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Canine Chemo Dry Mouth

While we use cytarabine — a chemo drug with good anti-inflammatory properties for our needs — at lower doses than would be required for cancer treatment, Lilly still suffers from canine chemo dry mouth after her injections every 3 weeks. Her nose is also CRAZY dry (more from the steroids than the chemo), but not nearly as bad as in February, when she developed massive nosebleeds. Here is a recap of our solutions.

Don’t use human chemo dry mouth solutions for canine chemo dry mouth problems

Via Facebook, I asked my personal friends (many of whom are veterinarians) if Biotene is safe for dogs. It’s a product human cancer patients often use for dry mouth during treatment. The answer was BIG, BIG, BIG no … because  human Biotene contains xylitol, which is a sweetener that is CRAZY TOXIC to pets. 

There is a veterinary version of Biotene, but it appears to be more for people who don’t brush their pets teeth … not so much for dry mouth.

So, on the advice of my darling husband and several friends, I turned to good old VASELINE. I’ve started putting some on Lilly’s lips after each meal (and any other time I think about it), and it’s helping a lot.

The sores I found a week after Lilly’s first series of cytarabine injections stumped me. The sores mostly improved on their own the first time, but I fear a cumulative effect.

I mentioned them to our neuro team last weekend, during her second series of cytarabine injections, and our technician pointed out that her lips were likely getting stuck on her teeth, causing the sores.

I really watched Lilly early this week, and that’s exactly what was happening.

best dog blog, copyright champion of my heart, photo of chemo sores on dog's lips - due to canine chemo dry mouth

So, I’m greasing up her lips — the edge and a little inside. Lilly tolerates it really well and hardly licks at all. And, it seems to be helping.

The sores haven’t completely gone away, but they have NOT gotten any worse either.

As for her dry-dry-dry nose, I’m using plain chapstick on her firmer nose flesh (again, several times a day). So far, it is keeping her nose from cracking and bleeding.

Have you found at-home solutions to common veterinary treatment side-effects that might help others? Please, chime in.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Eva Harris - September 28, 2012

please buy an aloe plant and break open a small leaf each day (keeps overnightin frige). Squeeze that on the area ands try to rub in a little. Use that on her lips mouth and whatever. It is great with Chemo. I did that for a long time with my cancerous Boxer. His cancer was in his mouth so that was where burns and dry motuh developed. Good luck

    Roxanne Hawn - September 28, 2012

    Oooh. That’s a good idea, Eva. Thanks so much. I have a bunch of HUGE aloe plants in the house. Maybe with aloe to heal and vaseline to protect, her lips will get a lot better.

KB - September 27, 2012

I was thinking along the same lines as Susan, that maybe Lilly’s mouth is dry due to lack of saliva. But, slightly differently from Susan, I started wondering if maybe Lilly doesn’t drink as much during chemo due to slight nausea? I thought that was the case with K so I “baited” water with a little kibble floating in it to get her to drink. Of course, you also have the incontinence issue so you might not want to go down this path. After I worked on hydration, K’s sore didn’t heal but she didn’t get any more of them.

    Roxanne Hawn - September 27, 2012

    That’s a thought, KB. She doesn’t seem barfy at all. She eats like a piglet, even during / after chemo. We do sometimes bait water with food or organic chicken stock, if we feel like she isn’t drinking enough. The rotten incontinence issues do make that more of a challenge, though. I wish that part would resolve so that I could focus on more “important” things.

Susan T. - September 27, 2012

Here’s another saliva substitute product that doesn’t contain xylitol: Moi-Stir.

    Roxanne Hawn - September 27, 2012

    Thanks so much, Susan, for looking up these options.

Susan T. - September 27, 2012


Years ago (in the late 1990s), my dog Andreia had a problem with dry mouth. I used a saliva substitute made for humans. (This was before the xylitol craze). You might check into Orion Oralube and ask your vet if the ingredients are okay. It contains a small amount of Sorbitol, which according to the ASPCA site can have a laxative effect if consumed in large doses (unlikely in this instance). Here’s some information:
There are probably other saliva substitute products made for humans undergoing radiation and chemo that are available by prescription.

Natural Dog Company has something called Natural Dog Snout Soother. (
I’ve never tried it, but maybe the company would send you a sample to try and review.

Of course, if plain Vaseline is helping, why mess with success? 🙂

I hope Lilly is doing well and her head tremors have stopped.

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