When clients bring their dogs to the oncology service in the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital, they sometimes elect to enroll their pet in clinical trials that study cancer and new treatments. The data collected from those clinical trials provides information that may ultimately save both canine and human lives.

In once recent example, hospital researchers studied 64 dogs and found a link between high cholesterol and osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that behaves the same in both dogs and humans.

“This is one of the first steps into identifying cholesterol as a potential biomarker for canine osteosarcoma,” said Dr. Haley Leeper, Assistant Professor in veterinary oncology. “We don’t have answers as to why high cholesterol is associated with this disease, but we’re hoping to advance these findings in future research.”

Leeper and collaborators at OSU and Iowa State University compared 64 dogs with osteosarcoma against two control groups: 30 dogs that had suffered traumatic bone fractures and 31 healthy dogs similar in age and weight to the animals with cancer.

Researchers found nearly half of the dogs with cancer – 29 of the 64 – had elevated levels of total serum cholesterol, a dramatically higher rate than occurred in either control population; just three of the 30 dogs with broken bones, and only two of the 31 healthy animals, showed high cholesterol. An interesting twist: the dogs with elevated total cholesterol had a median survival time of 455 days, more than 200 days greater than the median survival time for dogs with normal cholesterol.

“When people think of cholesterol they think of cheeseburgers and heart attacks,” Leeper said. “However, cholesterol is involved with many key processes and structures in the body like cell membranes, bone health and the immune system.”

“There are a lot of things we plan on investigating,” she said. “This is exciting and fascinating, partly due to the comparative medical aspects between human research and our research.”

Collaborators in the study included Craig Ruaux and Shay Bracha, colleagues of Leeper in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and Austin Viall of the Department of Veterinary Pathology at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Rose Hardy's tiny size allowed surgeons to perform a procedure that is most often done on dogs..
Rose Hardy’s tiny size allowed surgeons to perform a procedure that is most often done on dogs.

An average horse weighs about 1,200 pounds. Rose Hardy is a mini horse who tips the scales at just 253 pounds. Her tiny size not only makes her cute, it may have saved her life.

Just like dogs and humans, horses have hip joints that consist of a ball (at the end of the femur bone) and socket, held together by strong ligaments and muscles. When those ligaments and muscles are injured or diseased, the ball can fall out of the socket and the joint becomes dislocated. It is very painful.

In a dislocated joint, the ruptured ligaments make it difficult to adjust the femur back into the correct position and keep it there (see illustration below). Often, surgical treatment is necessary. In a prodedure called a femoral head and neck ostectomy (FHO), the ball (or head) is removed from the end of the femur. Then scar tissue forms to create a new, false hip joint. This usually relieves pain and improves quality of life dramatically.

FHO surgery is most successful in small dogs, but has also proven worthwhile in larger breeds. Unfortunately, when a horse’s hip joint dislocates, FHO is not often successful because the altered joint cannot support the weight of a horse. Many times, the horse is euthanized.

In June, Roberta Hardy noticed that her mini horse, Rose, was lame and in obvious pain. She took Rose to Dr. Kirsten Mason, of Redwood Equine Veterinary Services, who took radiographs that revealed a dislocated right hip joint. Dr. Mason referred Rose to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for further evaluation. At the hospital, the equine team sedated Rose and tried to manually relocate her hip joint. As is often the case, the joint would not go back into the proper position. That was very sad news for the Hardy family, who have several mini horses that they love like pets.

The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital does dozens of FHO surgeries on dogs every year, but never on a horse. Because Rose is so tiny, the surgical team felt she was a good candidate for a successful FHO. Dr. Cate Hackett explained the surgery, prognosis, and long rehabilitation process to Roberta Hardy, who decided to give it a try.

The surgery went well and Reese Douglas, a fourth year veterinary student, was assigned to Rose’s case. “I was in charge of her daily care, which included preparation and giving of medications, daily physicals, walks, pain assessment, and feed preparation.” Pain management was a huge factor in Rose’s recovery so Douglas, under the supervision of surgical resident Dr. Elizabeth Collar, learned how to prepare IVs and place epidural catheters for pain medication.

Four days after surgery, Douglas was able to walk Rose out of her stall and back, several times a day. Five days after surgery, she walked Rose out the back door, and over to the north lawn so she could graze for five minutes. “She was a difficult patient to get to eat,” says Douglas. Rose turned her nose up at beet pulp and Equine Senior, so Douglas picked a pound of fresh grass every day to feed her.

One week post-surgery, Hardy took Rose home with extensive instructions for her rehabilitation, including a weight reduction diet to minimize stress on her new joint. Rose now walks for fifteen minutes, three times a day, and has been moved to a larger paddock. Her appetite has definitely improved. “Food is a good motivator to keep her moving. I walk her when the barn manager is feeding from the back of the Gator. She will eat a bit, then the gator moves forward and Rose follows it.”

The ball at the end of Rose's femur was dislocated from her hip joint.
A CT scans shows the ball at the end of Rose’s femur dislocated from her hip joint.



AcupunctureMixing traditional and alternative medicine provides the best possible treatment at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital


One day Richard Bullock’s best friend, a lab mix named Buddy Bear, collapsed and would not get up. Buddy’s veterinarian found cancer and removed his spleen and one lobe of his liver. Post-surgery, Buddy was listless and not eating, so Bullock took him to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Dr. Haley Leeper ran tests and discovered that Buddy had pneumonia and pancreatitis. He was treated and his condition improved, however the ordeal left him with some neurological issues so he had trouble standing and walking. Dr. Leeper prescribed acupuncture in his spine and rear end, and assigned fourth-year student Mallory Powers to help Buddy use a walker to get moving. “Mallory was so wonderful,” says Bullock. “She worked with him every single day, and she called us with updates. It was so exciting to see him get better every day.” Once he could stand, Dr. Leeper prescribed hydrotherapy on the underwater treadmill, and Buddy went home soon after, with advice to continue his acupuncture treatments.  “Now he walks on his own and is doing great,” says Bullock. “I swear by acupuncture; our other dog was so old, he could hardly walk, and acupuncture helped him too.”

Integrating Alternative Medicine

Veterinary medicine has made extraordinary advances in the past fifty years. Animals can now receive many of the same high-tech diagnostic and treatment options as humans. From specialty surgery, to a broad range of safe and effective pharmaceuticals, these options have provided animals with longer, healthier lives. Now, similar to human medicine, there is a growing interest in adding alternative therapy options. Some veterinarians are now using therapies like acupuncture, chiropractics, and E-stim in conjunction with more traditional medicine.

OSU Is Leading The Way

At the VTH, alternative therapies are available in many forms, and nowhere is this more visible than in the small animal rehabilitation unit.

Typically, in any given week, all year long, the hospital performs eight or ten orthopedic surgeries, most of them for dogs with broken bones or back issues. Nearly all of these cases are referred to rehabilitation post-surgery. Depending on the type of injury, age and lifestyle of the animal, and other factors, doctors prescribe a rehab program that may include massage, exercise therapy, ultrasound, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, and more. In fact, patients at the VTH seem to have more post-op rehab options than many humans. Have you ever heard of a friend or relative who regularly used an underwater treadmill following knee surgery?

Rehab Offers Many Options

The underwater treadmill room in the hospital is a busy place, handling lots of dogs with arthritis, as well as post-surgery dogs and cats. Underwater treadmills provide weight-bearing reduction while the warm water and exercise facilitates muscle relaxation and tendon stretch; they are used primarily to improve muscle strength and limb function. They also improve range of motion in compromised joints. The dogs like the water, the attention, and the treats.

Dogs also enjoy exercise therapy. Just like in humans, core strength is important in animals: it helps take pressure off the four limbs. “We use treats to make them repeat sitting and standing,” says rehab technician David Meyer. “It’s equivalent to a human lunge; it strengthens the abdominal muscles. We also do a lot of balance work on the inflatable balls and wobble boards – different ones for different functions.”

Another therapy: Cold lasers that dilate blood vessels and bring more oxygen to injured areas. “Laser therapy also creates fibroplasts which are the cornerstone of healing,” says Meyer. The rehab unit uses cold laser therapy in many patients, but it is especially beneficial for back patients.  “It used to be that six months after surgery, your dog’s condition was the best it would be for the rest of his life: if he was walking, great; if he was stumbling, or in a cart, that was it,” says Meyer. “Now we see, with laser therapy, hydrotherapy and physical therapy, most dogs recover and are back to walking within three months.”

Acupuncture For All Kinds Of Animals

Dr. Jacob Mecham has used acupuncture successfully on alpacas, sheep, dogs, cats, horses, a turkey vulture, and even a chicken. “The chicken couldn’t walk,” says Mecham. “I did one acupuncture treatment and by the next day, he was extending his legs, and by day three he was walking.”

Dr. Mecham is the OSU mobile equine veterinarian and is certified in acupuncture. He uses it primarily for pain control, or quality of life issues. “It is not a magic bullet that fixes everything,” he says. “In the past, you either did western medicine or eastern medicine, but now we integrate them to get the best possible outcome for the patient. Western medicine has so many great tools for diagnosis and treatment. Acupuncture adds another tool.”

What does he say to skeptics?  “Try it. It works.”

Dr. Mecham is also certified in veterinary chiropractics, which he most often uses for horses with symptoms that appear to be pain-related.  For example, Dr. Mecham recently treated a horse who was having trouble chewing. The owner thought he had a broken tooth. “When he came to the hospital, the students fed him a treat. The horse tried to get it positioned in his mouth so he could chew it, but ended up spitting most of it out,” says Mecham. “I had just done a dental on that horse, so I thought a tooth problem was unlikely. I felt his neck and found the first vertebrae out of alignment. I did one adjustment, gave him another treat, and he chewed fine. The students were blown away,” he laughs.

Students Advocate For Integrated Medicine

The Integrative Medicine Club at OSU is a group of students whose goal is to raise awareness of alternatives to traditional medicine. “We provide a lot of lunch talks,” says member Danielle Daw (Class of 2018). “We have brought in people to talk about Chinese medicine and holistic medicine. We had a raw food panel.” The raw food topic, in particular, pulled in a large audience, not all students.

“I took a little liberty with the club this year,” says member Lauren Clarke (Class of 2017). “I organized a raw food panel even though I knew it was a controversial topic.” The raw food panel included Dr. Craig Ruaux, a VTH specialist in gastrointestinal health, and Dr. Keith Weingard, a Portland veterinarian who is very interested in animal nutrition. “They brought up a lot of points that vet students, and the veterinarians in the audience, hadn’t thought about before,” says Clarke. “It was a really good talk because the whole audience was involved. There were lots of skeptics asking pointed questions, and people even approached me afterwards.”

For the first time this year, the club provided acupuncture demonstrations at their Pet Day booth. “A lot of people came to those,” says Clarke. “They had lots of questions about alternative medicine.”

The Integrative Medicine Club has also had an impact on Daw’s future as a veterinarian. “I wanted to do surgery for a long time, but this year I’ve changed to internal medicine,” she says. “The club definitely had an influence, thinking about the whole animal, bettering the animal’s health instead of just focusing on the disease process.”

Both Clarke and Daw will soon be attending classes in Florida to obtain a certification in acupuncture. “People in the veterinary field seem to be surprised that we offer acupuncture at the VTH,” says Daw. “I think as it becomes more accepted in human medicine, it will do the same in veterinary medicine.

The team who keeps the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine farm running (L to R): Kasey Pedder, Peter McPartlin, Ashley Silkett-Butler, and Kim Veldman.
The team who keeps the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine farm running (L to R): Kasey Pedder, Peter McPartlin, Ashley Silkett-Butler, and Kim Veldman.

On an average day, the large animal hospital houses 25-30 animals. Those animals receive stellar medical treatment from doctors and veterinary technicians, plus an extra dose of attentive care from fourth-year veterinary students. But who provides for their basic needs?

That is where Peter McPartlin comes in. As farm manager, he oversees a team of animal attendants and student workers who not only care for hospital animals, but also for the teaching herd.  “We have five llamas and alpacas here, and roughly 15 horses, and two cows,” he says. “There are 30 llamas over at RAIL [the field on Campus Way]. We have a lot of pasture for them there. The RAIL folks check them every day. If they have any problems, we pick them up and bring them here.”

A typical day for McPartlin and his team begins at 6 a.m. with the first hospital feeding. Then they clean and disinfect stalls. A couple of hours later, they can turn their attention to the teaching herd and farm chores. Afterwards, they go back to the hospital for the afternoon feeding.

Between hospital patients and herd animals, the college goes through about 72 tons of hay per year, and about 20,000 pounds of feed or grain.

Horses are, by far, the highest maintenance animals in the teaching herd. “You have a big animal that walks on four little legs, and when they are outside in a herd, they act like a group of teenagers,” says McPartlin. “They are always fooling around.”  Sometimes, that creates more work for the farm manager.

“Last month, a mare named Pearl was in a separate paddock with her best friend,” says McPartlin. “I put them there to eat down some grass. She decided that she didn’t like being there, and jumped the fence to be with the other horses.” The fence is four feet high, and Pearl is not a youngster, so she hit the fence and got a big knot on her leg. “I spent one morning fixing the fence she ruined,” says McPartlin.

The horses also get extra care for their feet, from a farrier who comes once a month, and for their teeth, from Dr. Mecham, the herd veterinarian.

In addition to animal care, McPartlin is responsible for keeping the basic operation running. He does everything from repair hoses in the hospital to changing the oil in the tractor. His team even keeps the hospital parking lot tidy.

McPartlin supervises three, full-time animal attendants and about eight, part-time student workers. “The animal attendants are my right hand; I could not do this without them,” says McPartlin. “The student workers are also a valuable part of what we do.”

Some of the student workers come from farms, and have been around large animals before. Others are animal lovers, but need more training to work with the herd. “They maybe had dogs that they loved, and they are thinking about being a veterinarian,” says McPartlin, “but I need to make sure they are comfortable working with large animals before I turn them loose in a stall. They have to be able to read an animal, and understand how it will react under certain conditions, so no one gets hurt.”

One of the things McPartlin likes best about his job is interacting with the fourth-year students on rotation in the hospital. “I walk around the hospital quite a bit, so they stop me and ask for help with the practical aspects of what they are doing. I like to show them what works best.”

His advice often deals with the nuts-and-bolts of hospital issues, sometimes literally. “We have a commercial washer that gets messed up when people leave stuff in their coveralls. I’ve always got screws in mine.  I try to remind everyone to turn their pockets inside-out before they stuff them in the laundry,” he says.

Another challenge for the washing machines is the amount of stall debris clinging to everything. “The leg wraps from the horses get full of sawdust, which clogs things up,” says McPartlin. “I saw a student in the hall yesterday shaking one off, so I stopped and said ‘Great job. That is exactly what we should be doing’.”

That kind of positive interaction with people is something that McPartlin consciously strives to achieve. He sees it as part of the OSU mission to create an environment for people to grow.

“As our society has gotten busier, we don’t always watch our words, or are not as kind as we should be,” he says. “I think when you are working with young people, it is especially important. My team and I try to ‘lay out the red carpet’ for their learning.” McPartlin also extends that courtesy to his staff and coworkers. ”Each of us has to take the responsibility to create a positive environment.”

Ron and Marlene Izatt stopped by the college to have lunch with veterinary students.
Ron and Marlene Izatt stopped by the college to have lunch with veterinary students Erika Wakabayashi, Melanie Peel, Jessica Rigling, and Laurel Anderson.

A veterinary college is chock full of people who love animals. From highly skilled surgeons in the hospital, to investigators in the laboratories, to students who volunteer at shelters, they all work hard to provide the best possible lives for animals. Outside the college, but integrally connected, is another group of animal lovers: those who work as partners by learning about college goals, and providing the missing pieces needed to reach new heights of excellence.

Ron and Marlene Izatt are that kind of animal lover. At home on their acreage in southeast Washington, they have two dogs and a horse, but in the past, they have had as many as four horses, four dogs, and four cats. It seems to depend on what their neighbors are up to.

“The neighbor’s dog brought Miss Poppy home when she was about six months old,” says Marlene. “She ran with that dog for a month or two, but because she wasn’t potty-trained, they left her outside in the dead of winter. You can’t do that with a Chihuahua, so another neighbor took her home, and I offered to potty-train her.”  One thing led to another, and Miss Poppy ended up a member of the Izatt family. Lucky dog.

Their other dog, Jackson, was dropped off at a farm nearby. “They get a lot of dogs dropped off out there, so they were going to shoot him,” says Marlene. “I went and got him and was bringing him home, driving 60 miles per hour down the highway, and the poor dog apparently thought I was going to drop him off again so he climbed into my lap . . . and he is a big dog!” Marlene took Jackson to a rescue group, but she felt so terrible, imagining him in a car headed somewhere else, she called the group and asked to adopt him. “They had already shipped Jackson to a shelter in Portland, and had him on a website for adoption, so I drove down and got him, and he’s been ours ever since.”

The Izatts also drove way out of their way to get their horse: about 300 miles to the Steens Mountains in southeast Oregon. There the Bureau of Land Management is desperately in need of adoptive families for their 40,000 wild mustangs. “I really try to get people to go there and get horses from them, because they are such awesome animals,” says Marlene.

Now the Izatts are showing their love of animals by supporting veterinary students.

Ron Izatt is an OSU alumnus, but he and Marlene were more familiar with the hospital at Washington State University, where they had received excellent care for their dog. They had been discussing ways to help support the WSU hospital, when a chance meeting with OSU Dean of Pharmacy, Mark Zabriskie, steered them in another direction. “He said, ‘But you are an OSU alumni; wouldn’t you like to help us?’” says Ron. Zabriskie gave them a quick update on the accomplishments of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and encouraged them to investigate further.

“I went on the internet to look up OSU Vet Med and I was really impressed,” says Ron. After several conversations with Development Director Kelley Marchbanks, the Izatts made a decision: as part of their estate planning, they have committed funds to establish the Ronald and Marlene Izatt Veterinary Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will provide a full-ride, expenses-paid, fourth year for an exceptional veterinary student. This estate gift will have a big impact on the future, but the Izatts also wanted to help now, so they provided additional funds to support a scholarship this year.

Why did they choose scholarship funding? “Vet students have a tremendous debt, and don’t earn as much as medical doctors,” says Ron. In fact, the average debt for a graduating veterinary student in the U.S. is $150,000, and the average starting salary is $68,000. The OSU College of Veterinary Medicine works hard to provide scholarship relief for their students. In 2016, every student in the college who applied for scholarships, received some level of support. That could not have been done without friends like Ron and Marlene Izatt.

Huckleberry Fin’s owners are passionately committed to using all their skills and resources to provide the best possible life for the pet they love.

FinDogs are inspirational. Their amazing ability to adapt to environmental and physical challenges, and still enjoy life, is the subject of many, popular social media videos. Who doesn’t feel better watching a three-legged dog racing down the beach with his tongue hanging out and a smile on his face?

Because most dogs adapt more readily than humans to a missing limb, the standard of care for a diseased or severely injured leg is often amputation. It is also the reason you rarely see three-legged dogs with a prosthetic.

Despite their great attitude, three-legged dogs face some real challenges, especially if their missing limb is in the front. These dogs have to compensate for the weight of their head, and a great deal of stress is placed on the remaining front leg. This can lead to early arthritis and other health issues.

Dr. Jennifer Warnock is an orthopedic surgeon at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital who fell in love with a puppy named Huckleberry Fin. Fin was born with a rare set of defects in his front leg. His shoulder blade was deformed, and the muscles that move the shoulder were missing. He also had deformed leg bones: his radius was missing, his ulna was too short, and his foot was at the side of the ulna instead of the end where is should be.

“I met Fin when he was brought into the hospital,” says Dr. Warnock. “He was twelve days old and in a little lunch container. His eyes were still closed. We took a CT scan, and sure enough, he had multiple deformities. Basically, he has no functional joints in that leg and nothing is straight.”

CT scan of Fin’s leg before surgery.

Dr. Warnock’s dog Fiona had died three months earlier and she was still grieving. “I kept water bowls out for her, and her leashes were hanging nearby.” She asked her partner, Kevin Thomason, if he would like to adopt the puppy and he said, “Sure.”

From that day forward, they worked together on a plan to help Fin.

“Everyone said, ‘You should amputate that leg,’“ says Warnock, “but Fin was so determined to use it, and because it was his front leg, I knew if we amputated, his other leg would be at risk of overuse injury in just a few years.”

So, while Warnock waited until Fin was old enough for surgery, Thomason, a human physical therapist, began his quest to create the best possible orthotics for their puppy.

The first orthotics were simple braces to support the leg and try to straighten it. They found that the early braces also encouraged him to use his shoulder joint more normally. “He was moving his bad leg in a circular motion instead of moving forward and back,” says Thomason.

When Fin was two months old, Warnock decided it was time to surgically move his crooked foot, and repair his shoulder socket.

Dr. Warnock detached his foot and, being careful not to damage the neurovascular structures that supply blood to it, she pulled the foot down toward the end of the leg bone as far as it would go. Then surgical residents Drs. Jesse Terry and Sara Losinski helped hold it in place while she inserted stainless steel pins.

Fourth-year students on surgical rotation scrubbed in and observed the surgery. “They kept saying ‘What’s that?’” says Warnock. “There was nothing in there that remotely resembled an anatomy textbook.”

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The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital repaired a fractured femur on a bobcat.
The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital repaired a fractured femur on a bobcat brought in by Chintimini Wildlife Center.

One of the most beautiful cats in Oregon is rarely seen by humans.

Although bobcats have stable populations throughout the state, their nocturnal lifestyle, excellent camouflage, and wariness of humans keeps them hidden from view by all but the most avid back-country hikers.

This week, doctors and staff in the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a bobcat up close and personal.

A few days earlier, a good citizen found an injured juvenile bobcat in the ditch off highway 20 near Blodgett, and risked their skin to wrap the ferocious, snarling cat in a blanket and take her to Chintimini Wildlife Center. The center immediately provided water and food for the starving cat then sedated her enough to give her an examination. They found a broken leg and called OSU for help.

Several veterinarians in the Corvallis area provide pro-bono assistance to Chintimini, but the most challenging medical cases often go to OSU. (See previous story). “The leg was fractured with a number of pieces and fissures,” says orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jennifer Warnock.

bobcat-femurDr. Warnock was able to rebuild the leg with plates and screws donated by DePuy Synthes. She designed the placement of the hardware specifically to avoid the formation of soft tissue calluses in the upper leg muscle. “Calluses can cause quadriceps adhesions which would slow the cat down,” she says. That was a critical issue for an animal whose survival depends on speed in hunting.

There are other concerns when operating on wildlife. For one, the anesthesia is different than it would be for a dog or house cat. “Our anesthesia team is amazing,” says Dr. Warnock. “They are so skilled with all species, and great at pain control.” In fact, many hands worked together to save the bobcat, from the skilled technicians who assisted in surgery, to the experts in radiology, to the fourth-year veterinary students who provide post-surgery, tender, loving care.

It was a stroke of luck that student Margot Mercer was on rotation in the hospital when the bobcat came in. She had been a Chintimini volunteer for three years prior to starting vet school, so had lots of wildlife experience. “I was really excited to be the surgery student on the bobcat case,” she said. “I was one of the few people comfortable handling her without sedation.” It was also a great opportunity for Mercer to observe a feline fracture repair. “I learned lots of new things that are translational into small animal practice,” she says. “The basics are the same as they would be for domestic cats.”

The surgery bill was funded, in part, from Dr. Warnock’s teaching fund, and, in part, by the college’s Olive Britt Hope Fund. “This is a great example of the quality of OSU care and compassion; how we can come together to make it right for this beautiful cat,” says Dr. Warnock.

The surgery went well and the bobcat is now recovering in its kennel at Chintimini. “Her IV is out and she is eating like a champ,” says a spokesperson for the refuge.

The bobcat will return to OSU in six weeks for a checkup. If the bone has healed, then Chintimini can begin the long process of rehabilitation. Because one of her four canine teeth was broken and pulled, they want to be sure she can still hunt before they release her back to her territory. “It will be late spring before she is released,” says Dr. Warnock. “She needs to be able to reliably kill live prey.”

Dr. Tiffany Kimbrell, student Margot Mercer, and Dr. Jennifer Warnock were part of the surgery team that repaired a fractured femur in a bobcat from Chintimini Wildlife Center.
Dr. Tiffany Kimbrell, student Margot Mercer, and Dr. Jennifer Warnock were part of the surgery team that repaired a fractured femur in a bobcat from Chintimini Wildlife Center.

felix2There are many challenges for the management at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP). One of the less critical, but very messy, is a problem with the Canadian geese who like to gather in the prison yard. Until 2011, huge flocks of them made a stinky mess that caused sanitation issues. Then Felix came to the rescue.

Felix is a heeler mix who knows all about rescue. He was saved from a shelter by Project POOCH. The nonprofit organization places rescue dogs in youth correctional facilities, where inmates learn responsibility, and gain emotional support, by caring for dogs. They also train the dogs in basic obedience skills and prepare them for adoption.

Felix was the first dog from Project POOCH to be adopted by OSP. He was ‘hired’ to keep the geese out of the prison yard, a job he does well and enjoys.

Felix also participates in other activities at the prison. He visits patients in the infirmary, and he offers non-judgmental friendship, and the warmth of the human-animal bond, to the inmate population in general. One of Felix’s handlers says, “He is my pride and joy. I now can love for the first time in my life.”

Last year, Felix made a different kind of visit to a different kind of infirmary. He was referred to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital by his veterinarian, who suspected he was lame due to a torn ligament in his knee – also known as a Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) rupture. A relatively common problem in active dogs, these ruptures can be successfully treated with a surgery called a Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO).

If you look at a standing dog from the side, you can see that it’s leg is always bent and the knee is slightly flexed. This bend means the CCL inside the knee joint is always load-bearing, and the constant tension makes the ligament susceptible to injury.

With a torn CCL, every time a dog stands or put weight on the leg, the femur rubs on the back of the tibia. This rubbing causes pain and inflammation, and is why most dogs with a torn CCL are lame.

The philosophy behind TPLO surgery is to completely change the dynamics of the dog’s knee, so that the torn ligament becomes irrelevant. During surgery, the tibia is cut and rotated so the tibial plateau, where the femur and the tibia meet, can no longer slide backwards. This stabilizes the knee joint and eliminates the need for the CCL entirely.

TPLO is a delicate and complex surgery that should always be performed by an experienced veterinary surgeon. The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has two board-certified, veterinary orthopedic surgeons who perform many TPLO surgeries every year.

Felix surgery was very successful and, within a few weeks, he began taking leash walks, but he is not yet ready to resume his geese-chasing duties. His surgeon, Dr. Jennifer Warnock, also suggested he lose ten pounds to minimize the stress on his other knee joint, and to help prevent arthritis.

Recently, one of Felix’s handlers sent a ‘thank you’ note to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, along with a list of quotes from fellow inmates that was published in a Project POOCH newsletter. The quotes expressed how important Felix is as a friend and valued member of their community.

In his letter to the hospital, Felix’s handler simply said, “Thank you for taking care of my boy, Felix.”



A 3D echocardiograph shows the blood moving through Lulu's heart (bright colors).
A 3D echocardiograph shows the blood moving through Lulu’s heart (bright colors).

Lulu is a big bundle of soft, black fur who is full of happy energy despite having been born with a heart defect. The four month-old lab mix was recently transferred to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington (HSSW) from a shelter in Southern California.

As part of the Animal Shelter Alliance, HSSW makes a temporary home in their shelter for several hundred out-of-state animals each year. The majority of those animals have health issues.

Dr. Lauren Overman is the managing veterinarian at HSSW. With more than 5,500 animals entering their shelter each year, her team does a lot of spay and neuter surgeries, but they also diagnose and treat a wide variety of health issues. In a routine exam, prior to Lulu’s spay surgery, Dr. Overman discovered a loud heart murmur, so she referred Lulu to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for evaluation.

The Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital at OSU is equipped with a state-of-the art, 3D echocardiograph that allows doctors to view the inside of a patient’s heart in real time, as it is beating and pumping blood.

An echocardiogram of Lulu’s heart revealed a small hole between her aorta, the main artery in the body, and her main pulmonary artery. The hole is known as a left-to-right shunting patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) and is a normal vessel in a fetus, but should close within twenty-four hours of birth. That did not happen with Lulu.

In a healthy heart, blood returning from the body is pumped from the right side of the heart to the lungs to pick up fresh oxygen and then returns to the left side of the heart. The left side of the heart pumps the oxygen-rich blood out the aorta to the body. In Lulu’s heart, the PDA allows blood to flow from the aorta into the pulmonary artery, creating a ‘short-circuit’ or shunt from the systemic to the pulmonary circulation. As a consequence, the lungs and the left side of the heart see an increased amount of blood. This often leads to congestive heart failure before a dog is one-year old.

Dr. Courtney Smith is in her final year of a three-year cardiology residency at the hospital, and was assigned to Lulu’s case. She and the entire cardiology team, including Drs. Katherine Scollan, Nicole LeBlanc, and Julia Treseder, decided that Lulu was a good candidate for corrective surgery.

The funding to cover Lulu’s surgery was provided in combination from the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Olive K. Britt Hope Fund and the HSSW’s Chopper fund. The HSSW Chopper Fund was created to help shelter animals with costly medical issues and is supplied through the generosity of the society’s donors.

Amazingly, the surgery on Lulu’s heart was done without having to open her chest. First, a tiny incision was made on the inside of her right back leg, and a catheter was passed from the femoral artery into the aorta and across the PDA. This was done with the aid of a fluoroscope and echocardiography, which allowed Dr. Smith to view the interior of the heart on a screen as she operated. Once in place, the catheter was used to guide a specially designed wire mesh cylinder, called an Amplatz canine ductal occluder, into the open PDA. In a few seconds, blood began clotting within the occluder, and very quickly created a solid plug that stopped the blood flow through the PDA.

Lulu came through the two-hour surgery with flying colors. Chest x-rays and a recheck echocardiogram showed proper blood flow in her heart with no residual flow through the PDA. However, her caregivers will need to restrict her activity for one month while her device permanently adheres in place.

Meg Turnquist and Lucie Crane, fourth-year veterinary students on cardiology rotation, were assigned to Lulu’s care. In addition to monitoring her post-surgery condition and vital signs, they gave her lots of hands-on attention. “She already wants to run and play,” said Turnquist. “She’s mad at me because we have to keep her quiet in the kennel.”

Complex surgeries like Lulu’s are a valuable learning experience for veterinary students. Lucie Crane was pleased to be involved: “It was interesting to be able to hear that very classic heart murmur, and then to observe the procedure by which it was fixed. It was very rewarding to follow the case to completion.”

Lulu went home the next day to her foster family. “They will have their hands full trying to keep her from not being such an active puppy, now that she feels better,” says Dr. Overman.

Lulu’s prognosis is excellent. She will return to OSU in a month for a checkup, and then, if Dr. Smith gives the okay, she can return to normal puppy activity and be placed on the HSSW website where her darling face and sweet, loving personality will find her a forever home.



ACMastheadCooper is a ten-year-old Boxer who loves his family of raggedy, stuffed animals. He visits them every day. “He’s a riot,” says owner Nora LaBrocca. “He barks at his toys and tells them how the day is going.”

Last year, Cooper’s veterinarian became concerned when his gum did not heal after the removal of a bad tooth, so he sent a tissue sample to the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The result was bad news: squamous cell carcinoma.

LaBrocca was referred to the Oncology Service at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) where oncologist Dr. Shay Bracha confirmed that Cooper had a tumor in his jaw. Because the cancer was malignant, Dr. Bracha knew that Cooper’s best chance for survival would be to remove the tumor with a margin of 2 centimeters of surrounding tissue.  Unfortunately, that would require partial removal of the jaw itself. After describing this option to Cooper’s mom, she sadly decided not to proceed. “I thought I was saying ‘Goodbye’,” says LaBrocca.

New Cancer Treatment

Stan Stearns founded the Gabriel Institute after his beloved Saint Bernard, Gabriel, died while being treated for osteosarcoma. The goal of the Gabriel Institute is to save both dogs and humans through support of cancer research. Fortunately for Cooper, one month before his diagnosis, the Stearns Family Foundation donated a $500,000 Intraoperative Radiotherapy System to the VTH. It is the only system of its kind available at a veterinary hospital.

Conventional radiation treatment for tumors occurs post-surgery, and is administered through the skin over a period of many weeks. The Intraoperative Radiotherapy System provides one precise dose of radiation to a tumor cavity during surgery. The dose is created by accelerating electrons through a tube, onto a gold target where low-energy x-rays are generated and emitted evenly in all directions. Then the surgeon closes the incision.

The advantages of the system are fairly obvious: A much shorter treatment span of lower dose radiation to the area most likely to contain remaining cancer cells, while sparing healthy tissue from side effects.

There is a big payoff, for both humans and animals, in using a new therapy in a veterinary setting: animals respond more quickly. “We will learn a lot from these veterinary cases,” say Medical Physicist Kristina Tack, who set up the system. “Animals have shorter lifespans, and disease progression moves forward at a more rapid pace, so you can evaluate efficacy after only one year. Humans are not considered cured for five years.”

Cooper is now more than a year past his tumor removal with no sign of recurrence. A dozen other pets have received the same treatment and are doing well. Bracha will gather data from these treatments to demonstrate the efficacy of Intraoperative Radiotherapy. He is also helping OHSU adapt this treatment to their human cancer patients.

Cooper, and other pets at the VTH, are benefiting from a field known as comparative oncology, which evaluates cancer treatment in clinical studies of companion animals, with the goal of sharing valuable results with the human medical community. “Many of the cancers we diagnose in veterinary medicine are essentially the same cancers we see in human medicine,” says Bracha. “So we can translate findings from one to the other.”

Out Of The Laboratory And Into The Hospital

Researchers in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University have developed a way to selectively insert a compound called naphthalocyanine into cancer cells. The compound is attached to an extremely tiny nanoparticle whose properties allow it to travel through the blood vessels leading to cancer cells, but not to healthy cells. Once there, the naphthalocyanine will glow when exposed to infrared light. This allows surgeons to more accurately identify which tissue to remove and which to leave. Even more exciting is the component of this new treatment: Exposing the naphthalocyanine to a different level of light causes the compound to burst, killing the cancer cells.

The treatment has been shown to be remarkably successful in laboratory mice with ovarian cancer, completely preventing cancer recurrence while showing no apparent side effects. Now the College of Pharmacy is partnering with the College of Veterinary Medicine to test it on dogs with malignant tumors.

Rebecca Camden is a dog lover and long-time supporter of the College of Veterinary Medicine. She recently purchased a $60,000 Fluobeam Imaging System to be used in the testing of the new nanoparticle treatment. In addition to providing infrared light, the Fluobeam system provides real-time video and images of the process. The first clinical trials are scheduled to begin this summer.

Early Detection Can Save Lives

In another OSU collaboration, Bracha is working with Jan Medlock, a mathematical biology researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Vince Remcho, a researcher in the Department of Chemistry. They have founded an OSU spinoff company called Lasso Metrics that plans to produce a low-cost, early detection test for cancer. The test will use biomarkers – molecules in bodily fluids that are unique to specific kinds of cancer.

The Bracha team recently identified the biomarkers for bladder cancer. They did this by looking at the blood from three groups of dogs: healthy dogs, dogs with urinary tract infections, and dogs with bladder cancer. When the blood was analyzed, they found 96 proteins specific to the bladder cancer patients.

Now Remcho will use this information to develop a microchip that could be placed in a cell phone and used to detect cancer from a test strip with a drop of urine on it. Remcho calls it ‘lab-in-a-chip’. This screening tool could eventually be used by veterinarians and doctors in their offices, providing an early detection tool that is quicker and cheaper than a traditional biopsy.