PET TALK: Pets able to adapt, persevere

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 3:30 p.m.

The ability of our pets to adapt and persevere knows no limits.

How would you feel if you were suddenly wrenched from your family and plopped into a strange new world?

How would you react if you were run over by a car or ripped apart by a fan belt?

Would you survive, emotionally or physically, if you were abandoned on a street or at a shelter?

My patients dig in and fight back. My patients are brave, strong and trusting. Every day they amaze me.

Tiger is 19 1/2 years old. He is a four-time cancer survivor. He and Sir Winston Churchill would be fast friends today because Tiger has “never, ever given up.”

His first cancer appeared as a hard lump on his side. After removal and biopsy, a fibrosarcoma was diagnosed. These are tumors that don't usually spread throughout the body, but instead dig in deeply and continue to “seed” the localized area.

After surgical removal, they are notorious for recurring even more aggressively than before.

Fibrosarcomas can appear spontaneously, be caused by viruses or reactions to skin injections (for example, vaccines). Their etiology is puzzling.

Cats are unique in their immune response and may have a sarcoma gene which is turned on by inflammation or infections under the skin.

We veterinarians are aware of this and are very careful with cat vaccines (paying close attention to their type, manufacturer, administration and placement).

Just as in humans, vaccines are controversial, but the diseases they protect against can be deadly (think of rabies).

Knowing that Tiger had had a fibrosarcoma, his human went on “alert.”

He became an indoor cat and vaccines were eliminated. Examinations became frequent. Unfortunately, another tumor reappeared months later and was again removed.

We referred Tiger and his family to North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine for a more aggressive treatment plan.

His fibrosarcoma was staged as a low metastatic type and he underwent a month of daily radiation treatments.

After healing, he had a more invasive surgery whereby tissue from his skin down to his abdominal muscle was removed and netting inserted for strength.

He received a possible 18 months “guess-timate” for life.

The tumor reappeared 14 months later. However, he was happy and seemingly healthy. His family was not ready to say goodbye. The net of support for Tiger was thrown wider.

Via telemedicine, the oncologists from Upstate Veterinary Specialists in Greenville consulted with those from North Carolina State. Metastatis was not found, and it was decided to amputate his leg.

This sounds drastic, but it is a realistic treatment for this type of insidious cancer.

It was a hard decision for Tiger's family. After all, his favorite game was to catch airborne toys.

Could he do that with only 3 legs? Could he adjust? Was it fair to do this to him? They decided to go ahead with the surgery.

Tiger, the Eveready energizer kitty, amazed everyone. Within hours after the surgery, he was eating, using the litterbox and impatiently screaming to go home.

Instead of leaping to catch flying toys, he learned to bat at things while lying on his back. He trained others to do his fetching.

Now that he is an elderly gentleman, he prefers to spend his days laying on the couch between his two loving humans, purring and sleeping.

I think he's reliving his battles against his old foe, cancer, and thinking of ways to thank his humans for his extra years.

Don't mess with this Tiger, folks.

Dr. Holly Woltz (Doc Holly), Chief of Staff at Veterinary Services, has practiced veterinary medicine for 26 years and specializes in senior care. A former teacher and writer, she enjoys talking and writing about the human-companion animal bond and its importance. Visit her at www.aikenpetvet.com.

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