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L-Asparaginase for Veterinary Use

By Evan Ware, DVM

Basic Information

L-Asparaginase is a chemotherapy drug that is used in veterinary medicine to treat cats and dogs that are suffering from certain types of cancers known to affect the immune system, but predominantly to treat lymphoma.

All cells need asparaginase to produce protein. But while healthy cells need only a little bit of the enzyme, cancer cells require tremendous amounts of it in order to thrive. And while healthy cells can produce the asparagine they need internally, cancer cells have to acquire it from outside sources.

Veterinary Medicine Uses for L-Asparaginase

Cancer cells need outside sources of asparagine to live; removing the enzyme essentially starves the cancer cells. L-Asparaginase is a fast-acting cancer treatment because it eradicates any asparagine outside of the cells. Once the limited asparagine within the cancer cell is used up, it cannot be replenished, and as a result, these cancer cell dies.

Potential Side-Effects of L-Asparaginase

Asparaginase usually is administered as part of a more complete cancer treatment therapy. Therefore, it can produce several uncomfortable side-effects in the patient. These include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, mild anemia, and elevated blood sugar levels.

Precautions for Using L-Asparaginase

L-Asparaginase and methotrexate tend to counteract each other. As a result, if the patient is prescribed both medications, the veterinarian will usually order their doses to be administered at least 48 hours apart.

Patients who are pregnant or nursing should not be prescribed this medication unless the benefit outweighs the risks. Long-term use of L-Asparaginase can result in the patient building up a resistance to the drug. Therefore, it is almost always used alongside other forms of chemotherapy.

In fact, when used as a sole cancer treatment, L-Asparaginase only has a success rate of 30%. But when it's used in tandem with drugs like prednisolone, chlorambucil, and/or cyclophosphamide, then it delivers far greater positive results.

If the patient suffers from liver, blood, kidney, or pancreatic disorders or gastrointestinal or neurological problems, then this medication should be used with extreme caution.

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Therapeutic Class

Dogs, Cats

May Be Prescribed by Vets for:
Treating lymphomas and leukemia

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About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Evan Ware, DVM

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of interest include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.