bedtime was back to his usual self. I had to take him to the vet clinic the next day for another anti-emetic, though he was absolutely fine it was a precaution, and I had a lesson how to give the injections at home. Then the day after I gave him his injection with no problems (though a few more anxiety grey hairs appeared I have to say – it was easy in the end and he didn’t even notice me do it, but I was scared stiff I would hurt him). All back to normal and a happy dog, back to being starving and drinking gallons of water!
Chemo Session No 7
The blood tests taken before Ringo’s seventh chemo were not quite right so he had to have an injection of B12 before the chemo got going. The B12 injection became a regular feature of subsequent treatment sessions.
Weariness Was Setting In
Both BB and I were both starting to get tired by now. The whole process is long and stressful, plus we were having to curtail all our activities to run our lives around Ringo. We didn’t begrudge it at all I hasten to add. But the going out with the watering can etc was really starting to pall. As was the fact that Ringo was eating everything in sight. That includes bugs, grass and anything else he could get into. So watching him to stop that happening was quite wearing. He didn’t understand, of course, why he shouldn’t eat some of these things if he is hungry. By now he was having a couple of extra small meals each day and more protein-based treats to try and curb the hunger.
Ringo was equally fed up. The plaster used on his arm for chemo 7 was stuck to his leg like it had been stuck on with superglue. It took me ages to get it off him, even with soaking. Even then it pulled fur from his leg and he squealed. His legs were starting to get sore from the intravenous needles, although we had done our best to make sure a different leg was used each week. He was also really fed up with having the diosmectal syringed down his throat every day. So much so, that when the alarm went off to remind us to do it he would disappear quickly!
Chemo Session 8
This turned out to be rather disappointing and a bit depressing. Ringo had lost a bit more weight. The vet said that this, plus his blood test results, meant the lymphoma was still active in his system and the chemotherapy needed to continue!
This time we were to have a two week gap though, which at least gave us a weekend off. The vet said we should have another abdominal ultrasound and blood test before the chemo and then we could talk about the results. This was a bit of a blow as we thought we were doing well but it was really a triumph of optimism over reality I guess.
The next chemo session was arranged for two weeks later, and would depend on the results of an ecodoppler to check for tumours and the size of lymph notes and blood tests.
Chemo Session 9
It was lovely to have a week off chemo, it gave us second wind. And I was convinced that Ringo had actually put on weight. He was still having his extra food but didn’t seem to be hungry all the time any more. I noticed that he had stopped drinking quite so much water. He had gained 400gms in the two week gap and it was the first time he had really gained weight. To say I was happy would be an understatement! The eco didn’t find anything to worry about so that was also good news. The blood tests showed that Ringo continues to be anaemic (has been since his spleen was removed) and one of the results was high which was an indication of the lymphoma. So we agreed to go ahead with the chemo session.
The chemo session was straightforward and we were told to continue with the same treatments at home (prednisone and meds for his stomach). The plan from this point is for two weekly chemo sessions and every two visits an eco to check there is nothing growing. Then we can stretch it to three weeks between sessions and go on from there.
Chemo Session 10
Session 10 was straightforward, with nothing to report other than that Ringo had gained another 100gms taking him to 11.5 kilos which I was very happy with. Up until now, of course, the treatments had been taking place in warmer weather. By now it was early November and starting to get distinctly chilly as you can see from the photo of Barnet Boy keeping Ringo warm outside the vets before his chemo session. I need to buy Ringo a dog coat!
By this point Ringo was an old trooper. He would lift his leg for the Vet to insert the drip. And he came willingly for his diosmectal. I guess he knew he was going to have it whatever, so he chose to do it willingly.
Chemo Session 11
This was another monthly review and luckily the ecodoppler showed no sign of tumours. Ringo’s blood tests were slightly improved on last time and he had also gaIned another 200gms in weight, making him 11.7 kilos.
I asked the vet what remission looks like and she said there isn’t really a scientific answer to that. When his blood tests have improved quite a bit more that would be a start. And assuming the ecodoppler continues to show no tumours on his internal organs. At that point he will have a full body scan. That will check his lymph nodes and bone marrow. If that comes back clear then the chemo is stopped for a while with regular monitoring. The question then becomes how long he can go without chemo before the lymphoma returns. Hey ho. We just have to be patient! But he is doing well!
Publishing Now But Will Keep Updating
And at this point I am publishing this blog detailing how our dog has chemotherapy for lymphoma. This is in the hope that it will prove helpful to someone else unfortunate enough to be in our position. I will return to it after each chemo session and update it with Ringo’s progress. So do bookmark this page and check it for updates. Let me know in the comments if you have found this post useful.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!