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Treatment Options: Cytarabine

Chemotherapy has become a valuable and widely accessible treatment option in the field of veterinary medicine. As these treatments continue to gain popularity among specialists it is important to understand how they are used with our patients. One such agent that we utilize on a weekly basis at the VSCAN is called Cytarabine.

Cytosine Arabinoside or Cytarabine is a commonly used chemotherapy agent that was designed for human medicine as a treatment for specific types of leukemia and lymphoma. This agent is designed to disrupt the process of DNA synthesis inhibiting the division of cancer cells. In veterinary medicine, Cytarabine was introduced to treat white blood cell and bone marrow disorders in dogs and cats. However, it is also an effective agent for treating inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system as well as immune-mediated inflammatory diseases such as poly-arthritis.

Cytarabine is a toxic material and therefore should only be handled by a trained medical professional. Cytarabine administration is performed as an intravenous infusion or a subcutaneous injection. After the administration, it may take several days for the beneficial effects to become apparent and up to several weeks before the full effect may be appreciated. Treatment may consist of a single injection or a monitored course of injections over a period of time.

Once the patient has received treatment, great care should be taken with handling the patient and their waste. Over the next 72 hours, a portion of the drug will be excreted in the patient's urine and feces and may be present if you come in contact with their blood or vomit. Anyone handling excrement from the patient must wear disposable rubber gloves and everything that has been contaminated must be discarded. With this in mind, it is best to isolate the patient from contact with other animals, children, and pregnant or nursing women. More information about the safe handling of a pet and their waste will be given to the owner at the time of discharge.

As with any medication, there are some potential side effects that we need to consider. Most commonly the patient may experience a loss of appetite and could experience greater gastrointestinal effects like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The patient may also be lethargic as the treatment works through their system but should recover back to normal activity within a day or two. Other possible side effects include the formation of ulcers in their mouth, hair loss, and fever.

Patients with pre-existing liver, kidney, or bone marrow disease should be closely monitored before and after treatment. If a patient has recently received another injection or is on a different immunosuppressant or antineoplastic medication then special considerations should be taken when deciding on Cytarabine treatment. It is important that any and all information on medications, vitamins, supplements, etc. that the patient is receiving is disclosed to the veterinarian before treatment begins.

Despite these concerns, Cytarabine is an amazing weapon against these diseases and we are grateful to provide this treatment to our patients. We have had many patients receive this treatment and we are thrilled at the results that we continue to see.

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