Canine osteosarcoma is the most commonly diagnosed bone cancer, and is often very aggressive in spreading to the lungs and other areas. Once the tumor metastasizes, dogs only live, on average, a couple of months, even with chemotherapy.
The best case scenario for saving a pet with osteosarcoma is to catch it early, before it spreads, and remove the tumor. This can add years to a dog’s life.
The current method of diagnosing canine osteosarcoma is done with a CT scan, followed by a biopsy to determine if the tumor is benign or malignant, a procedure that is invasive and costly.
Dr. Shay Bracha, a canine oncologist at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), is working on a less invasive, more effective screening for osteosarcoma.
Cancer spreads by compromising the immune system. Dr. Bracha’s research team has been investigating the role of exosomes in immunosuppression. Exosomes are tiny structures made in the body’s cells that are thought to be involved in signaling between cells.
The Bracha team exposed healthy T-cells to exosomes from malignant cancer cells and examined the impact. They found that malignant exosomes negatively inhibited the function of healthy cells, and caused early die-off and reduced normal cell increase.
Most importantly, the study also found that malignant exosomes, compared to healthy cell exosomes, have a high concentration of unique proteins. This opened the door for Bracha to develop a potential diagnostic tool. His team is now focused on using malignant exosomes as a biological marker to screen for canine osteosarcoma with a simple blood test. The hope is that this could lead to routine screening by primary care veterinarians that would reveal the presence of osteosarcoma early enough to remove the tumor before it spreads.
The oncology service at the VTH is a member of the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium which is organized by the National Cancer Institute. This allows pet owners the option of choosing cutting-edge treatment while helping to gather important data on cancer treatment that may benefit both animals and human.
The VTH oncology service is currently enrolling patients in six clinical trials. The hospital also enrolls pets in clinical trials in cardiology, radiology, and other areas of veterinary medicine. To learn more, visit vetmed.oregonstate.edu/clinical-trials.
Joan and Terry Ferguson have a small desk in the waiting room of the Small Animal Hospital at OSU, but they don’t spend much time sitting there. Terry can often be found out in the parking lot, rain or shine, handing out parking passes and helping clients unload a sick pet. Joan dispenses dog biscuits and tips on where to eat, but more importantly, spends a lot of time sitting with clients, providing company during a long wait, or listening with a sympathetic ear; that is especially helpful when a pet is seriously ill or injured and a client is upset.
“I enjoy visiting with people,” says Joan. “I just ask, ‘What are you here for?’ and that’s all it takes . . . they let it all out. Then they say, ‘Thank you so much for listening, it really helped.’”
The Fergusons drive for more than an hour every week to volunteer at the hospital. “We are so lucky to have them,” says Client Advocate, Tammy Barr, who supervises seven hospital volunteers and manages the Grateful Client Program. The program was organized after many former clients expressed a desire to give back in return for the excellent care their pet received at the hospital.
Former clients contribute in many ways to the success of the hospital, from buying pizza for the students working overnight in the large animal hospital, to sewing blankets for ICU, to purchasing a much-needed piece of equipment, but the hospital volunteers form the heart of the program.
Like the other volunteers, Janet and Dave Perry were introduced to the VTH when they brought their dog, Connor, in for a check up. On the day of their appointment, they were met in the lobby by Joan and Terry Ferguson. “They were both so kind and chatted with us while we waited with Connor,” says Dave Perry. “Janet and I decided that if the program needed more volunteers, we should try it. We were looking for something we could do as a team . . . and we have a soft spot for animals so we felt it would be a good fit for us.”
The Client Advocate position and the Grateful Client Program have been so successful at OSU, other colleges have contacted Barr about duplicating it in their hospitals, and the OSU Large Animal Hospital recently added a Client Advocate as well. Grateful clients, Caroline Ajootian and Joan Campf, support both positions.
“Janet and I receive satisfaction in trying to make the hospital visit, for both animals and their caregivers, as easy as possible,” says Dave Perry.
Barr adds: “I try to listen and be a friend. I really care about the clients and their pets.”
Dogs bring us a great bounty of love, enthusiasm, loyalty, and laughter. Really, their only fault is that they die too soon. Like many of us, Nancy Wolske knows how tough that is.
Nancy’s dog Schooner was not just her furry child, but also a contributing member of the community. First as a guide dog, then after retirement as a Guide Dog Ambassador helping to promote the service dog mission. Schooner was also a therapy dog for Dove Lewis hospitals.
When lung cancer took Schooner at eight years old, Nancy was devastated. Soon after, her sister-in-law asked her to adopt a 3-month-old Red Setter puppy named Cara, but she was reluctant. “My mother-in-law rescued the mom, and my sister-in-law had the other puppy,” says Nancy, who finally agreed to foster the puppy for the weekend. “She arrived in our home while our hearts ached terribly, but it didn’t take but a few hours to find laughter through the tears.” The Wolke’s fell in love and wound up adopting Cara. “It was one of the best decisions, ever,” says Nancy.
Cara is now nine-years-old and Nancy describes her as “our child”. She is a very smart dog and Nancy has taught her many hand signals. She also knows all the individuals in her stuffed animal zoo, and will retrieve them by name as requested. When asked to ‘do the dishes’, Cara picks up a spoon or small dish and carries it into the kitchen. “She is very proud of this ability,” says Nancy.
Last fall, Nancy found a lump on Cara’s neck. She immediately took her to Dr. Beth Nguyen at Woodburn Pet Hospital, who ordered a needle sample; the test result indicated thyroid cancer. She referred them to the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) at OSU.
At the VTH, an oncology team examined Cara and ordered a CT scan which confirmed the mass on her thyroid gland. Surgery was recommended, however a blood test revealed Cara had an abnormally low platelet count. The oncology team consulted with the internal medicine team who diagnosed immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMTP), an auto-immune disease that attacks platelets in the blood stream and can slow blood clotting. Unfortunately, Cara could not undergo surgery in that condition.
The internal medicine team prescribed a drug treatment plan to bring Cara’s platelet count up, and Nancy took her home. “It was very stressful to think about the cancer growing while we waited for the treatment to work,” she says. “The communication between Dr. Nguyen and OSU was frequent and timely. I cannot emphasize enough how important, and good, this component was.”
Finally, Cara was able to have the tumor removed. The surgery went well with no sign that the cancer had spread. “We were very fortunate and able to take her home earlier than expected,” says Nancy.
Cara is now six months post-surgery and back to her old self, with a good prognosis for a normal lifespan. “She is likely to do very well,” says OSU oncologist Dr. Katie Curran. “The average survival for dogs with this type of cancer, when surgery is possible, is between 2-3 years from diagnosis.” Dr. Curran adds: “It was important that Cara was brought to her veterinarian when the mass was first noted. This allowed us to initiate treatment for Cara as soon as possible.”
Nancy is now an enthusiastic ambassador for the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “We are so grateful for the entire team there at OSU, from the amazing volunteers, the reception staff, the Saturday staff — every person there went above and beyond for us. It genuinely eased our worries from the first moment we arrived.”
Catching cancer early is often key to a good outcome. In addition to regular veterinary check-ups, pet owners should stay aware of their dog’s condition, and keep an eye out for lumps or other changes. For more information on signs of cancer in dogs, visit http://vetspecialists.com/category/oncology/.
Simon, Garfunkel, Chumbley and George were all rescue dogs who, between them, made nearly five hundred therapy visits during their lifetimes. Now a little spaniel named Hank will be taking on the job. “Hank is less than half the size of my previous dogs,” says owner Karen Osband, “and he has some big paws to fill, but I’m confident he will do it beautifully, and hopefully for a long time, thanks to the wonderful care he received at OSU.”
Osband met Hank when he was just five weeks old and fell in love with him. Soon after, he was diagnosed with a Grade 4 heart murmur, a sign of congenital heart disease. Osband decided to adopt him anyway. As a new resident of Oregon, Osband hunted for a veterinarian who could treat Hank’s condition. Several told her to wait and see if he survived six months, but Dr. Ashley Robinson, at VCA in Eugene, did an ultrasound of his heart, found a valve defect and referred Osband to the Cardiology Service at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
At OSU, veterinary cardiologist Dr. Kate Scollon diagnosed Hank’s problem as pulmonic stenosis, a condition where the heart valve is thickened or partially fused together, obstructing blood flow from the heart to the lungs. She sees many dogs with this condition and was confident she could help Hank, but he needed one more month to get bigger.
In February 2017, the OSU cardiology team performed a balloon valvuloplasty, where a special catheter was inserted into the defective valve in Hank’s heart and a balloon was inflated, enlarging the restricted space. “The results were positive almost immediately after the surgery, including a greatly reduced heart murmur,” says Osband. It was a terrific Valentine present.
Hank is feeling good and in the process of learning how to pay forward the gift of health he received. “All of my dogs have been registered/licensed therapy dogs, and Hank is being trained to follow in their footsteps,” says Osband. “I am expecting him to provide comfort and put a smile on many peoples’ faces in the years to come . . . in nursing homes, retirement centers, and hospitals. For now, I can say with total honesty that he is doing those things for me, and I’m willing to share him wherever he will be welcome.”
Generally speaking, sheep do not make great pets. They tend to be afraid of humans and have a strong flock instinct so you have to keep several together.
There are exceptions; some breeds, when bottle fed by a human from the time they are babies, come to think of themselves as small, wooly people. One example is a miniature breed know as a Babydoll.
Stormie deCarlo had wanted to raise sheep for a long time, but had to wait until her husband retired from the military. Finally, three years ago, she got two Babydoll Southdown lambs for her birthday. She named them Miles and Jack. “When I was a girl in New Mexico,” says diCarlo, “I was in 4-H, and when my sheep didn’t make weight, my Dad put him in the freezer. I always wanted another one I could have to keep.”
The sheep joined a backyard family of three dogs, two cats and two rabbits. The whole menagerie gets along well, in fact, one of the dogs, a hound-mix named Lilly, likes to lick Miles’ ears. “Miles doesn’t mind, but when he has had enough, he butts her with his head.”
Last fall Jack became very ill and died of copper poisoning. Sheep owners beware: Copper is very toxic to sheep and can be found in some animal feeds. Also, the symptoms of copper poisoning often don’t appear until the sheep is already very sick.
Soon after Jack died, deCarlo lost her dog to brain cancer, so when Miles quit eating, deCarlo called her veterinarian right away. Dr. Moore referred her to the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital at OSU. “It was heart breaking to lose Jack, then Lolita,” says deCarlo, “so I was going to fight to save Miles.”
At OSU, Dr. John Schlipf and Dr. Sarah Schale ran tests and found Miles to have increased pulse and respiratory rates, decreased red blood cell count, and blood analyses consistent with kidney damage: all signs of copper poisoning. They treated him with intravenous fluids, but when his anemia and kidney tests worsened, they gave him a whole blood transfusion. They also put him on diuretics to increase blood flow to the kidneys and increase urine production to flush out the copper and broken down red blood cells.
When Miles was still not eating, Clementine, a cow in the OSU teaching herd, stepped up to help. She is a fistulated cow who has a portal in her side to access her rumen (the largest of her four stomachs). Through this portal, the doctors obtained rumen fluid and fed it to Miles. Rumen fluid is full of beneficial microbes and nutrients that are good for sick animals. In the past, Clementine has donated to goats and other cows also.
After several days of intensive treatment, Miles’ kidneys improved and he began eating normally. He is still anemic but that should improve with time. He may have some permanent kidney damage but is back home and doing fine.
The long stay in the hospital with lots of TLC from students, technicians and doctors gave Miles a taste for attention. “He stays on the back deck and gazes through the sliding doors,” says deCarlo.
“We are so grateful the hospital saved him,” she says. “They worked so hard and were so very kind.”
Abigail Murphy stands six feet tall and eats eight cups of dog food a day. She is a high-energy Great Dane with a sweet personality who loves to snuggle on the couch with Dad.
Abigail came to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for elective surgery to be spayed and get a gastropexy (stomach tack). Large, deep-chested dogs like Abigail are at higher risk for a disease commonly known as bloat or stomach twist. Bloat occurs when the stomach expands with either food or gas, obstructing the entrance and exit. As the stomach continues to dilate, it can rotate on its axis which is a life threatening condition. A gastropexy attaches the stomach to the body wall, preventing this rotation.
Abigail’s surgery was performed by Dr. Milan Milovancev and Dr. Lea Mehrkens who are board-certified, soft tissue surgeons. They used a minimally invasive technique called laparoscopy, where a tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions.
The advantage of laparoscopy is less pain and quicker recovery, which is very beneficial when you have a 170-pound dog who needs to be kept inactive to heal. “It was especially challenging keeping her quiet and out of trouble because we have an eight month-old puppy who wanted to play with her,” says Laura Murphy.
Owners of deep-chested breeds like Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Standard Poodles can elect to get their dog a gastropexy, or they can minimize the risk of bloat by limiting strenuous exercise after eating and drinking, slowing the rate of food consumption, and feeding frequent small portions rather than infrequent larger portions.
Abigail has recovered from her surgery and is back to her old self. Her mom is very happy with the results. “The staff [at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital] is wonderful and we would highly recommend the surgery center.”
JJ works three days a week at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice. Her job description is unusual: Roll around on the floor, hand out hugs, and generate smiles. Trained as a registered therapy dog, and with seven years of experience under her collar, she is a valuable member of the staff.
Tracy Calhoun is a hospice nurse and JJ’s mom. Over the years, she has trained five therapy dogs, but JJ is special. “When we walk in to work, if someone is crying, instead of following me, she immediately peels off and put her arms around them.” In fact, JJ is off-leash all day, and decides for herself who needs comforting when.
Samaritan Evergreen Hospice provides comfort care and aggressive pain management for patients who are at the end of life. The people who work there have special training in patient care, but they also care about the families. That is where JJ is invaluable. “Very often there are not words we can say to make it better,” says Calhoun. “When someone is very emotional, spending time with JJ is much more soothing. They don’t have to talk, or assure someone they are saying the right thing. It’s just comforting.”
JJ is also an important part of a ritual of respect the hospice provides for all patients. “We have something called a ‘walk out’,” says Calhoun. “When someone dies, the staff and volunteers line the hallway as the patient leaves on a gurney. JJ taught herself to wait outside the room, then walk beside the gurney as it is wheeled to the front door. All our patients come in the front door and leave by the front door.”
JJ not only comforts patients and families, she gives staff and volunteers a much-needed respite from the demands of their jobs. “She has a big impact as a co-worker,” says Calhoun. “People can take a timeout and play with her, but there is also something about having a dog hanging out that takes the stress level down. Even if she is just being silly, rolling around on her back with a toy. It makes people smile.”
Last year, JJ was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. Without treatment, she had a prognosis of 1-2 months. In January, Calhoun brought her to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “I wanted all options for treatment, and the vet I was seeing encouraged me to look into OSU where they have the latest research.”
OSU has given everyone at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice an extra eight months with JJ so far. Although she has been receiving chemotherapy, JJ has remained active and happily working the whole time. “It hasn’t slowed her down at all,” says Calhoun. “There were a couple of times when she got chemo in the morning, then went to work in the afternoon. People were amazed.”
JJ will come to the end of her life soon, and will leave behind big paws to fill. “There is no way I can replicate another JJ,” says Calhoun. “She is the most intuitive dog I have ever had.”
Did you get it all? That is a critical question often asked after tumor removal surgery. At the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), Dr. Milan Milovancev is addressing that question in his research on canine cancer.
Dr. Milovancev is a soft tissue surgeon who operates on hundreds of dogs with cancer every year. He also conducts research and clinical trials that focus on finding the optimal amount of tissue to remove, and the best way to tell if a tumor surgery was successful.
“I am dedicated to improving the quality of life for cancer patients by working to maximize chances of removing all the cancer during one surgery, while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible,” he says. This includes studying how tumors grow, how to plan tumor surgery, and how to best test for residual cancer cells after surgery. “Accurately determining whether or not a surgical procedure has successfully achieved local tumor control [removal of all cancer cells] is paramount,” he says, “Incorrect diagnostics in this regard may result in needless additional surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.” It also impacts whether a cancer will return.
The VTH is staffed with board-certified, veterinary specialists so Dr. Milovancev can collaborate with colleagues in oncology, pathology and radiology to design and implement these tumor margin studies. He can also invite clients whose dogs have cancer to participate in clinical trials that yield valuable data about the studies.
Doobie is a recent patient of Dr. Milovancev and that makes him a very lucky dog. Doobie’s mom, Molly Swenson, was referred to OSU by her local veterinarian because Doobie had a large growth on his nostril. Tests revealed it to be a malignant skin cancer tumor. “Surgery to remove a tumor in this location can be difficult due to the proximity to important anatomical structures,” says Dr. Milovancev. Size was also a factor; Doobie is a nine-pound Chihuahua.
Dr. Milovancev removed Doobie’s tumor and reconstructed his nasal passageways in two separate procedures, using information gained in previous and ongoing tumor margin studies. “While Doobie wasn’t part of a study himself, he benefited from the patients who have participated in these studies over the past few years,” says Dr. Milovancev. “The microscopic analysis of his tumor, and the surgical margins we removed showed that we got it all and the tumor has a relatively low chance of growing back.”
Doobie is six months post-surgery and doing great. His now-permanent grin is appropriate because his mom reports that he is a ‘happy, little dog’. Although Doobie can breathe normally, he sometimes blows bubbles out of one nostril. “I asked him if I could call him Bubbles and he nipped at me,” says Swenson, “so Doobie it will, unfortunately, remain.”
Although Ometepe island is a tropical jewel in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, it is largely undeveloped and very poor. Most people on the island rely on animals for food, work and transportation, but veterinary care is sparse and the animals often suffer from disease and malnutrition. That is why every summer for ten years in a row, a dedicated group of OSU-led volunteers have set up a free veterinary clinic on Ometepe.
It started with a group of three OSU veterinary students. In 2007, Briana Beechler, Austin Bell, and Sara Neilson participated in a non-OSU service trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was a good learning experience, but the trio came back with plenty of ideas on how to make it better. “We decided to start a student-led service brigade to Nicaragua,” says Beechler. “In our vision, we wanted to improve animal welfare and public health by providing educational seminars, educating local students and providing veterinary care. This required setting up a site that we returned to year after year.” Ometepe was chosen and the next year they began to execute their vision.
“We sent a myriad of letters and placed many calls,” says Beechler. Eventually she was referred to Alvaro Molina who owns the Hacienda Merida, a hostel on Ometepe. He had been looking for a way to solve the problem with stray dogs and poorly fed animals on the island, which he felt reduced tourism. “With him we set up the first brigade. He helped us arrange import permits and donated an area in his hostel for the clinic. He and his employees did all the advertising and connecting with the local folks.”
On that first “trial year” trip, the brigade consisted of veterinarian Rhea Hanselmann and seven students. The next year, Beechler returned to Ometepe as a first year veterinarian, and was joined by OSU veterinary professor Hernan Montilla, who has volunteered on Ometepe every year since. “He expanded the rural and large animal portions of the trip,” says Beechler. “His commitment has helped the success of the trip greatly.”
Initially, the service trip was supported primarily by students, with some supplies donated by local clinics and a few companies. “It was a lot of hard work by our participants to talk to people they know and get donations,” says Beechler. Now, the student chapter of the International Veterinary Students Association organizes several fund-raising initiatives, but students still hustle up donations and pay their own travel costs.
With an interest in one-health medicine and zoonotic disease, Beechler’s focus on Ometepe was working with local doctors, veterinarians and public health officers to improve human health. “The one-health movement says that animal, human and environmental health are inextricably linked,” she says. “For instance, one of the most common parasites in small animals in Nicaragua is hookworm, which can be spread to humans when infective larvae in the soil penetrate the skin. This is easily prevented by wearing shoes, yet very few children do.”
From 2009-2016, Beechler was working on her Ph.D. in South Africa, and doing post-doc work in Africa, but still helped with Ometepe long distance. Now she is an assistant professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and conducts research that focuses on animal physiology and disease as it relates to conservation or public health. This has allowed her to come full circle and join the IVSA volunteers in Nicaragua once again. “I want to get reinvolved with my new skills gained in South Africa and try to expand the public health portion of the trip,” she says. To that end, she brought along Bethany Hagen, an OSU graduate student in public health. Hagen conducted surveys of Ometepe community members, doctors and public health officers, and they hope to use the results to create a more one-health-focused link to the people.
They also met with a new veterinarian on the island. “We discussed ways in which we could work together to improve veterinary care and public health in Merida and surrounding areas,” says Beechler. “We decided on two courses of action: assisting him with training support, and creating a lab/office space so that one-health research can be conducted.”
As a founding ‘mother’ of the OSU service trip to Ometepe, Beechler really enjoyed being back on the island. “What I find most rewarding about the trip is seeing the same community members over and over again, and knowing that they trust us. One person informed us that he had been coming to our clinic for ten years with the same dog for annual care. This demonstrates how good a job the students do at working with the local people, building trust. That trust allows us to develop health-related projects.”
“I also really enjoy watching the students learn and develop into veterinarians. The trip does an excellent job of making our veterinary students feel empowered, and develop clinical skills and learn to work with clients. You can see on day one that many are nervous, that doing physical exams and making treatment plans is hard for them. But by day three or four they are much more confident. This growth is very rewarding to see.”
It’s a beautiful, sunny morning at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, as a small group of students set up twenty-seven portable canopies along the road leading to the horse arena. In the nearby pasture, another group of students is unloading baby goats, rabbits, and miniature horses into a newly-built petting zoo; and under a huge heritage oak tree, the pet costume contest committee is creating a runway in the grass. It’s the thirty-third annual Pet Day at OSU, and down the road a group of Girl Scouts from Troop 20519 are helping Cera Reusser set up a booth to chase away canine cancer.
Troop 20519 has volunteered at Pet Day since they were seven-year old Daisy Scouts. It is part of their service project where, under the guidance of troop leader Aaron Marchbanks, they explore their community, choose a topic, and work together to make the world a better place. One of the most important elements in the service project is that it is entirely determined by them.
The Bronze award is the highest honor Girl Scout Juniors can earn. The service project is a big part of that endeavor. “When it came time to choose a service project, animal health and welfare was a top contender. They had spent years visiting the booths at Pet Day learning about everything from herpetology to biomedical research,” says Marchbanks.
Several of the troop members had also seen the Xtreme Air Dogs dock demonstration at an OSU pre-football game. The star of that competition was Olie, an impressive black lab who lost his mother to canine cancer. The girls met Olie’s owner, Cera Reusser, founder of Chase Away K9 Cancer, and learned how the organization works to raise awareness and funds to support cancer research for dogs. They now had a partner for their next Pet Day activity.
Reusser has worked with the oncology service at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital to develop and distribute materials to help owners check, identify, and treat early signs of cancer. Partnering with the Girl Scouts at Pet Day was another way to get the message out.
Troop 20519 brain-stormed ideas for engaging the public at Pet Day and decided to sign up for a booth and provide a pet salon. The big idea: While pets were being spruced up, their owners could learn about early detection of cancer, and possibly make a donation to cancer research.
The troop video-conferenced with Reusser several times to learn as much as they could about Chase Away K9 Cancer. Then, for six months, they researched safe and effective pet salon services, including hair dye, hair chalk, nail polish, brushes, bows, and the safe handling of all different kinds of pets. They also made promotional posters advising owners to regularly check their pets for cancer. Finally, the big day arrived.
Reusser, Marchbanks and the girls set up the pet salon and information booth and got to work! While Reusser answered questions about the best way to check an animal for lumps, the troop beautified over 100 pets including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, a goat and, the favorite, a ferret. “It was so much fun to watch the Girl Scouts in action, helping to spread canine cancer awareness while making the pups that came by happy in their Girl Scout Dog Spa,” says Reusser.
All the pet spa services were free, however, many people made donations. At the end of the day, the girls voted to donate their $66 in earnings to Chase Away K9 Cancer.
Be sure to check your dog on the 14th of every month! For more information, visit chaseawayk9cancer.org